All Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools will remain open during the Democratic National Convention, with an elaborate busing plan devised to work around center-city blockades and congestion, officials said Wednesday.
As the district gears up to start busing 120,000 students on Aug. 27, temporary routes are being drawn to keep buses out of the convention zone when possible. Three schools inside the Interstate 277 loop – Irwin and First Ward elementaries and Metro School for students with disabilities – will dismiss early on some days, and a special bus fleet will pick up and drop off students who live inside the loop but go to other schools.
The goals: Keep kids in school. Get them there on time. And when the hordes of visitors and special events do delay some buses, keep those problems from snowballing across Mecklenburg County.
That’s no small feat in a district where most buses serve three or four schools each morning and afternoon. The first two weeks of school always bring glitches and delays, and the convention poses a unique challenge.
That’s why CMS leaders and police are asking parents and drivers to be patient and vigilant.
“We want parents to be patient and help us,” said CMS spokeswoman LaTarzja Henry. “If you can, plan to have multiple eyes on the kids.”
The first step, she said, is for newcomers to make sure their students are registered before the first day and for all families to make sure schools have up-to-date contact information. That ensures new students who need bus rides are included in routes, and that families can be contacted in case of extreme delays or other problems.
Charlotte-Mecklenburg police have pledged that student safety will be a top priority in convention security.
“The week of the convention will not be the time to pass a school bus,” Chief Rodney Monroe said, noting that some buses will have police escorts in the more restricted areas.
All schools and a special CMS hotline will be prepared to help parents figure out what’s happening if a bus is late (10 to 15 minutes early or late is considered normal for the first couple of weeks). And the CMPD will go door-to-door within the convention zone to make sure families know what to expect.
“We don’t want any parent to be surprised by what the changes are,” Henry said.
Despite weeks of planning, CMS officials know they can’t anticipate everything. The school board has granted Superintendent Heath Morrison authority to close schools during convention week, with a schedule of makeup days if needed. If it appears that any school faces insurmountable delays or a hazardous situation, Morrison could make a last-minute closing decision, similar to bad-weather closings, Henry said.
Staff writer Mark Price contributed.