CHARLOTTE – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools has decided to scrap its plan to offer two weeks of in-person orientation to start the school year.
The school board voted unanimously July 30 to change course in favor of remote learning after Superintendent Earnest Winston explained how COVID-19 has affected the district’s workforce.
CMS has more than 200 vacancies right now, including 80 in transportation, 70 in teaching, 50 in custodial and 40 in nursing. Winston said the pipeline for bus drivers is nonexistent given backlogs with the DMV.
“These departments play a crucial role in opening schools for an in-person experience,” Winston said. “I know that students and teachers were looking forward to reuniting and that students were counting the days before they could see their classmates. I know that my two daughters were doing that. Unfortunately, that can not happen right now.”
The district has created a workgroup that will develop metrics to help decide when it is safe for students to return to school.
Rhonda Cheek, who represents the Lake Norman area on the school board, acknowledged that while the health metrics haven’t changed since the board approved its Plan B-Plus Remote option two weeks ago, CMS is not at 95% readiness.
“Anything short of that is not a passing grade,” Cheek said, noting a lack of readiness with facilities, safety equipment and staffing.
She encouraged the district to step up recruiting and work toward getting students back in the buildings.
While students won’t be at school, she wants to ensure teachers are leading remote learning from their classrooms.
“I heard so many complaints from parents about poor delivery of remote learning in the spring,” Cheek said, mentioning one teacher sending out five worksheets and asked students to connect with her Friday mornings from 10 to 11 a.m. “Our teachers need to put more time and effort into their work. I want to ensure that we have a consistent delivery of remote learning for students.”
School board members Ruby Jones and Lenora Shipp also emphasized the need for consistent remote instruction.
Shipp, an at-large member, would like to see every school’s onboarding plan to ensure they’re ready to provide quality instruction. She said this is especially important for transitional grades like kindergarten, sixth and ninth.
School board members Jennifer De La Jara and Carol Sawyer mentioned how COVID-19 transmission and metrics are changing daily. Sawyer reasoned CMS needs to remain nimble and respond to new information.
Sean Strain, who represents Matthews, Mint Hill and parts of south Charlotte, clarified the context of the vote.
“It’s with great disapointment that I have to support a proposal to remove in-school instruction from our families,” Strain said. “Unfortunately, our hand has been forced not by a global pandemic or by a local surge in disease prevalence but by our own state of preparedness to host students in the schools starting on the 17th of August.’
Winston defended his recommendation by saying there were forces beyond the school district”s control, such as staff vacancies. He explained how a positive COVID-19 case can impact co-workers that have had contact with infected staff.
In July, about 70 members of the transportation team had to self-quarantine due to COVID-19, he said.
Winston told the school board that the expectation is for staff to return to the classroom from Aug. 6 to 28. From there, they will be encouraged to work remotely from school buildings. Staff members with health conditions that put them at high risk can seek an alternative assignment through the human resources department.
Elyse Dashew, who chairs the school board, expressed her support for school staff.
“Tempers are flaring with all of this stress that we are all under right now in our community and within our school communities,” Dashew said. “People are terribly critical right now at teachers for expressing their concerns. I just want the teachers to hear that your concerns are valid.”
Margaret Marshall, who represents the south Charlotte area, said that if she had a magic wand, she’d delay the start of school so CMS could work on some of these problems, but that’s not possible.
“I want us to get back in the classroom and I am working on that but having a start that isn’t safe is not going to help us meet that goal,” she said. “We got a lot of work to do. We have a lot of questions to ask and folks deservedly need a lot of answers.”