The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education voted to return students to in-person instruction in a phased plan that would begin Oct. 12 with pre-kindergartners. In addition, the Board voted to give Superintendent Earnest Winston the authority to furlough hourly employees if necessary.
The two votes occurred during a special meeting Sept. 16 and followed a comprehensive discussion of the plan and the furlough authority by members of the Board. The plan, called the CMS Phased Return to In-person Instruction, also includes metrics to help determine if individual schools or the district should close because of increases in COVID-19 infections.
"We want our students back in classrooms, but we have waited until we have a plan that minimizes the risks for students and staff," said Board Chair Elyse Dashew. "We are acting with caution because we want everyone to be healthy and safe in our schools. The phased return, as well as the metrics for measuring health and safety, will help us keep everyone protected as best we can."
Under the plan, all pre-K students will return first on Oct. 12. Next, groups of K-5 students will return to classrooms on a rotational basis, starting on Nov. 2. Groups of middle school students will return to classrooms on a rotational basis starting on Nov. 23. Groups of high school students will return to classrooms for testing the weeks of Dec. 14 and Dec. 21, and then return to classrooms on a rotational basis for instruction on Jan. 5. Rotations will follow the group A, group B, and group C assignments communicated to families and students in August.
Schools with nontraditional grade spans, such as the district's K-8 schools, Cochrane Collegiate Academy and Northwest School of the Arts, will return in carefully sequenced phases, with students in grades six through eight returning with other middle school students, and students in grades nine through 12 returning with other high school students.
Students whose families opted to participate in the Full Remote Academy will remain in the academy through the first semester unless families request an exemption. Any requests to transfer from the Full Remote Academy into the in-person rotation will be addressed by schools individually.
The safety metrics in the plan set specific thresholds for determining when a school or schools have infection rates that would trigger action. To see the full plan, click here.
The Board vote on furloughs allows Winston to use full and partial furloughs of hourly employees if necessary. No employee will be furloughed before Sept. 21. The furlough authority is temporary and expires June 1, 2021.
"We want to keep everyone working and earning salaries but the COVID pandemic has disrupted operations with budgetary implications," said Winston. "We may have to make some very tough choices. However, furloughed employees may be recalled more quickly and with fewer hurdles than we could face with layoffs. We will use this flexibility to help our employees as much as possible."
CMS human resources will provide updates on options during any use of furlough.
"We do not want to have to furlough anyone, especially in this time of economic hardship caused by the COVID-19 pandemic," Dashew said. "But we may have to do that before our schools are fully back to normal operations. We have authorized full and partial furloughs because we want to minimize the burden on our employees. A partial furlough will allow an employee to still be paid part of his or her salary."
The district will also communicate additional details about the phased return to in-person instruction, including classroom social distancing, transportation and bus routes, school and classroom sanitation, nutrition services, and state-mandated health/safety checks and temperature screenings. A database of COVID cases by school and date will be updated weekly and shared with families. Parents should update their contact information with schools to ensure they receive this timely information.