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Ambitious Summer Schools Open With Unknowns About Students And Staff

School bus parked outside Gastonia's Bess Elementary School.
Ann Doss Helms
School bus parked outside Gastonia's Bess Elementary School.

School buses are rolling across the Charlotte region as districts open summer schools designed to help students make up for pandemic setbacks.

Monday is the first day of summer school for tens of thousands of students in Mecklenburg, Union, Cabarrus, Gaston and Iredell counties. After the disruptions caused by COVID-19, state lawmakers ordered school districts to provide six-week programs for students in all grade levels. The bill says they have to offer transportation, meals, academic enrichment, physical activity and “a fun, positive environment.”

That meant hiring teachers, bus drivers, cafeteria workers, principals and other staff to jump back in two weeks after an exhausting year ended.

There’s plenty of federal money to pay for the programs, and districts have added bonuses to compete for teachers. The state says 311,000 students are considered in need of the summer school, but there’s no tally yet of how many signed up or how well the districts have managed to staff the programs.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools estimated 50,000 students needed summer help and about 30,000 enrolled. The district held summer school job fairs just days before opening. Spokeswoman Eve White says administrators who are on 12-month contracts were told to be on standby to fill any gaps when students report for "Camp CMS."

CMS will run about 425 buses, compared with about 1,100 during a normal school year. There will be summer programs in 82 of the district's 176 schools (all students are eligible but might have to go to a different school).

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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.