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COVID-19 absences force a delay in the CMS magnet lottery


Friday is supposed to be the deadline to file for Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ magnet lottery, but COVID-19 absences among staff are forcing the district to provide some extensions.

This year, CMS rolled out a new online registration process for students who are not in CMS now but hope to get into magnet schools next year. Eleanor Hatcher, whose daughter is a fifth-grader in a charter school, seized the opportunity. She’d like to get her daughter into the Piedmont International Baccalaureate Middle School program next year.

“That process of future enrollment opened up on Dec. 6, and we completed her future enrollment on Dec. 8,” Hatcher said.

She got an email confirmation and was told to expect a student ID and PIN in about two weeks. That enables her to apply for magnet schools and get into the lottery if there are more applicants than seats.

When the numbers didn’t come, Hatcher says she followed up a couple of times. Staff in the student placement office were pleasant, she says, but told her the numbers hadn’t been generated yet. And the deadline was approaching.

Associate Superintendent Akeshia Craven-Howell, who oversees the lottery, said this isn’t an individual glitch. The delays were created “due to a number of COVID illnesses on our team and a lack of temporary help, which we typically bring on during the future enrollment and lottery periods.”

Craven-Howell says CMS will delay the lottery to ensure that all new students who met the Jan. 14 pre-enrollment deadline can take part, even if their application numbers arrive after Friday’s deadline.

A notice posted on CMSChoice.org says CMS won’t run the magnet lottery until the credentials have been issued to new students, and assures families they’ll get an email notification when the credentials are ready.


It also says that current CMS received a letter that incorrectly said their lottery applications had been voided. They’re told to disregard that statement.

CMS magnet applications are a big production, with just over 27,000 students applying last year. This year's application season comes as the district continues to try to attract families who may have left the district during the disruption of the pandemic. Enrollment in CMS and most North Carolina districts dropped sharply in 2020 and has not fully rebounded this school year.

Union County Public Schools recently faced criticism for efforts to keep students who aren’t enrolled in the district from getting into magnet schools for the coming year. The board recently agreed to create a second lottery for students who are currently in charter, private or magnet schools, but they can only claim seats that aren’t already taken by current students.

CMS has always offered its magnet programs to anyone who lives in Mecklenburg County, as long as they pre-register to let the district know they plan to enroll.

Hatcher says she appreciates the district’s efforts to keep her informed and make sure everyone can enter the lottery. But she says there’s still room for confusion and anxiety. She says she’d like to know when she can expect her daughter’s credentials and when CMS will run the lottery.

“I just feel like I have to stay on this every minute of every day, or maybe the lottery gets run on the 21st and my packet got mailed on the 20th but I wasn’t calling every day so I didn’t know that,” she said.

Hatcher says she sent a message Wednesday to an email list for the Elizabeth neighborhood asking if anyone else was in the same situation.

“And I’ve gotten three emails back saying yes, and I sent it 15 minutes ago,” she said.

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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.