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Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools votes to keep students virtual until at least Feb. 15

The board approved the vote Thursday 8-1.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted Thursday to keep students virtual until at least Feb. 15.

The board approved the vote 8-1.

Under the new plan, elementary and K-8 students with special needs will not return to the classroom until at least Feb 15.

Middle and high school students will not return to school until at least Feb. 22. Teachers will return to the classroom the Thursday before.  

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

"It has been agonizing and heart-wrenching to have to bring such a recommendation in light of all that our students have been through in the past almost a year now," superintendent Earnest Winston said.

The board was set to discuss and possibly make a decision during a board meeting earlier in the week, but that decision was tabled after learning about new county-wide recommendations meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 in the community.

A little over an hour before the CMS meeting was set to start Tuesday, Mecklenburg County announced that Public Health Director Gibbie Harris issued a special three-week directive to protect residents from COVID-19.

One of the "immediate actions" recommended was to "utilize full-virtual options for work, school, and any other activity where the in-person activity is not required."

RELATED: Here's what the COVID-19 directive means for you in Mecklenburg County

Board members said they felt it would be "irresponsible" to ignore the directive from Harris.

"We are doing our best with the cards we’ve been dealt," CMS board chair Elyse Dashew said.

RELATED: Charlotte-area private schools sent scrambling after county's public health directive announced

Member Rhonda Cheek said she is concerned about the spread of COVID in the community, but did not believe schools were a major contributor to the problem. 

"We’ve been in remote and these numbers continue to grow so us staying in remote is not gonna change that," Cheek said, before voting with the majority. "We’ve gotta change our behavior as a community."

The lone vote against the delay to returning to classrooms, Sean Strain, said the health director issued a recommendation, not a mandate.

"We don’t have a sound legal basis for this decision, we don’t have a sound medical basis for this decision, and our kids are the ones that continue to pay the price for the adult decisions on this board that defy logic and dare I say defy law," Strain said.

RELATED: "We want people to take it seriously" | 22-year-old becomes youngest person to die of COVID in Mecklenburg

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RELATED: Union County Public Schools head back to the classroom for in-person learning

Due to the soaring number of COVID-19 cases in Mecklenburg County in December, the board voted to move students and teachers with the exception of Pre-K students and teachers, to virtual classes starting Dec. 14 with a return to in-person learning date of Jan. 19.

Before the vote was final, a group of 50 parents and students gathered outside the government center in Uptown and rallied against online learning.

RELATED: CMS: Reported COVID cases among students drop over winter break

One CMS teacher who wishes to stay anonymous told WCNC Charlotte the schools are just “not safe.”

The most recent data from the district COVID metrics tell a different story. While out of school, 46 students and 98 staff members tested positive for COVID-19 between Jan. 4 through 8.

Overall, the data shows the district is in the green in every school readiness category.

"We’re not here because CMS is not ready," Winston told the board Thursday. "We’re here because our partners at the Mecklenburg County health department ... say that our community is not ready at this time."

RELATED: 887 people in quarantine prompts remote learning switch at local school district

Some educators said in the days leading up to the decision that they fear for their lives.

"You can decide to save lives, or start drafting press releases for when one of your beloved employees dies, what will it be," Meredith Fox, one of the public commenters at Tuesday's board meeting, said.

Other teachers said they fully support bringing students back. 

"I have a sign hanging up in my classroom -- my students are worth whatever it takes," Amy Klass, a teacher at Rea Farms STEAM Academy and parent of a CMS student, said.

Former Panthers tight end Greg Olsen even responded to the discussions on Twitter, calling on schools to reopen. 

RELATED: Colleges face tough decision of returning to in-person classes spring semester as COVID cases continue to rise