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Cabarrus County Schools Seize New Chance At In-Person Classes For Grades 6-12

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Acting Superintendent Brian Schultz reports on COVID-19 data at Friday's emergency Cabarrus County school board meeting.

The Cabarrus County school board unanimously approved a plan Friday to offer middle and high school students four days a week of in-person instruction, beginning April 13. It's the first district in the region, and likely one of the first in North Carolina, to act on a new opportunity to relax 6-foot distancing in grades 6-12.

Friday’s emergency meeting came about 24 hours after Gov. Roy Cooper signed Senate Bill 220, which won unanimous approval from the General Assembly this week. It requires school districts to offer Plan A, which involves minimal distancing and full-time attendance, for grades K-5. It opens that option to middle and high schools for the first time this year.

Acting Superintendent Brian Schultz told the Cabarrus board all other safety measures will remain in place.

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Cabarrus County Schools

"Nothing has changed except for the distancing requirements on buses and in classrooms," he said. "We’re still masking. We’re still frequently washing hands. Outside of the class you still maintain 6 feet of distance."

Schultz said starting the new schedule in a month allows the district to figure out how many students will attend under Plan A, prepare schools and plan bus routes. It will provide about eight weeks of in-person class time before the school year ends.

On Fridays, students will do independent online work while teachers can work with students who are at risk of failing and plan for the coming week. Having students out of the building on Fridays also allows for better cleaning, Schultz said.

"I wish we could do five days a week. I will settle for four," said board member Laura Blackwell. "I'm just happy to get these kids back in school four days a week."

Cabarrus elementary schools were already phasing in a four-day Plan A schedule.

Schultz told the board the county's COVID-19 metrics are all trending down. He said the district just learned it has its first school cluster, which is five or more cases that health officials believe are connected to school spread. He didn't name the school or provide details, but said the spread has been contained.

Cooper, a Democrat, joined with Republican legislative leaders to craft a bill designed to speed the return to in-person education as COVID-19 numbers ebb. Other districts are expected to act soon.

The Union County school board has called an emergency meeting Monday to discuss schedule changes related to the new bill. Iredell-Statesville Superintendent Jeff James says he plans to return older students to five days a week of in-person classes as soon as it's safely possible.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools approved a plan Tuesday that provides four days a week of in-person classes for elementary and K-8 schools and two days a week for middle and high schools. The statewide changes were announced the next morning. District leaders haven't said whether they'll consider another calendar change.

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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.