CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Thousands of students and staff at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools went back into the classroom Tuesday amid a surge in COVID-19 cases across the Charlotte area, including in school aged children.
CMS has a mask mandate in place, but there are no plans at this time to switch to remote learning for certain schools or classrooms.
The North Carolina State Legislature tied school districts’ hands this August when it passed a bill, that later turned into law, regarding rules for remote learning.
A district wide mandate to go virtual is not possible.
North Carolina Senator Joyce Waddell, who represents parts of Mecklenburg County and is on the state legislature’s education committee, said kids need to be in the classroom.
“Students do better when they are in school, and just recently we saw the statistics about students," Waddell said. "Many students not doing well through Zoom and at home.”
Waddell said focusing on mitigating efforts like masking, social distancing and vaccines will keep students safe.
District leaders can make decisions on shifting individual schools or classrooms from in-person to remote learning.
Some parents don’t want to go back to virtual due to learning difficulties at home.
"They seem like they don’t want to do the work," Hien Le, a CMS parent, said. "They sleep all the time."
A rise in COVID-19 cases or positivity rate is not a qualification to go remote under the law. Local health leaders say it is possible for kids to learn in person and stay safe.
"We know how important for kids to be in person but we have to take precautions to do it," Dr. David Priest, Novant Health's infectious disease expert, said. "I think masking is still a very important part of the approach. I think having good ventilation in school are an important part of the approach."
According to the law, schools can go remote if COVID-19 exposures result in insufficient school personnel or required student quarantines.
The law also calls for districts to return to in-person learning as soon as personnel are available, or the required quarantines are complete.
CMS reported in a school board meeting in December that virtual learning set back thousands of students academically -- especially its Black and Latino students.
The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services updated its back to school tool kit and they are still recommending masking in schools.
The state also added that students who are eligible for a booster shot should get one. It’s all to keep kids learning in person.
"We have the benefit of so much more information, science and data than we did at the start of this pandemic," North Carolina Governor Roy Copper said in a news conference Tuesday. "We're using that knowledge to keep students safely in the classroom, help businesses stay open and ensure public services are running as effectively and efficiently as possible."
COVID-19 cases in school age children continue to rise and some parents are switching gears as COVID-19 hits close to home.
State guidance is encouraging school districts to take COVID-19 precautions, so students can stay in class. While some parents prefer in-person learning, there’s still a waiting list of parents who want their children in CMS’s virtual learning academy.
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