CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Schools across North Carolina, including the Charlotte area, are beginning to let more students return to classrooms for in-person learning.
On March 11, 2021, Gov. Roy Cooper signed into law a bill that called on schools to allow students from kindergarten through fifth grade back to campuses in-person for five days per week, with an implementation deadline of 21 days after signing. The bill not only had bipartisan support in the North Carolina General Assembly but also afforded school districts flexibility to bring students in grades 6-12 into Plan A as they saw fit, provided they submitted a plan to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services among other requirements.
WCNC Charlotte is compiling this list of school districts in our area that are bringing grades 6-12 back to campus for in-person learning under Plan A. Here's a look at which districts have made this move:
CMS announced on Friday, March 19 they would consider a recommendation from superintendent Earnest Winston at an upcoming Board of Education meeting to bring middle and high school students back to campus under its own version of Plan A, with students attending in-person four days per week. While the exact details of Winston's recommendation were not provided in a news release, CMS promised information would be communicated to students, teachers, and families as soon as a decision was made. Winston will present the recommendation at the meeting on Tuesday, March 23.
Caldwell County Schools
Caldwell County Schools announced on Friday, March 19 that all students in grades K-12 will be back on campus for in-person learning for four days per week, starting on April 12. Wednesdays will be set aside as a virtual learning day, but CCS says it serves multiple purposes, such as getting meals to students and allowing teachers to plan lessons. Students who are enrolled in their virtual option will finish out the year that way.
Iredell-Statesville Schools made their announcement on Thursday, March 18: students in grades 6-12 are back on campus beginning April 7, 2021. The district noted students in grades K-5 had been back on campus since October 2020 already. Unlike plans from CMS and CCS, ISS says middle and high school students will be learning in-person for a full five-day school week. Students will only be able to choose between fully in-person or fully virtual to complete the year; there are no hybrid learning options available.
Mooresville Graded School District
More Mooresville students will soon be able to get back to class in-person full time. MGSD said on Friday, March 19 that all students would get back to class under Plan A beginning April 7, 2021. The district promised temperature checks and disinfecting, although it admitted social distancing under now-updated CDC guidelines wouldn't be possible. In a turn from other districts, MGSD says families can change their minds if the switch to Plan A doesn't work for them; for example, a family that was fully virtual can switch to fully in-person learning, and a family that was more comfortable with a hybrid schedule can go virtual if they wish. Students have until 4 p.m. on March 24 to make a choice to change. Students who are on the current hybrid plan will automatically go fully in-person after then, and fully virtual learners will complete the year online if they don't choose to switch.
Gaston County Schools
Gaston County Schools made their announcement on March 15, saying middle and high school students would be back in class on April 12. District leaders say plenty of other school districts had their eyes on them as potential leaders for a response to the virus and chose to go to a four-day in-person school week, with Wednesdays acting as a virtual learning day.
Union County Public Schools
Similar to Gaston County, Union County Public Schools confirmed on March 15 they would get back to in-person learning for all grade levels, albeit with five full days of on-campus instruction. The idea had a 7-2 majority support from the school board members, but there were initial objections and recommendations to have Fridays be a virtual day for middle and school students. That would have shifted them to a four-day in-person school week like other districts previously discussed in this article.
WCNC Charlotte will continue to update this article as we get more details from area districts.
What about social distancing?
On Friday, March 19, the Centers for Disease Control updated social distancing guidelines to allow students to sit closer together in classrooms. Previous guidelines said the standard 6 feet of social distance was the best recommendation, but the new guidance says 3 feet of separation in classrooms will now be acceptable. The announcement came amidst three of the above districts' announcements during the same day.
The North Carolina Association of Educators, the state's largest teachers' union, released a statement expressing concern about what it said was a lack of clarity about why the CDC reduced the metric.
“For the sake of public trust and clarity, we urge the CDC to provide far more detail about the rationale for the change from 6 feet to 3 feet for students in schools, clearly and publicly account for differences in types of school environments, new virus variants, differences in mitigation compliance, and how study participants were tested for the virus," said NCAE president Walker Kelly. "We are concerned that the CDC has changed one of the basic rules for how to ensure school safety without demonstrating certainty that the change is justified by the science and can be implemented in a manner that does not detract from the larger long-term needs of students.”