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CMS K-5 students return to in-person learning

District officials and the health director say it is safe to move forward with plans to bring students back into classrooms despite a rise in coronavirus cases.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools is bringing kindergarten through 5th graders into the classroom starting Monday as they continue to transition into Plan B, a mix of in-person and virtual learning.

Students will be split into two groups. Group A will attend in-person learning on Monday and Tuesday and Group B will go on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be a virtual day for everyone.

It’s the first time students have been back in the classroom since March 13.

“We're ready to see our kids,” said Highland Renaissance Academy principal Erin Coles.

The day will start with temperature checks. The hallways are marked to show kids how to social distance and there's plenty of hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.

WCNC Charlotte was at Sharon Elementary School on Monday where a steady line of cars and buses waited to drop off students.  After a health screening and temperature check, students were allowed to follow markings on the ground to enter the school building. 

“We are excited to be back. A lot of excited kids here," said parent Carolyn McGrath who has two children at Sharon Elementary. "They’re just so excited to see all their friends and teachers they recognize.“

RELATED: CMS: Remote learning students must take state tests in-person

“We've split our kids into A day and B day, you can see these are my kids that will be coming on Monday. They have their individual supplies, their individual folders, I’m going to use this lanyard for their masks when they take them off at recess, and this empty desk is for B days,” said Highland Renaissance Academy  3rd-grade teacher Lindy Andrews when showing how she’s adapted her classroom.

Andrews is excited and ready to see her students in person.

“We made sure to make those connections, but there's still a piece missing with the physical aspect of it,” she said of virtual learning.

Parents dropping kids off at Sharon Elementary Monday morning agreed. 

"I think it’s well worth the risk, I’m OK with that," Craig Hundley said. "The safety issue doesn’t bother me. She needs the socialization. It’ll do a lot for her.”

Coronavirus cases are slowly rising in Mecklenburg County, but health officials support reopening.

“We believe the school system should move forward as they are planning to on Monday," Health Director Gibbie Harris said at a press conference Friday.

School district leaders addressing the same concerns at another press conference, pointing to the safety precautions in place as a reason for moving forward.

“We feel based on our plans that we are poised and ready to have elementary school back,” said Kathy Elling, the Chief School Performance Officer.

Principal Coles is confident her classrooms will be safe.

“I can't control anything outside of Highland Renaissance Academy, right? But what we can control and what we are ready for is when these kids come in our building,” said Coles.

Highland Renaissance Academy already has a good practice. Pre-k students are used to wearing masks and sanitizing their hands after 3 full weeks of in-person learning. And the exceptional students use only the supplies in their basket and have adjusted to staying in their own box when they need a break. Those students wear their masks in common areas.

The teachers who are already back in-person are offering advice.

“Be prepared to have a lot of talks with them around the procedures and give them time to learn the differences that are made for this year,” said Layla Hicks.

Jake Gehron did impart some advice on his two children before sending them into Sharon Elementary Monday morning, “Just wear the mask and listen to the teachers and obey what they’re told by the folks who are running the show here.”

At Highlands Renaissance, they’ve been talking with the students and preparing them, expecting first day jitters.

“When you allow kids the opportunity to share their voice with their trusted adult, kids are resilient and they see okay, my school knows what they're doing and they're communicating with us and we're ready to come back,” said Coles. “We've built-in mask breaks for kids to go outside and take their mask off and just go be a kid. We've built in extra bathroom breaks and extra hand washing breaks. And we've told our staff just give yourself some grace in the first few days and it's going to take some adjustments.”

The next group of students that CMS will bring back are middle schoolers. They'll be back November 23.

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