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After Almost A Year, CMS Middle And High Schools Return To Classrooms

South Meck COVID rock from CMS.jpeg
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
The rock at South Mecklenburg High is painted to illustrate COVID-19 safety.

About 13,300 middle and high school students are returning to Charlotte-Mecklenburg classrooms Monday for the first time since the pandemic closed schools in March. They join more than 44,250 students who returned when elementary and K-8 schools reopened last week.

The return comes as Mecklenburg County’s community spread numbers decline, although the COVID-19 case rate remains at levels considered risky by state and national health officials. CMS school health specialist Monica Adamian says the district is following Plan B guidelines to keep a six-foot distance among older students, who are at higher risk than young children for catching or spreading the virus.

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Mecklenburg County
Friday's report on Mecklenburg County's COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents.

"Remember they’re not coming back at full force," she said Friday. "We have small groups of middle and high school students coming back at three different times so they’re able to socially distance."

The first group of middle and high school students will attend in person this week, then go back to remote learning for two weeks. Other groups return March 1 and March 8.

Superintendent Earnest Winston said Friday he expects to bring a revised calendar to the school board that will provide more in-person class time for the third group. The current calendar gives those students only 16 days of in-person classes this year, because their rotation includes two teacher work days and a holiday.

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Ann Doss Helms
A student at W.A. Bess Elementary in Gastonia wears a neck gaiter to class.

CMS HR Chief Christine Pejot announced a change to the district’s masking policy: Neck gaiters, a tube that can be pulled over the nose and mouth, are no longer banned.

"We have retracted a statement that we shared at the last board meeting and will continue to allow gaiters," she said Friday. "The important thing is, regardless (of) whether you wear a mask or a gaiter, is that it should be dual layered."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now says two-layered gaiters can be effective in controlling virus spread.

Almost 60,000 CMS students have opted to stay in remote learning for the rest of the year. All told, almost 85,000 students in pre-K through 12th grade are expected to return in person.

North Carolina health and education officials have encouraged all school districts to bring students back for as much in-person time as possible, saying the benefits outweigh the risks. The General Assembly approved a bill last week requiring all districts to offer in-person classes. Gov. Roy Cooper has said he won't sign it because it loosens distancing restrictions for middle and high schools and removes an option for local districts to respond to emergencies.

Mooresville Graded Schools is the last district in the region to keep older students in remote learning (see plans for all North Carolina districts here). Their middle and high schools will reopen for in-person classes in mid-March, but it could be for as little as one day a week.

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