MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Schools is planning to welcome some students back to the classroom starting in January.
Not only do parents have the option to send their students back to class, but teachers also can choose to educate in the classrooms to do their lessons from home.
Infectious disease experts say teachers are more at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 than their students due to age and other health factors.
Teachers in Shelby County Schools will have the option to teach in the classroom or remotely, but SCS administrators are encouraging them to head back to the schools.
“Our priority was getting students back into the classroom, that’s the goal,” said Jerica Phillips, SCS Head of Communications.
SCS is now initiating a plan to achieve the goal of optional, in-person learning.
The phased return will start Jan. 4 for PreK through 5th grade and exception learners and on Jan. 19 for grades 6 though 12.
SCS administrators say they want younger grades to return first to help them adjust and teach them proper health protocols.
“We just want to spend time in really reiterating safety protocols, washing your hands, everything, being at a social distance from your peer,” said Dr. Angela Whitelaw, Deputy Superintendent of Schools and Academic Support.
Teachers will also have the option to either teach in person or remotely with lessons conducted on Microsoft teams. If the teacher chooses remote teaching, then Shelby County Schools will have to assign a classroom monitor present with the students.
“Our hope is to have our teachers feel comfortable enough to come on back into the building, we want them to be face to face,” said Phillips. “We’re encouraging and we’re welcoming our teachers back into the building because we know that is it safe to do so.”
SCS says they plan to thoroughly clean schools daily to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and keep teachers as safe as possible.
If parents decide to send their students back to the classrooms, they should expect a new normal. Administrators at Shelby County Schools say intense planning and health protocols are already underway.
Students whose parents opt for in-person learning will be spaced out 6 feet apart, with some partitions installed in learning spaces. Students will also be required to wear masks and stay 6 feet apart at all times. Bus transportation will still be provided but parents are encouraged to drive students to school if possible.
“In regards to socially distancing, we want to encourage families if you are able to take your student to and from school, we encourage you to do that,” said Phillips.
Before they enter the school, students and educators will be screened including a temperature check. If a fever is present, the student will be isolated and their parent will be called to come pick them up.
All Shelby County Schools will be cleansed thoroughly each day according to SCS.
All student movement will be limited, including keeping students in one classroom every day rather than moving room for each subject, if possible.
“We plan to have weekly meetings to ensure that we get the information, the trends that we’re seeing to be better prepared for arrival, for dismissal, for lunch, as well as just even students walking through the halls,” aid Whitelaw.
SCS says the start dates and the plan to return to in-person learning will be flexible based on how COVID-19 case numbers trend in the next few months.
“If need to make adjustments to our approach then we will do that,” said Phillips. “We must remember that each of the dates that we have listed is contingent on favorable health data, and positive experiences as we phase in our students.”
Parents can begin deciding whether their students will learn virtually or return to the classroom starting Wednesday.
Parents have until the end of October to make that decision.
SCS says they want parents to decide now so they can make plans and preparations for returning to class.