2021 reset: Here’s what’s happening with Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools and COVID

statewide positivity rate as of 1/3 (source: NCDHHS)

As Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools emerges from a two week winter break and students prepare to return to class, this is a good time to review where we’ve been, where we are, and where we’re headed in terms of school and the COVID pandemic.

At its December 8 meeting, the CMS Board of Education voted 6-3 to approve Superintendent Winston’s recommendation to move most students back to remote learning until January 19.

In explaining his recommendation, Mr. Winston cited growing community COVID spread and the potential for further increases in the weeks ahead. Exceptions to the move included EC and Pre-K students.

Mecklenburg County metrics at the time of this vote:

• 474 infections per day
• 11% positivity
• 242 acute care hospitalizations

At its December 22 emergency meeting, the CMS Board voted 8-1 to approve Superintendent Winston’s recommendation–supported by Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris–to move EC and Pre-K students to remote learning as well.

Mr. Winston again referred to worsening COVID metrics as well as the potential for infections to continue to rise following winter break, citing the impact of Thanksgiving on community spread as a recent example.

Mecklenburg County metrics at the time of this vote:

• 680 infections per day
• 12% positivity
• 340 acute care hospitalizations

The December 22 vote in favor of Superintendent Winston’s recommendation included two members who have recently opposed moves to remote learning. One of them was District 5 representative Margaret Marshall, who said, “We are in a rough time and I think most people in our community understand that. When our positivity rates are down and our cases per 100,000 are down, we are certainly able to deliver education better, and I had voted when all those numbers were in a more yellow and green area that we proceed with speed to that…but I do think that right now is a pretty clear time to pause that.”

District 1 representative Rhonda Cheek’s support of the move also came as a surprise to many, although the primary reason she cited for her vote was “the level of vitriol and hostility in our community” between those with disparate views on in-person vs. remote learning. Mrs. Cheek referred to the two weeks of additional remote learning for EC and Pre-K students as “a chance to cool off”–not for COVID infections but rather for stakeholders’ emotions–and added “Do not come to me a few days before the 19th and tell me you still can’t get this figured out to be safe…I’m not going to be on the yes side if we vote before the 19th to extend it further.”

The lone vote opposing the December 22 motion came from District 6 representative Sean Strain. Following the meeting Mr. Strain notified the public via Twitter that he intended to seek remedy from Senator Thom Tillis, although he didn’t explain what authority Tillis had over local school board decisions:

Mr. Strain has also been active in using Facebook to organize parents who oppose remote learning, calling on them to take action to pressure policymakers toward returning students for face-to-face instruction:

As CMS begins the second semester January 5, the impact of holiday travel on our community’s COVID infection rates is not yet known. The district’s data dashboard has not been updated since before the break, and Mecklenburg County’s data releases are also on pause due to the holiday. Both should be updated this week.

What we do know from the state level is that North Carolina set another record for highest number of new daily COVID cases with more than 9500 on New Year’s Day, and as of Sunday morning statewide positivity rate stood at 15.5%.

The current plan is for students of all grade levels whose families have not opted into Full Remote Academy to return for in-person instruction under Plan B (rotation with social distancing and masks) on January 19.

The Charlotte Mecklenburg Board of Education’s next regularly scheduled meeting is Tuesday, January 12 at 6 pm. That meeting will include an opportunity for public comments.

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