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CMS board votes to continue virtual elementary and middle school option

Natalie and Nick Foy
A CMS student works from home during the pandemic.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools will offer a virtual option for students in grades four through 12 next year, despite a state law calling for remote academies created during the pandemic to close.

Like districts across North Carolina, CMS expanded its virtual options for families who didn't feel safe sending their children to in-person classes. The district already had a virtual high school and added virtual elementary and middle schools.

The General Assembly granted permission for the new virtual options, but later voted that only the virtual schools created before the pandemic can continue next year.

That action came as plunging test scores at the end of the last school year indicated that many students lost ground when classes were held online. Starting with this school year, all North Carolina districts offered full-time in-person classes but let families opt out.

The CMS board voted unanimously Tuesday to work around the abolition of its virtual elementary and middle schools by redefining its virtual high school. In 2022-23 the virtual school will serve grades four to 12. Fourth grade will be eliminated in 2023 and fifth grade in 2024.

This year almost 900 students enrolled in CMS virtual elementary school and 950 in virtual middle school.

Officials say there’s still demand for all-remote options in lower grades. But board member Lenora Shipp said it’s not the best option for young children.

"They do really need to be in the classroom and in person," she said, adding that "we need to watch what is going on with our (grades) four to eight to see where that lands later."

About 50 students in grades K-3 had applied for virtual school next year. They’ll have to find other options.

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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.