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80% Of At-Risk CMS Students Aren't Attending Summer School, Officials Say

 Students attend "Camp CMS" summer school at Lawrence Orr Elementary School on Tuesday.
Matt Hayes
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Students attend "Camp CMS" summer school at Lawrence Orr Elementary School on Tuesday.

Attendance has been low during the first week of Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ summer school, with the program reaching only about 20% of the students considered at risk of failure.

CMS estimates that 65,000 of its 140,000 students fell so far behind during the pandemic that they need summer school to catch up. But fewer than 21,000 of them registered for the six-week session dubbed Camp CMS, officials told the school board Tuesday.

And of those, not quite 13,000 attended at least one day during the first week.

Board member Sean Strain raised questions about promotion decisions, saying he was looking at a report card, with the name redacted, for a middle school student who ended the school year with six F's and 105 unexcused absences.

"This student was promoted," Strain said. "I'm going to consider this one of our students that we refer to as 'at risk.' I look at that and I say they're at risk of not being prepared to perform as required to pass his or her academic load at the next level."

 Tangela Williams
Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools
Tangela Williams

Tangela Williams, the administrator in charge of Camp CMS, said at-risk students who don’t show up won’t automatically be held back.

"Promotion and retention decisions are not based on, necessarily, a child’s participation in Camp CMS. The promotion and retention decision remains the principal’s decision by law," she said. However, Williams said some principals have promoted students contingent on success in summer school.

Others Participate Too

Camp CMS was also opened to students who aren’t labeled at risk. A total of 32,500 students registered, with attendance last week averaging about 19,000 — under 60%.

Williams says staff is getting in touch with parents whose students are registered but not attending.

"Some of the families have reported to us that their students have enrolled in different programs for the summer, or that their child is actually not in Charlotte for the summer. They’ve gone to visit relatives or some other family member," she said. "Some of our families have reported that they no longer feel their student needed the academic support."

Registration has been closed, Williams said, except for third-graders who failed reading exams or students who are new to CMS.

Camp CMS is holding sessions in 81 schools with about 5,000 educators and support staff. Officials said they may reassign some staff from underfilled camps to schools that still have vacancies.

State lawmakers required all districts to offer summer school in grades K-12 to help students make up for material missed during the pandemic. But neither registration nor attendance is mandatory -- and because the programs are free, there’s no deposit to be lost. North Carolina education officials say they won’t even try to tally participation until the program ends.

 Data from Tuesday's presentation on Camp CMS.
Data from Tuesday's presentation on Camp CMS.

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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.