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CMS school choice fair remains online but some schools host in-person open houses

Before the pandemic, CMS choice fairs drew large crowds to visit school booths.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools kicks off its 2022 school choice season Saturday with a chance for families to check out dozens of magnet programs. But it still won't be the kind of event that involves big crowds and tables loaded with school swag.

This year's choice fair will be online, with virtual pavilions and booths open from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Registration is required at CMSchoice.org.

CMS Magnet Director Walter Hall says it's up to individual schools to decide whether to allow in-person visits and open houses for prospective families amid the ongoing pandemic.

Magnet and private schools are also starting to host visits and take applications for the school year that begins next August.

The Charlotte region has long been known for an array of school options. The pandemic created upheaval in attendance patterns. CMS and most North Carolina school districts have seen enrollment slump, while charter schools keep growing.

CMS offers magnet programs at all grade levels, including such programs as world languages, arts, technology, Montessori and International Baccalaureate. It also offers college-based high schools and an array of career themes at traditional high schools.

Starting Monday, families can apply for those programs — as well as Montessori, Bright Beginnings and North Carolina Pre-K programs for children who will turn 4 by August. Applications will remain open through Jan. 21.

CMS officials also urge families whose kids will enter district schools for the first time next year to pre-enroll during this stretch. Those who want to apply for the magnet lottery must enroll by Jan. 7. Those whose kids will attend neighborhood schools can wait until summer, but Hall encourages them not to.

"We need them to understand that we need enrollment to happen earlier, and not when we see school buses in the summer," he said. That's because having a handle on the number of students expected at each school lets the district line up teachers and other resources.

Also Saturday, Union County Public Schools will host an in-person expo with information about its high school programs. Those include career-tech, early college, Advanced Placement and IB options. That event will be from 9 a.m. to noon at the Union County Ag Center, 3230 Presson Road, Monroe.

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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.