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CMS says they're ready for students to return to in-person learning in February

The school district said they’re ready for students to return to in-person learning in February, as long as the COVID-19 metrics allow.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools Superintendent Earnest Winston held the first of what he said will now be regular briefings with the media, as the district prepares to welcome students back on campus next month.

During Friday’s briefing, Winston addressed the district’s readiness to return to in-person learning, teacher vaccination plans and also defended his decision to pause certain athletics. He also addressed a dramatic increase in the number of “F” letter grades amongst students and the district’s plans to address them.

“We continue to remain in a state of readiness,” CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said, citing adequate staff and bus drivers, prepared facilities and safety plans in place.

“But I don’t have a crystal ball and cannot say with complete certainty that you know this or that will actually happen,” he said, referring to the district’s plan to bring Pre-K and K-5 students back to school Feb. 15, followed by middle and high school students on Feb 22.

RELATED: Mecklenburg Co. classifies previously reported COVID-19 cases as clusters at 3 CMS schools

“It is our intent at the Feb. 9 board meeting, after we have looked at the data from the previous week, to share with our board a recommendation based on the data that we have in hand,” said Winston.

Winston, a parent to two CMS students himself said he shares in the frustration felt by many parents across the district.

“We want kids back in our classrooms, but we only want to do that when it’s safe to do so,” he said. 

Winston also addressed how virtual learning has negatively impacted many of the district’s students.

“There have been reports of less than desirable subject-matter mastery, higher failure rates than in previous years and our own data analysis shows similar status,” he said, “Even when remote learning is deemed necessary by our board, those are unacceptable results.”

Frank Barnes, who works in the office of equity and accountability at CMS, said during the second quarter, 32.9% of CMS students have at least one “F” letter grade.

“All of our subgroups are seeing increased failure rates,” he said, “but there were 4 subgroups that particularly caught our awareness and that’s black students, Hispanic students, English learner students and students with disabilities.”

RELATED: 'I have no faith in CMS' | Parents frustrated with virtual decision plans to pull students from district

Friday, Winston said district leadership is working with learning community leadership to drive a school by school effort to improve mastery of critical information.

“And we will make sure our teaching methods and the content we provide align with our students' needs and we’re committed to making those improvements as quickly as possible,” he said.

Also addressed Friday were teacher vaccinations. Winston said the district continues to work closely with county health officials, who he said shares the district’s interests in giving student-facing staff priority for the COVID-19 vaccine, but says the priority groups are issued at the state level.

Once the vaccine is made available to priority group 3, Winston said the district will be releasing more specific plans and says he will work with each school to make sure teachers are given flexibility, “to make sure that our student-facing staff can take the time necessary to attend the vaccination appointments.”

Winston said employers have the authority to mandate that their employees receive the vaccine, but that “We do not have any current plans in the district to mandate that our employees receive the vaccine, I know that’s a very touchy subject and a very personal subject to many.”

RELATED: 'The worst is watching my five-year-old go through this' | CMS families express frustration

Friday, Winston also defended his decision to pause athletics for teams not already participating in post-season competition.

“We recognize the importance of athletics and extracurricular activities, but after much consultation with our public health officials, with community spread at an all-time high we made the decision to protect the health and safety of student-athletes and our staff,” he said.

He said the district has seen a-number-of cases in their athletic programs over the last several months, even though he says they followed the proper procedures and protocols to mitigate the spread.

“So this week some previously reported cases in two of our schools' athletics programs were classified as clusters by our county public health officials, “he said, “In all instances, individuals with confirmed cases have not been inside our facilities since the initial positive test was reported.”

Winston said it’s the district’s intent to resume athletic practices and competitions as they return students to in-person learning in February.

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