MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Thousands of students started their first day of virtual learning Monday, as Shelby County Schools started the year 100 percent online.
At Highland Oaks Middle School in Southeast Memphis Monday morning, the phone was constantly ringing with parent questions. Many of the issues WMC Action News 5′s crew saw got solved within a few minutes.
While visitors are limited at Highland Oaks Middle, the front desk operators are staying busy answering the hundreds of phone calls coming in within the first few hours of the start of SCS virtual learning Monday.
“We’ve resolved a lot of issues by just not having them call the central office and wait,” principal Monica Flemming said.
Flemming said 90 percent of her nearly 700 students picked up their laptops before the first day of school. Something she’s also proud of is 100 percent of her teachers are teaching from within the school. Some were able to do so because they can bring their children, who are also virtual learning students, with them to work.
“[Teachers] know with us doing this together, we can give kids way more than with some of us doing this at home,” Flemming said.
“I have dedicated teachers right here in this building who sacrificed themselves,” superintendent Dr. Joris Ray said.
Dr. Ray said the option for an all virtual start to the school year is because of dedicated staff. He said many worked 17 hours days to get devices to students.
By the first day of school, 90 percent of the 95,000 devices had been handed out.
“In four weeks we’ve executed in getting these devices in the hands of parents,” Dr. Ray said, “This is historic. We have transitioned our children to the 21st century.”
Ray isn’t second-guessing the district’s decision to start the year all virtual. With more than 200 schools, Ray said the district doesn’t have the luxury to get this wrong.
“This week is a time to breathe. This is new to all of us,” Flemming said.
While the district knew virtual learning would be historic for everyone, it made the call to switch its S.A.F.E. reentry plan to an all-virtual start when Shelby County saw a surge in COVID-19 cases in July.
“I have always said no one is going to force me to open schools if it’s not safe. We still have triple-digit numbers [of COVID-19 cases a day] here in Shelby County,” Ray said.
Ray said he’s seen COVID-19 cases appear at other local districts since the start of school. He said SCS can’t risk that.
“[We have] 113,000 students and 15,000 employees. We are the second largest employer in Shelby County,” Ray said, “If we don’t get it right, our community suffers. If we don’t get it right, our surrounding states suffer.”
Dr. Ray said students would not go back into the schools until the county sees at least two weeks of zero or single-digit cases a day.
So, the stage is set to support virtual learning at SCS for the foreseeable future. Ray said 80 percent of SCS students logged on for the first day.