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Kannapolis City Schools students will be back in classes Tuesday

KANNAPOLIS — City schools system students will return to their classrooms for the first time next week since they went home from winter break in December and the district went all-virtual.

The Kannapolis City Schools Board of Education made the decision to open doors again during its Monday meeting on the recommendation of Superintendent Chip Buckwell. When the buildings closed in December, elementary students attending in person were in school five days a week. They will be split into two cohorts like middle and high school students when they return on Tuesday.

Buckwell said the decision to not send elementary kids back five days a week was based on staffing needs and the inability to socially distance in most classrooms with a school at normal capacity.

He gave the example of one elementary school that had three staff out on Friday but 14 on Monday. Two grade levels, at least, would have had to close down at the school if it were open.

“We can get the social distancing right under B but can’t get it right under A,” Buckwell said.

Buckwell said staff emailed him and school board members in recent weeks to express a preference for the mixed plan B model for elementary students if the district returns to in-person instruction. Middle and high schools are still bound to plan B via executive order from Gov. Roy Cooper.

Buckwell said the district “limped” across the finish line before winter break, approaching a level where it needed to close down grade levels or entire schools in December. At a high point in December, about 9.5% of the district’s staff were missing work. When one person tests positive, it can have a ripple effect, requiring people they were in close contact with to quarantine as well.

Buckwell pointed out some studies describing safe returns to school are based on positivity rates and data which is months old and not representative of positivity rates at the beginning of January approaching 20%. The pandemic has receded during the previous few weeks, with positivity rates in Rowan and Cabarrus counties dropping below 10%.

“I’m not hanging my hat on a study from August,” Buckwell said.

As of Monday, the district reported eight new cases in staff the the previous week, about 1% of the staff population, and 24 quarantines recommended by Cabarrus Health Alliance, which is 3.2%

The number of students heading back into classrooms is a wash through a combination of parents deciding to continue virtual only and others wanting to send their students back to school.

“I’d say most parents sending kids to school are concerned about their mental health,” Buckwell said, adding the district has had no difficulties getting students to comply with safety protocols like wearing masks.

Monday, President’s Day, is an optional work day for staff and there is no school for students.

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