CHARLOTTE, N.C. — With another wave of COVID-19, parents are trying to keep students healthy over winter break and bracing for what happens when they send them back to class.
While omicron cases spread in North Carolina, Gov. Roy Cooper said he does not expect a statewide school shutdown and return to virtual learning like the early stages of the pandemic.
There is still a large population of Americans unable to get a COVID-19 vaccine while we face yet another surge in cases: kids age 5 and younger.
Jonathan Thomas’ daughter is in that age group, and it's why he opted not to enroll her in preschool.
“Obviously my wife would prefer having that support, but I have a strong background in education, and I knew I could pretty much manage curriculum from home," Thomas said.
According to the National Institute for Early Education, preschool participation fell to 54% n the fall of 2020. That's compared to 71% of 4-year-old children who attended a preschool program before the pandemic.
"I thought it was best because I was like, 'Well let’s sit at home, let’s handle it from home'," Thomas said. "If we don’t have to go, let’s not.”
The uncertainty of the pandemic is also why hundreds of K-12 CMS students are enrolled in a virtual academy. At last count, there were 197 kids on the CMS Virtual Academy waitlist in November.
At last week’s school board meeting, there was push back about learning gaps from virtual classes last school year.
“You used flawed logic at keeping schools closed for as long as you did," one parent said to school board members. "School only functions while educating and keeping students safe, and CMS is failing on both fronts.”
Thomas said among his parent friends, it's hard not to talk about COVID-19 and its impact on learning.
“We do check-ins with educators to see where our child’s progress is," he said. "This has been working for us honestly for this time, knowing that at some point in the future we’re going to have to transition to in-person.”
Registration is now closed for parents wanting to opt their kids into virtual learning within CMS.
Any decisions on expanding the program — or taking the whole district back virtual — would come from a school board vote.
One school district in the area notably doesn't have a virtual option in place for students: Union County Public Schools. All classes are in person. A spokesperson for the district told WCNC Charlotte there has been no conversation about a virtual option.