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CMS Will Bring K-5 Students Back Next Week Despite Community Spread Of COVID-19

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has books to teach children about social distancing and wearing masks.
Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has books to teach children about social distancing and wearing masks.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is moving ahead with plans to bring K-5 students back for in-person classes next week, even with some COVID-19 data in the red zone.

Last week Mecklenburg County topped 100 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people -- a level that could signal it’s not safe to bring students and employees back to school. Thelma Byers-Bailey, vice chair of the school board, said that’s making a lot of people nervous.

"When that first dashboard element turned red, my emails blew up," she said.

Mecklenburg Public Health Director Gibbie Harris told the board they need to keep watching numbers on community spread, "but as we sit right now, we believe that the school system is ready to open up for the elementary students."

Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris
Mecklenburg County
Mecklenburg Health Director Gibbie Harris

Pre-kindergarteners and some students with disabilities are already back in CMS classrooms. And Harris noted that many child-care centers are open as well. While there have been COVID-19 cases at CMS and in those centers, she says it appears that most children and staff are catching it in the community, not in schools.

When K-5 students return on Monday, CMS will have about 150 of its 176 schools open for in-person attendance. Harris said the health department doesn’t have enough school nurses to have one at each of those schools, but she said the nursing staff -- along with LPNs under contract to help -- can ensure safety.

"It does not take a school nurse to screen children and staff as they come into school," Harris said. "It does not take a school nurse to take a child from a classroom to the isolation area to wait to be picked up."

Harris said the most important thing parents can do to prepare for next week is to teach their children to wear masks properly, keep them out of community settings where they’re exposed to COVID-19, and keep them home if they get sick.

Superintendent Earnest Winston told the board he’s ready to move forward, and he’ll come back to them if the numbers keep getting worse.

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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.