CMS expects Christmas COVID ‘spike.’ All students will begin 2021 remote only.

At least in the first two weeks of the 2021 school year, all Charlotte-Mecklenburg students will be in virtual classrooms again - the latest decision by the board members in view of the worsening spread of the coronavirus in the district.
On Tuesday, the CMS board voted 8: 1 to implement remote learning for students with disabilities and pre-K students.
The decision was made after the recent spikes in COVID-19 cases and according to proponents of the change on signs of spreading in school buildings. The board had previously decided to suspend in-person tuition for grades K-12 from December 14th to January 19th. The board originally exempted Pre-K and some students with disabilities from this decision as it is important to personally study the youngest and most vulnerable students.
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Recent public health considerations, particularly the expected peaks during the holidays, when people continue to gather and travel, prompted the Board to scale back these exemptions. In an email to Superintendent Earnest Winston, Gibbie Harris, director of public health in Mecklenburg, said she supported the decision to suspend in-person tuition even for students in greatest need.
"We know the educational and social impact this delay will have on all children in Mecklenburg County, and we believe that keeping schools open to personal learning should be a top priority for our community," Harris said in the email dated December 22.
"In view of the special circumstances of the current data trends and the holiday season, we support this decision from a public health point of view up to and including the delay in school learning until January 19, 2020."
Unless the board decides to postpone January 19, it will be the first time most middle and senior students will have face-to-face tuition this school year.
During the first semester, the CMS directors repeatedly emphasized that schools are not a place for the transmission of the coronavirus. A cluster recently published at Francis Bradley Middle School in Huntersville prompted some board members to reconsider this assessment. Four employees and two students tested positive for COVID-19, the first cluster in a CMS school reported by the health department.
Thelma Byers-Bailey said board members were closely monitoring the number of clusters to see if the virus had spread in the classroom.
"That was the identifier that we could use to determine that there was no transmission in our schools," she said. “Now we have a cluster. It's time to take a break. "
In Mecklenburg, an average of 680 new cases per day were reported in the past week, the health department announced on Tuesday. The number of cases, along with hospital stays, has increased significantly in recent weeks.
Winston told the board that many in the district, along with public health officials, anticipate that holiday meetings could lead to even more infections in the community.
"Our discussions with local public health experts give us no reason to believe that COVID cases will decrease significantly by January 19," he said. "Before Thanksgiving, there was encouragement to avoid family gatherings, but we saw a sharp increase in cases and a similar increase is expected in the weeks."
Kathy Elling, principal of the school, said 63 classrooms for students with special needs and 40 classrooms before K were affected by a positive case and subsequent quarantine request. She said the proximity of students and teachers in these settings meant that more people were affected each time a positive case was reported.
Sean Strain, who cast the only vote against the motion, said he didn't think the data showed schools were places of widespread transmission. He added that the board had failed to consider the negative impact of distance learning provision and that the district had an obligation to provide personalized learning to disabled students.
"We have the discretion to define safely," he said. "And it seems like we're defining safely without understanding the risk and the ... negative effects of refusal to learn in person." We haven't talked about that here at all. The health and safety of our students in schools is a negligible risk. "
Lenora Shipp, a former CMS director and current board member, said security definitions must include the operability of the district. As teachers, bus drivers and other staff fall ill or have to be quarantined, it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain strict standards in the classroom that minimize the risk to participating students.
"Security is related to what is going on in our buildings," she said. "I don't think we can separate that."
Reported COVID cases in CMS
In the past 14 days, 120 schools reported at least one positive COVID-19 case, and two schools reported 10 or more cases over the same period.
CMS faced operational challenges during the pandemic. A shortage of bus drivers resulted in the district delaying the start of in-person tuition for most middle school students until 2021 (originally scheduled to start on November 23).
In late November, the board gave Winston the authority to move individual schools to distance learning after quarantines at two schools serving special needs students forced the district to suspend classes entirely due to operational concerns.
Margaret Marshall and Rhonda Cheek - both of whom previously voted to get students back to face-to-face learning faster - voted Tuesday to switch to distance learning, citing the increasing cases. Cheek said she did not want to see any further delays until the date of resumption of face-to-face teaching for the district after Jan. 19.
Unless the board decides to postpone January 19, it will be the first time most middle and senior students will have face-to-face tuition this school year.
Board chairwoman Elyse Dashew said it was critical for the entire county to do its part in slowing the spread of the virus.
"The light is at the end of the tunnel," she said. "Please, please, please take care of yourself, your loved ones and your community."

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