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Four Charlotte-Area Charter Schools Join Remote Opening Trend

Langtree Charter Academy in Mooresville is among four covered by Friday's vote.

Four Charlotte-area charter schools have canceled plans for in-person opening, even though they’re part of a chain that’s promoting that option. 

The local board that runs Cabarrus, Iredell, Langtree and Concord Lake STEAM academies voted Friday to open remotely for the first quarter of the school year. That was after hearing representatives of Charter Schools USA, which manages those schools, argue for keeping the in-person option.

"Do you all believe that for our community as a whole the safest thing to do is to have students in the building?" asked board member Mark Frazier in a virtual meeting.

"So, I'm going to say it this way," replied consultant Leah Dellicarpini, chief of strategy for the Florida-based LaunchED Solutions. "I think the best thing to do is to give your parents and kids options."

The emergency board meeting, which was streamed on Facebook and plagued by technical problems, was a microcosm of the debate raging across the country.

Charter Schools USA is a Florida-based for-profit management company that runs more than 90 schools in five Southeastern states. The company has promoted the in-person option as school districts have gone remote.

At the board meeting, company representatives touted the academic and psychological benefits of having kids in classrooms. That’s a position shared by medical and education experts – with the caveat that local COVID-19 conditions have to be considered.

The NC Charter Educational Foundation is a nonprofit board that oversees the four schools in Iredell and Cabarrus counties. They had a combined enrollment of almost 3,600 last year.

Those board members emphasized troubling COVID-19 numbers in the region.

"I don’t think anyone on this board would disagree that the best experience for a student is in-class learning. I don’t think any of us disagree with that," said board member Patrick Griffin, a parent and health care professional. "But we’re in the middle of a pandemic."

Dellicarpini eventually agreed that keeping kids home is safest, but added that "I think that’s true in terms of a pandemic and I think that’s true in terms of day-to-day, you know, nonpandemic, that your home is the area you control and it’s the safest area."

The board also reviewed surveys of faculty at the four schools that indicated a majority had concerns about returning safely. The board agreed to consider reopening in person after the first quarter.

The decision comes in an ever-shifting landscape for schools in the region. In the 24 hours preceding the charter board's emergency meeting,Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and Queens University of Charlotte both voted for all-remote openings, reversing previous in-person plans.

Iredell-Statesville Schools plans an in-person opening with staggered schedules for safe distancing, while Cabarrus and Mooresville schools will open remotely.

More than half of all students in North Carolina's district and charter schools will have no choice but to start the year learning from home. Even in districts with in-person plans, thousands of families are choosing remote-learning academies.

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Ann Doss Helms has covered education in the Charlotte area for over 20 years, first at The Charlotte Observer and then at WFAE. Reach her at ahelms@wfae.org or 704-926-3859.