County commissioner clashes with SCS superintendent over reopening plans

County commissioner clashes with SCS superintendent over reopening plans

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Scathing accusations about the SCS Reopening Plan and the county’s top educator from a Shelby County Commissioner who is a former teacher in the district.

In a letter sent to Superintendent Joris Ray on July 22, Shelby County Commissioner Edmund Ford, Junior, a former SCS math teacher, said there are too many unanswered questions about the school reopening plan. And with classes starting August 31, Ford said time is running out.

Ford gives the Shelby County Schools S.A.F.E. Re-entry plan a failing grade. In his letter to Dr. Ray, Ford wrote: “I strongly believe you, your administration, and the Board can do much better protecting your human capital and being more fiscally responsible.”

SCS received $48 million in CARES Act funding. District leaders said it’s being used to buy 90,000 computers for every student who will be learning virtually.

Ford said teachers deserve COVID-19 hazard pay.

“I know hundreds of educators that would like to know where that money is going,” he told his fellow commissioners during their meeting Wednesday. “Especially those who are in the classroom, certified tutors, substitute teachers and whatnot, who are still not making a living wage.”

SCS teachers, uneasy about returning to the classroom and the protocols the district outlined to protect them from the virus, protested at school board headquarters Tuesday afternoon. Later that night, the district announced a new option that would allow educators to teach online. SCS officials say they had planned to outline the option before the protest, and timing was coincidental.

Superintendent Ray tweeted, “Just as we have promised our families flexibility in learning options, I’m committed to providing the same flexibility for educators.”

And late Wednesday, Dr. Ray fired off his own letter to Commissioner Ford.

“I am a patient person,” he wrote. “My patience, however, is wearing thin at your continued questioning of my leadership of the largest school district in the state of Tennessee.”

Dr. Ray has talked in detail about the SCS re-opening plan, including in interviews on CNN and NBC. The plan was crafted after a listening tour and parent surveys. But moms, dads and teachers, said Commissioner Ford, are still anxious. And Ford said he’s still waiting to hear what the SCS internal protocols are in case of an emergency.

“I just sincerely hope there is some resolve,” said Ford. “Before I come up with my own solution. So, I’m asking sincerely and nicely today… maybe not tomorrow, that we find some resolve on some of these items.”

The Shelby County Commission thought Dr. Ray would be at their meeting to answer questions about reopening the school system. But Ray told WMC Action News 5 he never received an invitation to appear before the body.

In a letter he sent to Commissioner Ford on July 14, Dr. Ray asked if the county commission would help in providing nurses for schools, transportation funding to make sure there is social distancing on buses, free COVID-19 testing for students and staff and better broadband service since so many students will be doing their lessons on the web.

And in his letter Wednesday night, Dr. Ray concluded with, “Coronavirus will not defeat us, but only if we work together in a spirit of community and put divisiveness aside.”

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