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Could parents with shovels keep CMS open? Superintendent Clark says no

Residents of The Garrison banded together Saturday to clear the sidewalk and driveway to the building on Graham Street.
Residents of The Garrison banded together Saturday to clear the sidewalk and driveway to the building on Graham Street. jsimmons@charlotteobserver.com

When a winter storm closed Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for three days, some saw a simple solution: Mobilize parents and other volunteers to clear the icy patches on school grounds.

“Get two parents with shovels out there and it would be fine in 15 minutes tops!” one CMS parent tweeted Monday afternoon after a teacher shared a photo of an icy driveway at Cornelius Elementary.

That kind of commentary escalated when CMS kept schools closed Tuesday, after most roads were clear and the temperatures were well above freezing.

Just say the word and you’d have an army of parents there clearing any and all hazards.

Comment on CMS Facebook page

But Superintendent Ann Clark said Tuesday night that it’s not safe, practical or legally sound to summon volunteers to campuses where sidewalks and drives remained sheets of ice. Volunteers could get hurt, and shovels aren’t terribly effective in removing large patches of ice, she said.

As thousands of people learned when snow melted and refroze, “it’s very difficult to shovel ice,” Clark said at Tuesday’s board meeting.

It is easy to make if you’re focused on safety. It is hard to make if you’re trying to win a popularity contest.

Superintendent Ann Clark, on the decision to keep schools closed Tuesday

Not only does CMS have 168 schools, she told the board, but there are 1,100 mobile classrooms scattered across those campuses. Each is like a house, Clark said, requiring that sidewalks, stairs and porches be cleared of ice. “Most of the work today has been around those mobile units,” she said.

Many large schools also have multiple buildings with sidewalks connecting them; any that stayed shady remained icy through the early part of this week.

You’re showing off the lack of planning and unwillingness to seek outside help to get these schools ready to open.

Comment on CMS photos of lingering icy spots

Clark said the problem wasn’t a shortage of manpower or money, but of the sunlight that needed to work with the salt and Ice Melt that maintenance staff had put down.

“For those who might speculate that it was a financial decision, it was not,” she said. “It was a safety decision.”

Ann Doss Helms: 704-358-5033, @anndosshelms

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