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CMS welcomes back students for 1st day of school

Superintendent Earnest Winston is asking parents to make sure kids have their masks on and to follow the CMS protocol to slow the spread of COVID-19.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Hundreds of students walked into Julius Chambers High School for the first time ever Wednesday, just weeks after the school was renamed to honor the civil rights icon

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officially renamed the school after Chambers in July. He was a prominent civil rights attorney in the Charlotte area and helped paved the way for desegregating buses in the CMS district in the 1970s. 

For many parents, Wednesday was all about COVID-19 safety and following the district's protocols

"Don't forget to wear your masks," Latresa Smith told her three kids as they got out of the car. "Keep them on and have a great day."

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Smith was dropping off her son, Jerimiah, as well as her niece and nephew. The boys play football together, while her niece Destiny is a cheerleader. All three are seniors and spent more than a year learning virtually because of the pandemic. 

This year, CMS doesn't have any plans for virtual classes as it deals with educating kids in a world affected by the coronavirus. All students, teachers, and guests on CMS campuses are required to wear masks. Smith is optimistic masks will help prevent the spread of the virus.

"I think that we'll be OK if everybody does what they're supposed to do," Smith said. "I think we'll be fine if people do what they're supposed to, keep their hands washed, and use hand sanitizer. Keep your mask on and do the six feet distancing. I think it'll be good."

Smith's son maintained good grades while studying at home last year. She said she thinks CMS is handling COVID-19 well, including what happens when a student tests positive. 

"It's not a matter of if we will experience them, but when," CMS Superintendent Earnest Winston said.

RELATED: 'I really don't understand parents who are so excited about this school year' | Parents on edge after CMS and other school districts prepare to return

Under the current plan, students who test positive for COVID-19 must quarantine for 10 days; however, students who are close contacts no longer have to quarantine if they are masked and don't have symptoms. 

CMS will also contact families of students by phone, email, or by through Canvas, a web-based learning system, to make sure they get the required classwork during their absence. Students will also be able to get resources like workbooks and computers to help them stay on track. 

Winston said if students wear masks, and those who are old enough get vaccinated, it can only help. The same goes for staff members getting vaccinated.

"Please get the shot and wear your mask," he said. "We need everybody to get on board with that."

Winston said CMS isn't requiring vaccinations for staff members at this time. 

After the first day, CMS held a news conference to give a progress report on the big day. 

"We have been anticipating this day for a year and a half now," Winston said. "We were ready today!"

Overall, Winston said things went smoothly. 

However, district officials said it was 'likely' some students and teachers were already sent home due to COVID-19 symptoms. The district did not give a specific number or campuses that saw people sent home. 

Currently, there is no on-campus rapid COVID-19 testing for students and staff as recommended by Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris. 

The district said they are working to get it up and running. 

"We are working as aggressively as possible, with the vendor that was provided to us by the state. Now, we just found out who that vendor was in August," said Christine Pejot, the chief human resources officer for the district. 

When the district does implement on-campus testing, Pejot said it would be a phased-in approach with extracurriculars focusses on first, followed by high school, and then move down to middle school students. 

Regardless, students would need parental consent before being tested on campus, the district noted. 

With a rise in COVID-19 cases across the state, some parents have already expressed interest in switching their child from in-person learning to virtual learning. 

CMS said parents can apply for a transfer to try to get into a virtual academy with the district, but there's a waiting list. 

In the meantime, one district official told parents to, "send your kids to school with a mask."

Contact Richard DeVayne at rdevayne@wcnc.com and follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Contact Hunter Sáenz at hsaenz@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.  

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