CMS might alter its middle school reopening plan

Plus: Charlotte's French restaurants in retreat; Truist uses helicopter to drop off new sign uptown; Skepticism over planned Metropolitan tower; Airport parking changes; UNC in court over admissions

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Middle school return plan might switch to in-person 2 days a week — just like the elementary schedule. Board meeting Tuesday.

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools buses started rolling again en masse last week, when students in grades K-5 returned to in-person instruction. (Photo by Kevin Young/The 5 and 2 Project)

by Cristina Bolling

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools might be changing its plan for returning middle schoolers to in-person instruction, to align with the current schedule for grades K-5.

An agenda for Tuesday night’s meeting of the CMS Board of Education shows the board will “consider revisions to return to in-person instruction for grades 6 through 8.”

As it now stands, CMS middle schoolers are slated to return to buildings starting Nov. 23. Under the current plan, they will be split into three rotating groups, with each group spending one week in school buildings, and then two weeks learning remotely.

School board member Sean Strain confirmed to The Ledger on Sunday that there have been a couple of options discussed to changing that plan, including aligning middle schools to the current K-5 model, where students spend two days a week in the classroom and three days learning remotely. Students in K-5 report to school either on Monday and Tuesday, or Thursday and Friday. All students learn remotely on Wednesday.

It’s unclear how the middle schoolers would be grouped for a new plan; whether they would remain in three rotating groups or whether they would be broken into two groups like elementary schoolers.

Syncing the elementary and middle school schedules would also simplify things for the district’s K-8 schools, where as it now stands, the K-5 students and 6-8 students would be on two completely different schedules once middle schoolers return on Nov. 23.

Strain said any other options the board would consider would be based on the district’s Covid dashboard that will be released today. Each Monday, CMS administrators go on Facebook Live to brief the public on the county’s Covid numbers, Covid cases in schools, and school readiness as they relate to the district’s ability to reopen or stay open.

New Covid data: County health data released Friday shows that the number of confirmed Covid cases in Mecklenburg has increased lately, though the two statistical health measures CMS examines are in the same ranges as they have been for the last few weeks. Health officials have said they are comfortable with CMS plans to return students to the classroom. North Carolina’s health director said last week: “We still are not seeing our school settings as a big driver of the cases.”

There were other signs over the weekend signaling that the district may be thinking of changing how it’s bringing back middle schoolers.

Brian Slattery, the principal of Community House Middle School, sent parents an email Sunday pledging more specifics about reopening procedures, but saying he “will wait until after the next Board of Education meeting scheduled for Tuesday, November 10th, to share this information with you. I want to ensure that I give you the latest and most accurate information as we plan the reopening of our building to our students.”

Last week was the first week of in-person learning for CMS elementary students, and general reports were that it went smoothly, with students and staff wearing face coverings, students eating lunch in classrooms, and social distancing efforts in hallways and common areas.

High schoolers have a longer wait to see their teachers in-person. They will return to classrooms for testing the weeks of Dec. 14 and Dec. 21, and then return to classrooms on a three-week rotating schedule, where they’ll be in-person for one week, and remote for two weeks.

More than 52,000 CMS students aren’t returning to buildings this semester, however, because they’re enrolled in the district’s all-remote option. They represent about a third of the district’s students.

In case you missed it, The Ledger on Saturday published the account of a CMS fifth grade teacher, who described what it was like during the first week back in the classroom with students.

Cristina Bolling is managing editor of The Ledger:

Editor’s note: There will be no edition of The Ledger on Wednesday in observance of Veterans Day. A big thank-you to all who served.

Today’s supporting sponsor is T.R. Lawing Realty:

Why are so many French restaurants in Charlotte saying ‘au revoir’?

Maybe it’s not shocking that Amelie’s French Bakery & Café is shutting its uptown location, since there are few workers in the big office buildings who are counted on to keep many uptown businesses afloat. “As is the case with many restaurants in Uptown, Covid-19 restrictions and businesses adopting a remote working model have greatly impacted the once-bustling Uptown location,” Amelie’s said on social media on Friday. Its other locations remain open.

The closing, though, seems like part of a larger trend: the disappearance in Charlotte of French-themed restaurants.

Besides Amelie’s uptown, consider that in the last two years, the following restaurants have closed:

  • Aix en Provence in Myers Park and its sister restaurant, Le Cochon d’Or, in Waxhaw

  • Lumiere French Kitchen in Myers Park

  • Georges Brasserie in SouthPark

  • La Belle Helene uptown

Restaurants open and close all the time for different reasons, and a lot of eateries of all kinds are having a hard time now. But is there something larger at play? We put the question to longtime Charlotte food writer Kathleen Purvis, who told us:

My guess is that people consider French “fancier” than Italian. So there’s a perception that it’s more special-occasion. The ingredients also tend to cost more. Cheese, tomato and pasta have higher profit margins. 

