Gov. Roy Cooper has asked North Carolina schools to prepare for operating at 50% capacity to allow for safe distancing if the coronavirus doesn’t let up. But Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials say state law doesn’t allow that.
Cooper has laid out three possible paths for reopening schools in August: Reopen with minimal restrictions, reopen at half capacity to allow for more social distancing, or keep schools closed. He plans to announce next week which path to follow, based on coronavirus trends.
But Charles Jeter, the government relations coordinator for CMS, told board members the middle path is blocked by current law, which counts only in-person class time toward required minimums.
"The law today says the only way we can do in-person instruction is if all students show up every single day. And if that happens, there is no social distancing," Jeter told the board's Intergovernmental Relations Committee on Tuesday.
Operating at 50% requires some students to keep learning from home, possibly on alternating schedules. With North Carolina’s COVID-19 numbers continuing to rise, the prospects for a return-as-normal path seem questionable.
Jeter says this isn’t just a challenge for large districts. The need for alternative scheduling happens anywhere school buildings are full, he says, no matter how many schools a district has.
"The reason we can’t social distance is we operate schools at 100% capacity. Macon County, one of the smallest LEAs (local education agency) in the state, has the exact same problem," Jeter said.
The state House has passed a bill that would give school districts the ability to combine distance and in-person learning. The CMS board will urge the Senate to approve it, but Jeter told the panel he’s not optimistic.
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