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CMS Sticks With School Reopening Plan Despite Complaints From Both Sides

Jana Watt
Four CMS students from Davidson stood outside the Government Center Tuesday demonstrating for in-person options.

On Tuesday the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board heard from people who asked for less in-person class time in August, as well as people who asked for more. But officials stayed focused on how to carry out the school reopening plan they approved last week. 

Last week the CMS board voted to bring students back for a few days in August and then shift to all-remote classes. Speakers spent more than an hour Tuesday suggesting they revise that plan.

Several teachers, including a contingent from the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Association of Educators, asked the board to eliminate the two-week in-person orientation. Students will be there for only three or four days in staggered shifts, but staff will be there for 10 days -- enough time, some said, to catch and spread the coronavirus.

Kim Corpening, a CMS teacher and parent, said the exposure could undo the benefits of careful distancing her family has done since March. 

"After months of working so hard to stay safe, we will be forced back into poorly ventilated classrooms, with students and coworkers potentially carrying the virus with only a mask between us," she said. "I am frightened that those two weeks will results in student infections, teacher infections and ultimately infections all over Charlotte."

Teachers said they're eager to get their kids back into class, but only when it's safe. They noted that the risk of students falling seriously ill with COVID-19 may be slim, but the disease can be fatal to children.

"There are too many unanswered questions and too many horrible possibilities," said Independence High teacher Kristine Neale.

Two people who identified themselves as health care workers urged CMS to approve in-person classes, saying there are risks to any decision.

"The risk to the child from lack of education and hunger is real," said Trish Moody, a pediatric health care worker, "and we need to be working towards a safe plan that gets the kids who need to be in a classroom back there."

Four students from Davidson stood outside the Government Center, even though the school board met online from their homes, holding signs supporting in-person options.

"We just want another option," said Ava Watt, who will be a freshman at Hough High. "Online learning is not ideal for all students, and for those students that don’t want to come back there is the CMS online academy."

The CMS board met hours after the Wake school board held a special meeting to reverse its opening plan. Wake had initially approved an in-person plan, with staggered shifts of students to allow for safe distancing. But Tuesday afternoon the board voted for an all-remote opening.

But no one on the CMS board proposed changing its combined plan. Instead, staff talked about helping families undertand the options -- including a Full Remote Academy that lets students avoid the in-person orientation and stay home for at least one semester.

Enrollment opened Friday, and officials said about 15,000 students – just over 10% -- have signed up so far.

Board Chair Elyse Dashew acknowledged that everyone wants to know what metrics CMS will use to decide when it's safe to return in person. Superintendent Earnest Winston said he's setting up a medical advisory team to help figure that out. It should start meeting next week, he said.

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