CHARLOTTE, N.C. — For the first time in months, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools middle school students who attend a K-8 school will return to in-person learning on Monday.
The rest of the CMS middle schoolers will have to wait until Jan. 5 to return to the classroom. School district board members say the biggest issues they’ve run into is creating adequate social distancing between students.
Another issue: there was a recent bus driver shortage due to many taking coronavirus-sick-leave earlier in the school year.
"The second-to-last week in October, we saw that final surge, and it went from about 30 to nearly 70," said Adam Johnson, CMS Executive Director of Transportation.
Now with more bus drivers healthy, more students can return back to school.
But with new record highs of COVID cases in the state and county, there’s some concern.
CMS reported 76 schools had active cases just over a week ago, putting them in the red. Also in that danger zone: public health cases.
The district reported they’re prepared to welcome students back, with staff ready and health-trained, plenty of PPE, and safety and distancing plans in place.
Families in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg School district have the option to keep children in full-remote learning throughout the remainder of the year, but Monday, Nov. 30 is the deadline to do so.
CMS officials have maintained that cases are not spreading within the school building and point to the clusters metric to show that.
A cluster is 5 or more cases that can be linked to each other. For now, it is still in the green zone, but the dashboard will be updated on Tuesday.
But the first day back comes right after Thanksgiving break, a time teachers or students could've been exposed at family gatherings.
“It was frustrating that no one said, if you travel you need to be in Plan C, you need to be fully remote if you're planning to travel over the holidays. I feel like that boundary should've been set,” said Jen Bourne, a CMS middle school teacher.
Today was her first day back. It's been 9 months since she's had students in her classroom.
She said it was great seeing them but her feelings about being back are still mixed. Bourne said she didn't get much sleep last night. She distanced the desks in her classroom and braced herself to see students again.
"I was worried about having to lie and say I’m so glad you're back and we're here together but I actually was able to truthfully say those things,” she said.
She was hesitant about returning but knows she is lucky. Her class sizes are small and she kept the window in her classroom open the entire day.
“My concern is not everyone has those things and the decisions should be made based on really the greatest need,” said Bourne. “Our numbers are very low so the most kids I had in my classroom was 3.”
CMS students are allowed to transfer from in-person instruction to Full Remote Academy or from Full Remote Academy to in-person instruction for the second semester.
According to the district, students currently enrolled in the Full Remote Academy and would like to remain in it for second semester, no action needs to be taken; the enrollment will carry over automatically.
The transfer option is available to all CMS students in all grades.
To confirm the transfer, parents must communicate that decision to their school via email no later than Nov. 30. According to the district, notifications should go to the school office, not to a student's teacher.
In addition, all families must let the district know if they require morning and/or afternoon bus transportation so that an accurate schedule can be made.
In South Carolina, many school districts have already returned to in-person learning. Now, Governor Henry McMaster wants to take the next step by giving all public schools across the state access to rapid COVID-19 testing.
McMaster believes this will eventually allow all schools to get all students back in the classroom five days a week.
“By following official COVID-19 procedures and protocols schools can be operated safely,” Gov. McMaster said.
The rapid test is optional with parent permission and would only be given to students with symptoms. The results can be delivered in just 15 minutes.