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'The kids need more stability than what they're getting' | CMS increases classroom time for students

Group A will attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays while Group B will be in person on Thursdays and Fridays.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Middle and high school students within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools started a new schedule Monday with in-person learning two times a week. Group A will attend school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays while Group B will be in person on Thursdays and Fridays.

On March 22, K-5 will return to in-person learning four times a week with remote learning Wednesdays.

RELATED: CMS board votes to increase in-person learning for all students

"We have taken the children through so many changes over the course of the last year that it just didn't make a lot of sense to me in the middle of March when we have two and a half months left," CMS parent Harilyn Belvin said. "People aren't really taking into consideration of what all the sudden changes are doing to the children and the families and the teachers."

Belvin has two daughters: one in fourth grade the other is a senior. She said more changes create more stress, especially for her 10-year-old daughter. 

"School board made a decision, 'You're going back to four days,' and immediately, the look on her face was one of frustration," Belvin said. "There were a few tears."

She said the district is rushing to make changes instead of allowing families to make plans.

"It just doesn't seem like there is a grand plan in place," Belvin said. 

Meanwhile, other parents applaud the decision but want the district to go in-person five days a week. Teachers are also concerned about safety, hoping more educators get time to be vaccinated. 

Ro Lawsin has three children in the CMS district. His daughter attends Bailey Middle School, and his two sons go to Hough High School. 

Lawsin said all three started back for two days a week of in-person learning on Monday. His children had been on the previous rotation schedule for middle and high school students that included one week of in-person learning followed by two weeks of remote learning. 

"At least it's every week and obviously, beggars can't be choosers, but I'm excited that they're able to go at least every week," Lawsin said.

As a parent, Lawsin said he has concerns about learning loss, socialization issues, and mental health issues that students may experience from not having consistent time in the classroom over the last year. 

"To have to sit in front of a computer screen for eight hours a day for the past year," he said, "it's been a challenge, to say the least." 

Lawsin said he hopes the school district considers increasing the days of in-person learning for students this school year. 

"Whatever we can salvage this last remaining quarter, let's do it because our kids deserve it," Lawsin added.

Glen Stephens' son John is a second-grader at a school in the CMS district. Stephens said his son will be able to attend class in-person five days a week starting March 22 due to his needs under his Individualized Education Program. 

"When you have a child like John, for whom Zoom was difficult if not impossible, it makes the entire last year difficult to impossible," Stephens said.

RELATED: UCPS middle, high school students will learn in-person five days a week starting April 12

Stephens said it was a sense of relief that John would get to attend school in-person five days a week, but now he is advocating for other children to have the same opportunity. 

"Why can't his peers go back to school with him? Why do we still have that Wednesday in which elementary schoolers aren't able to go back to school?" Stephens questioned. "And even beyond that, why aren't middle and high schoolers going back to school more than two days a week?"

According to the CMS COVID-19 dashboard, 33 new students tested positive for the virus and 24 new staff members tested positive between March 6-12 out of 79,804 students attending class in-person and 19,106 employees. 

Stephens said he believes the data has shown that there is not significant spread among teachers and students and that schools can be opened safely. 

"It should not be this difficult to get children educated," Stephens said.

RELATED: CMS cancels 2021 prom, citing limits on social gatherings

CMS isn't the only school district in the Charlotte area making changes. 

Cabarrus County 4th and 5th graders returned to four days of in-person learning starting Monday. 

Fort Mill middle and high school students returned five days a week.

As things inch towards a new normal, parents like Belvin just want a chance to ensure their kids feel safe when it comes to heading back to the classroom during a pandemic. 

"It is possible more changes are coming and as a parent, I would really love the opportunity to prepare her for what that could look like," Belvin said.

CMS students are not allowed to transition between in-person learning and full remote unless the student is facing hardships. 

RELATED: NC governor, top lawmakers announce plan to reopen schools