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Bus Worries Force CMS To Consider Changing Middle School Return Plan

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Gwendolyn Glenn
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools buses are seen in an undated file photo.

A potential shortage of bus drivers is forcing Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools to rethink plans for bringing middle school students back in person later this month.

Tuesday's school board agenda calls for a vote on possible revisions to the plan for bringing back in-person classes. The current plan calls for middle schools to start back on Nov. 23. Students would be divided into three groups and rotate through one week in person and two weeks from home.

The agenda doesn’t say what changes are proposed, but Vice Chair Thelma Byers-Bailey says the district doesn’t have enough drivers to meet the one-student-per-seat distancing requirements. Elementary students, who returned last week, aren’t held to that standard.

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CMS plan for phased-in return to in-person classes.

In an update Monday afternoon, Chief School Performance Officer Kathy Elling said that 84% of transportation jobs are currently filled, and "we are seeing an increase in transportation vacancies and leaves ... and that includes both leaves related to COVID and our standard leaves."

The vote comes as community spread of COVID-19 is rising in Mecklenburg County and across North Carolina. Last week state health director Elizabeth Tilson told the state Board of Education children under age 10 are at low risk of catching and spreading COVID-19, "and then the older the child gets and the more they are kind of biologically like adults -- so the older adolescents — then they start acting more like adults and they can spread similar to adults."

Last week CMS had 11 students and 29 employees test positive, according to the latest COVID-19 update. That's the highest weekly number so far, and it included a much larger number of in-person students. Almost 41,700 elementary, prekindergarten and special education students attended in person last week.

Forty-two CMS schools had people test positive in the last two weeks. For the first time CMS listed schools that had students or staff test positive last week.

Community spread numbers were in the red zone for the third week in a row, and Mecklenburg County's positivity rate remained in the yellow zone. Red ratings for 14 days or more could indicate a need to return to all-virtual classes, but CMS officials say they're looking at an array of metrics to make decisions.

The board meeting is at 6 p.m. Tuesday. It will stream on Facebook and YouTube. Anyone who wants to make comments can email Nicole1.kelly@cms.k12.nc.us by noon Tuesday.

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