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More In-Person Class Time Coming To CMS As Early As Next Week

Hough High School students in science class after returning to in-person classes last month.
Nancy Pierce
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Hough High School students learn in science class after returning to in-person classes last month.

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board will vote Tuesday on plans to provide students more in-person class time, with changes starting as early as next week.

The vote comes as state health and education officials are urging the fullest possible return to in-person classes. CMS elementary and K-8 schools currently use a Plan B rotation, with students split into two groups that attend in-person two days a week and learn remotely for three days.

School board Vice Chair Thelma Byers-Bailey said the preliminary plan calls for moving those schools to Plan A, with everyone attending four days a week.

Middle and high school students, who are currently split into three groups, are being consolidated into two. Educators learned about that late last week when they checked the online Power School schedules and found that Group C students had been reassigned. The Group C students just returned Monday for the first time since March 2019 and are currently scheduled to get less class time than the other two groups.

It’s unclear exactly how a new rotation might work. Currently, middle and high school students come to school for a week at a time, but there’s talk of changing that to two days a week in person and three days remote -- like what the younger students are doing now.

Timetable Creates Concern

Byers-Bailey says the plans discussed last week would take effect March 15. As teachers and principals got wind of that plan, they took to social media — and emailed board members — to air concerns.

"The sense I’m getting from staff and community is this change is too fast," Byers-Bailey said Monday morning.

Steve Oreskovic is a middle school teacher who co-chairs the Superintendent’s Teacher Advisory Committee. Oreskovic says district administrators had talked with the teacher panel in general about increasing in-person time.

"And then all of a sudden: Bam! We hear, 'This is what we’re doing, and we’re doing it March 15th,'" Oreskovic said Monday.

He says it would make more sense to start any new schedule when students return from spring break April 12. More teachers and school staff could be fully vaccinated, he said, and schools would have more time to adjust to larger groups of students in classrooms.

"I mean, you still have the HVAC issues at the schools. You still have everything else that was there. And now you’re going to have more kids there," Oreskovic said.

Oreskovic has a medical waiver to teach remotely but says he was notified last week he would be expected to return to the building next week. He says such decisions seem to be happening on a school-by-school basis.

No Details Are Posted

CMS emailed employees last week warning them not to believe everything they see on social media. The email said no plan is final yet.

Byers-Bailey said board leaders are still meeting with Superintendent Earnest Winston and his top staff to figure out what the board will vote on Tuesday night. She said the starting date for new schedules is one point that's still being discussed.

"We’re definitely going to look at some kind of a plan to bring more kids in," she said. "It’s just a matter of when."

The board's agenda calls for approval of revised school calendars. But details of proposals generally aren't posted before meetings.

The meeting starts at 6 p.m. Tuesday and includes a public comment period. Members and staff will meet in person without an audience to maintain safe distancing. The public can watch live on Facebook or YouTube.

Employee COVID-19 Cases Remain Low

Meanwhile, CMS posted its weekly COVID-19 metrics report for last week. It was the third week elementary and K-8 schools held in-person classes after a winter return to remote instruction. Middle and high schools, which had stayed remote since last March, have had in-person classes for two weeks.

The 21 employee cases reported last week was the lowest number since October, falling well below the numbers reported in December and January, when everyone was working remotely or on break. The peak was 115 employee cases in mid-January, with about 19,100 people on the CMS payroll.

The district reported 46 student cases last week, out of about 67,600 students attending in-person classes. That's below the weekly highs of 67 in December, when fewer students were attending in person.

Eighty schools had at least one COVID-19 case last week, but none were classified as a cluster. That happens when local health officials conclude that five or more cases are linked to school spread.

Community spread has been going down across the state and nation. Mecklenburg County, which was in the state's "red zone" for critical spread at its peak, is now classified as yellow, the lowest level of spread.

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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.