CMS Board Calls Special Meeting To Rethink In-Person Orientation Plan

Jul 29, 2020

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg school board has called an emergency meeting for 2 p.m. Thursday to decide whether to scrap plans to hold in-person orientation in August.

The decision comes as COVID-19 cases continue to rise in North Carolina and across the country.

A recent Washington Post article quoted the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said schools in coronavirus "hot spots" should consider delaying in-person reopening. Director Robert Redfern defined hot spots as locations where more than 5% of tests are coming back positive.

"In Mecklenburg County roughly 10% of the coronavirus tests have been coming back positive. ... Some parts of our community have test positive results of 30%," board member Carol Sawyer posted on Facebook Sunday. She said the new information "shifts my thinking on the safety of the in-person orientation days" and called for a switch to all-remote opening.

The school board meeting will be held electronically and streamed on the board's Facebook page.

On July 15, seven of nine members voted to bring students back to school in small groups for three- or four-day orientation sessions, then shift everyone to remote learning until further notice. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper gave districts a choice between "Plan B," which brings students back with six feet of social distancing, and "Plan C," which is all remote.

CMS board Vice Chair Thelma Byers-Bailey said last week that in-person sessions are vital for students who will be unable to do remote learning unless someone gives them the devices they need and shows them how to use the software.

"I can't sacrifice my children. I cannot," Byers-Bailey said, referring to students in her district she believes will be left out in an all-remote opening.

But teachers, students and parents continued to urge CMS to pull the plug on the in-person sessions, saying the risk of spreading the virus is too great.

Sawyer is one of the seven members who approved the current plan. So is Lenora Shipp, who said Monday she now thinks it's time to review new data and "pivot" if needed.

"Nobody can deny we want children back in school, and they need to be back" Shipp said. "But we also don't want to look at anyone not being safe."

At least 46 of the state's 115 school districts and 31 of approximately 200 charter schools have approved all-remote openings as of Friday, according to a News & Observer tally. That represents almost 52% of all students.

Tens of thousands more families have opted to keep their students home through remote academies offered in every district. CMS closed its registration at midnight Sunday; Monday the district released a preliminary tally of 52,552 students signed up. That's about 36% of last year's total enrollment.

Breakdowns by school and demographics will be released later, the district says.

CMS, like districts across the country, is trying to choose the bests of bad options. Keeping kids at home threatens their academic progress -- and in some cases, their physical and mental health. Bringing them back risks the spread of a potentially deadly disease that's still being figured out.

In a Sunday New York Times analysis, a Virginia superintendent was quoted as comparing the process to "playing a game of 3D chess while standing on one leg in the middle of a hurricane."

North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger has pushed for in-person classes at full capacity.

"In-person instruction is absolutely critical for student success," he tweeted Monday. "Gov. Cooper's decision to exclude an option for full, in-person instruction will worsen inequities we expect our public schools to help mitigate.

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