CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools Board of Education voted Tuesday to move to virtual learning amid growing COVID-19 trends in the Charlotte area.
The Board voted 6-3 to send most students home starting Dec. 14. The at-home, virtual learning would continue beyond the winter break with a plan conclusion on Jan. 15. Students would then be scheduled to return to a mix of in-person and remote learning beginning Jan. 19.
Some exclusions do apply: High school and middle school students would return to complete end-of-course (EOC) exams in-person; Pre-K children will be offered in-person opportunities in schools or through providers; exceptional children would return home except when their individualized education plan (IEP) calls for in-person instruction.
Students who decide to complete EOC exams in-person are guaranteed a grade no lower than 50 on those exams. The exam will be averaged as 20% of their final course grade. Students can decide to take an "incomplete" for the course and complete the exam at a later date before June 1.
Some other programs will also be exempt. Previously approved athletics will continue and the CMS Eats at Home program will also continue. Transportation would be provided for needed in-person exams.
The mid-year graduation would be a virtual event on Jan. 13.
About 41,000 CMS students were already back to some form of in-person learning as of December, primarily Pre-K and elementary-age students, and those with special needs. More middle and high school students were originally scheduled to return to classrooms immediately after the winter holiday.
North Carolina will be implementing a modified stay-at-home order and a nighttime curfew beginning Friday, Governor Roy Cooper announced Tuesday as COVID-19 trends continue to rise statewide.
The new restrictions, which take effect at 5 p.m., create a nighttime curfew from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m. The restrictions continue through at least Jan. 8, 2021.
More than 80% of North Carolina counties are in the orange or red on the state's coronavirus spread map. Mecklenburg was among those counties with critical or substantial community spread of the coronavirus.
On Tuesday, North Carolina health officials reported 404,032 cases of COVID-19 with 2,373 hospitalizations. The positive rate for COVID-19 testing over the past two weeks is 9.3%.
Hours before Tuesday’s CMS board of education meeting, a group of parents gathered in Charlotte's Midtown Park for an "open the schools" rally.
“I want my child in school," CMS parent Barron Chandler said ahead of the meeting.
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Chandler said he’s fed up watching his third-grade son struggle with virtual learning.
“I had to try and help him with some very simple math work," he said. "And it ended up with him on the floor crying, having an absolute mental breakdown. I had to basically wrap him up in arms, hold him in my lap and just say, 'Buddy, it is OK,' and basically let the teacher know we're done. We're not going to put our child through this. I'm not going to sit here and watch my child suffer like this.”
In August, a group of parents filed a nearly 100-page lawsuit against CMS, claiming that by not reopening schools, the district is denying students' constitutional right to an education.
That suit was scheduled to be heard the morning of Tuesday's board meeting but was delayed after the judge, a CMS parent himself, recused himself for conflict of interest.
On the other side of the debate, many parents and teachers are pushing for CMS to play it safe and keep kids home.
"Scared is definitely a good way to describe it," said one CMS teacher who asked to remain anonymous. "I'm anxious. The thought of going back to school makes me incredibly stressed and in turn, doesn't make me the teacher that I'm going to need to be for them anyway."
Yet still, others believe it's past time to re-open the classroom doors.
“You think about the children that do not have those resources and do not have the means and their parents can't be home with them throughout the day because they have to go to work," Chandler said. "We're losing those kids.”
Many parents like Chandler have suggested a return to in-person learning should not be mandatory, but at least offered as an option.
“We created an accommodation for those folks who don't want their children in school and don't want that exposure," Chandler said. "If we're going to provide that accommodation, then let's keep that accommodation in place for those of us who do want our children in school."
CMS board members have stated one of the biggest obstacles to returning to class is staffing, with many teachers and bus drivers taking COVID-related leave.
"The only people preventing kids from being in our classroom now is our own preparation," District 6 board member Sean Strain.
That has led to an even bigger picture discussion about how the district’s mass size could be a hindrance to these kinds of decisions.
"The CMS school board and system is too big and needs to be broken down into more manageable chunks," said CMS parent Meg Soloman. "That gives them the authority and ability to manage and handle their school systems better. It cannot pivot and it cannot meet the needs of all of its constituents based on the size it is today."