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CMS task force working to figure out how to get kids back in school

Committee members heard an update on the latest COVID-19 trends in Mecklenburg County from health department representativess and pediatrician Dr. Meg Sullivan.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — The committee tasked with determining the metrics Charlotte Mecklenburg Schools will use to guide their decision on a return to in-person instruction believes the school system will have to use more than just COVID-19 numbers.

The CMS Metrics Advisory Committee held its second meeting Thursday, discussing a wide range of topics from the staffing levels to the amount of soap and sanitizer available at school.

“We can’t just point to one single data point,” said Mecklenburg County Health Director Gibbie Harris. “We would not be doing our community the service it deserves if we did that.”

Committee members heard an update on the latest COVID-19 trends in Mecklenburg County from health department representatives and pediatrician Dr. Meg Sullivan.

“We are cautiously optimistic,” Sullivan concluded after presenting the latest data that showed improvement or stabilization in key categories. “We have continued to see those trends go in the right direction.”

The Charlotte-Mecklenburg School Board voted for a full-remote return to school after pointing to the trends of virus transmission in the community, as well as staffing concerns district-wide.

RELATED: CMS committee to determine reopening guidelines

Staffing continues to be problematic, according to members of CMS Human Resources.

According to data presented to the committee, there are currently 45 teaching vacancies, 27 custodial staff openings, and 16 bus driver positions. Nursing is also understaffed, although exact numbers were not provided.

CMS has also had positive cases of COVD-19 among its staff members since the return to school. According to the human resources department, there have been 28 COVID cases; 24 of those cases are school staff including 9 teachers.

While that represents a small fraction of the total amount of employees in CMS, Harris said upon the return to in-person instruction, cases will large impact in determining when individual schools will have to close, or when the entire school system would have to return to full remote learning again.

“Any cases you have in the schools and any potential clusters you have… could potentially impact what happens at an individual school level as well as the whole school system,” Harris said.

Another metric to watch is the number of teachers requesting alternative work options, the committee determined.

Thus far, 641 staff members have been granted work-from-home or alternative work arrangements. 500 of those are teachers.

Human resources leaders caution those numbers are likely to climb as soon as CMS announces it will return to in-person instruction.

The committee also announced the creation of a district response team. The team is to help identify potential cases, coordinate support for the people who present with symptoms, and facilitate proper isolate and quarantine spaces within school buildings.

RELATED: CMS board approves partnerships with community-based remote learning sites

Two of the few educators on the committee said they felt confident with the metrics that had been identified.

“When the time comes for us to begin reintroducing children to the building, I think we’ll be in a really good place,” said Mallard Creek High Principal Jennifer Dean. “It’s just a matter of knowing, based on all these metrics, when would be the time.”

CMS teacher Steve Oreskovic agreed, but cautioned: “I think it is good to look at not just when it’s the time to go back to school in person but is it going to be feasible to keep us back in person.”

The metrics committee is scheduled to meet again in early September.