Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools leaders say they’ll lock in metrics Thursday for when it’s safe to bring students back to schools. And the school board will hold a special meeting next week to vote on a phased-in approach to make that happen.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, members and the superintendent still stopped short of saying when the first students will return. Superintendent Earnest Winston said he knows families are anxious for news.
"I can confidently say that we’re closer than ever to that particular date," he said, "the time when our students can once again enter the doors of our schools and walk those hallways — obviously socially distanced, of course — with their classmates."
At the start of the meeting, several parents told the board that remote classes aren't good for students. They said they want a plan to get students back in class as quickly as possible.
"I have a simple message for the board this evening," said Douglas Hutton. "Reopen schools for in-person instruction immediately."
But others warned the board not to rush into anything unsafe.
"I was alarmed to hear there was a possibility that students would be back as early as mid-September," said Eliza Brenkus. "I'm here to ask you to wait to send our children back to in-person instruction until all of our schools are as safe as possible."
Dashboard Almost Ready
An advisory panel made up of medical experts and CMS staff plans to approve a dashboard Thursday that gives green, yellow or red ratings based on COVID-19 numbers and schools’ readiness to reopen safely.
For instance, chief school performance officer Kathy Elling told the board that fewer than 10 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people and a positive test rate below 5% would indicate minimal community spread, with in-person classes considered safe. Numbers above 100 cases per 100,000 people and a positivity rate above 10% would be in the red zone, where everyone might be sent home again.
Measures such as staff vacancies and leaves, building readiness and staff training to handle COVID-19 cases will also be considered. Elling said her biggest concern now is that CMS still has 36 school nurse vacancies.
Winston told the board that school-by-school readiness audits are not yet finished.
Elling said once students return, CMS will report on the number of positive cases and people under quarantine at schools.
The Metrics Advisory Committee meets at 8 a.m. Thursday, and the meeting will be streamed on the board's Facebook page.
Readiness And Furloughs
Board Chair Elyse Dashew said the school board will meet Sept. 16 to vote on next steps, such as deciding which grade levels will return first.
Draft plans have been shared with some "experts and stakeholders," such as principals, that call for bringing the youngest students back first and phasing the others in over the course of nine or 15 weeks. Dashew said those plans could change by next week.
She said the second topic at that meeting will be authorizing Winston to furlough employees if that becomes necessary.
"None of us wants to have furloughs," she said. "And we will do everything in our power to avoid or minimize the possibility of furloughs."
Teachers and other educators are doing online lessons, but some hourly staff, such as bus drivers and cafeteria workers, can end up idle when students work from home.
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