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'Our students are ready to come back' | CMS students head back to the classroom Wednesday

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education met Tuesday evening, one day before students return for the first day of class.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education met Tuesday evening, less than 24 hours before thousands of students return to class for the first day of school Wednesday. 

Guidance from the county health department

All students and teachers will be required to wear masks. Teachers are strongly encouraged to get vaccinated but CMS said it is not mandating the vaccine for employees at this time. 

The district said they're ready to have kids back in person but safety is the top priority. That being said, CMS isn't following all the recommendations that county public health director Gibbie Harris said she would like to see on day one in a letter to Superintendent Earnest Winston.

RELATED: 'We are concerned' | Mecklenburg County health director provides CMS with recommendations to limit COVID-19 spread

Her recommendations: hire additional staff focus solely on each school's COVID-19 response, require weekly testing for staff who aren't vaccinated, implement on-campus rapid testing for students and staff with symptoms, and more.

CMS will eventually hire six COVID-19 response coordinators for the district and weekly testing for unvaccinated staff is being worked on, but will not be ready before the school year starts Wednesday.

Similarly, on-campus rapid testing for anyone with symptoms at a CMS school is not yet available. The district says they're working with providers to get on-campus testing rolling. Students would only be able to get tested on campus if the school has permission from parents. 

"I believe our students are ready to come back in-person to a more normal start of the school year," Superintendent Earnest Winston said. "I request that you arrive with your face covered but your mind open and ready to learn."

What to expect for quarantines

Quarantines are going to be inevitable this year, and even with the mask requirement, there will be instances when individual students, staff or maybe even entire sports teams have to quarantine for a period of time. 

Students who test positive for COVID-19 will be required to quarantine for 10 days. If a student is exposed to COVID-19 but was masked and not showing symptoms, though, they will not have to quarantine. 

Even though the school year hasn't even started, the district reported 21 positive students and 31 staff members. That's out of more than 150,000 total, but with the surging delta variant and community spread in the red, health experts in Mecklenburg County say it's a matter of time.  

"We have so much virus in our community that we are gonna have cases in our schools," said Dr. Meg Sullivan with Mecklenburg County Public Health. 

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With that comes the inevitable isolations and quarantines. But unlike last year, CMS classrooms won't be switching to remote learning. 

"We don't have the option to send everyone to remote learning anymore," said Patrick Smith, the assistant superintendent of communications for CMS. "As of this year, that option ended on July 1 due to action by the state legislature."

"When students do have to miss time, in the inevitable event that they do, there will not be no learning going on," Smith added. "There will be learning provided."

RELATED: 'I really don't understand parents who are so excited about this school year' | Parents on edge after CMS and other school districts prepare to return

RELATED: Myers Park High School students still pushing CMS to improve response to sexual harassment, assault claims

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