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CMS Montessori Schedule Shows Challenge Of NC K-5 Guidelines

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Park Road Montessori is one of four CMS elementary schools that includes sixth grade.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board just approved a new schedule for in-person classes in elementary schools, but there's a twist for its four Montessori elementary schools.

Those schools cover grades preK-6, and Gov. Roy Cooper's relaxed social distancing guidelines apply only up to fifth grade. Deputy Superintendent Matt Hayes said Friday the district plans to bring Montessori sixth-graders back to in-person classes on Nov. 2, along with their classmates, and have them on the same rotation as their younger counterparts.

But because sixth-graders still have to meet the stricter social-distancing guidelines for Plan B, that means schools will have to ensure that every classroom that includes sixth-graders provides six feet of distancing between desks. Buses those students ride will have to have no more than 24 passengers.

CMS initially approved a plan that divided all grade levels into three groups, with one-third of students attending each week. Officials said that was needed to ensure that even the most crowded schools could comply with the distancing rules.

One day later the governor announced that grades K-5 could use Plan A, which allows more students on buses and in classrooms.

Thursday night the board revised the plan for elementary schools: Students will be split into two groups, each attending in person two days and learning from home for three, with Wednesdays as remote learning days for everyone. That will mean less distancing on some buses and in some schools, but it also means more in-person class time and shorter stretches away from school.

Hayes acknowledged Friday that he glossed over the Montessori question at the board meeting, saying only that he would talk to principals "about how we can manage through that." That's because the arrangements are hard to explain, he said.

But Hayes says he doesn't think they'll be impossible to pull off. The four Montessori schools -- Park Road, Highland Mill, Trillium Springs and Chantilly -- have combined fifth/sixth-grade classrooms that will have to meet the six-foot standards. 

Hayes said early indications are that many buses won't have more than 24 students, which meets the Plan B rules. Parents may be willing to drive students if that's necessary, he said.

CMS has several K-8 schools as well. Right now, Hayes says, the plan is to bring the K-5 students back Nov. 2 and the 6-8 students Nov. 23, with the two groups on two different types of rotations. But officials are also watching to see whether Cooper relaxes the distancing rules for older students before Nov. 23.

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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.