It might not be just a French connection: There has been a longstanding trend toward more casual dining, which has probably been exacerbated during Covid, as a lot of diners shy away from long indoor sit-down dinners.

A handful of French restaurants in Charlotte, including Lumiere, have closed in the last few years.

Remaining French restaurants in Charlotte include Cafe Monte at Phillips Place and others with French influences such as Bentley’s in SouthPark and The Fig Tree in Elizabeth. There are also several crepe places, if you want to count those. —TM

Truist delivers pieces of new bank tower sign by helicopter

A helicopter on Saturday dropped off pieces of steel for what will become Truist’s signs atop the Truist Center uptown (formerly Hearst Tower). The city approved installation of the signs in July. Truist says it is planning additional helicopter work this coming Saturday, when the signs on the four sides of the building will be lifted and visible in uptown for the first time. (Photo courtesy of Myles Gelbach)

Skepticism over proposed Metropolitan tower

In response to our article last week about the rezoning request to build an apartment tower of up to 28 stories at the Metropolitan development (🔒), we heard from a few nearby residents. They were concerned about what a structure of that size might mean for parking and for traffic in the Midtown and Cherry areas.

One wrote:

I am concerned about there being such a massive structure built in a region which to date has been comprised primarily of low- to mid-rise structures. … I am not opposed to any construction. However, I think reconsideration for a smaller development that fits with the surrounding community would be most appropriate. There is already a tremendous amount of congestion with traffic in this community. Adding such a large structure would only compound this problem.

As we wrote last week, the site was already approved for a building of up to 285 feet under a rezoning in 2014. That was planned as part-hotel, part-apartment complex. This rezoning would get rid of the hotel component and allow up to 330 apartments.

There is a lot of development in the area. Around the corner, Pappas Properties is building a mixed-use project on 7 acres, on Kenilworth Avenue. And then also there’s some intrigue, as we wrote last week (🔒), about the sale of property nearby on Morehead Street that could very well be the site of Atrium Health’s planned medical school. The whole Midtown and Morehead area seems ripe for more development.

The Metropolitan is across the street from the Cherry neighborhood, a historically black neighborhood that lately has experienced rising land prices and the construction of large new homes. —TM

In brief:

  • Local Covid stats: The number of new confirmed Covid cases in Mecklenburg County is rising, but health experts say they aren’t alarmed because the number of Covid hospitalizations is mostly steady. Confirmed cases and hospitalizations remain below their July peaks. “We haven’t gotten to an alarming rate locally yet,” said a public health professor at UNC Charlotte. (Observer)

  • Airport parking changes: Charlotte Douglas International Airport will use a new parking payment system starting today that’s designed to “take the stress out of parking at the airport.” The new system allows booking and payment before arrival at the airport as well as “license plate recognition enabling a paperless parking experience, real-time parking availability and additional payment options for all major credit cards and mobile payment apps, such as Google Pay and Apple Pay.” The airport said it is also reopening long-term parking at the “customary price” of $7/day, effective today. (CLT Airport)

  • Indoor courts reopening: The YMCA of Greater Charlotte is allowing indoor basketball, racquetball and pickle ball to resume this month. Starting today, people can make reservations for courts on the Y’s app. (Observer)

  • Outdoor dining: A city program encouraging outdoor dining opened in several more locations last week. StreetEats, which temporarily allows tables on sidewalks, streets and parking lots, expanded last week to include Ayrsley Town Center, Beatties Ford Road and Tate Street, Montford Park and City West Commons on West Boulevard. (CharlotteFive)

  • Housing fund established: A new $58M Housing Impact Fund will be used to help preserve existing apartment communities for low- and middle-income households. It is expected to preserve about 1,500 housing units and is funded by Truist Financial, Atrium Health, LendingTree, Movement Mortgage, nine real estate development companies and other investors, as well as $20M from the Charlotte Housing Opportunity Investment Fund. (Biz Journal/WSOC)

  • UNC in court: A federal trial on the use of affirmative action at UNC Chapel Hill starts today in Winston-Salem. A nonprofit backed by a conservative legal activist says UNC violates civil rights laws by favoring black and Hispanic applicants. UNC has said it considers race as only one of many factors in admissions and that it does not use formulas or quotas. (Wall Street Journal)

Taking stock

Unless you are a day trader, checking your stocks daily is unhealthy. So how about weekly? How local stocks of note fared last week (through Friday’s close), and year to date:

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Executive editorTony MeciaManaging editorCristina BollingContributing editor: Tim Whitmire, CXN AdvisoryReporting intern: David Griffith