Gov. Lee calls for SCS schools to reopen in two weeks

Updated: Jan. 28, 2021 at 9:52 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The CDC announced this week, and Dr. Anthony Fauci agreed with the recommendation, that it is safe for schools to open back up in the U.S. if there are precautions in place.

It requires a plan, along with PPE, and government support.

Tennessee Governor Bill Lee on Thursday, January 28, called for SCS schools to reopen in two weeks.

SCS leaders said: show us the support and get us vaccinated.

“I know of 3 principals, as we speak, who are in the hospital on respirators,” said Keith Williams, head of the local teacher’s union, “and those are educators who work in schools where there are no children right now. What do you think would happen if we opened up schools and brought 100,000 children back?”

MORE: NE Arkansas school districts reporting COVID-19 cases

Williams is the Executive Director of the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association, which represents 4,000 of the 6,500 teachers in the majority-black Shelby County School system.

He said Governor Lee’s call for SCS students and teachers to return to in-person learning by February 15th is terrifying when COVID-19 disproportionately impacts communities of color.

“It is a very scary concept,” Williams told WMC Action News 5, “And I would hope that the governor would not be so money-driven or business-driven that he would sacrifice the lives of children or teachers.”

MORE: Tennessee leaders cite old data to pressure schools to reopen

“You can’t say follow the science and keep schools closed,” Lee said last week, making his stance on getting kids and teachers back in the classroom very clear during a special education session in the state legislature.

Only two districts remain majority virtual learning: SCS and Nashville Metro Schools.

In October 2020, SCS planned to return to the classroom in January 2021. School leaders made changes after coronavirus cases increased over the holidays.

Related | Shelby County Schools plans for January return to in-person learning

SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray called Governor Lee Wednesday, January 27, to talk about the urgency to reopen schools.

“Dr. Ray agreed they both share the same goal,” a statement from SCS says, “Dr. Ray also emphasized the need for a state strategy and a pledge to prioritize teacher vaccinations.”

Here is the full statement from SCS:

In the spirt of open and collaborative cooperation, Superintendent Joris M. Ray reached out to Governor Bill Lee Wednesday afternoon about the state of education and reopening schools in Shelby County. The Governor shared his thoughts about the urgency to reopen school buildings, and Dr. Ray agreed that they both share the same goal. However, to achieve it, Dr. Ray emphasized the need for a State strategy and a pledge to prioritize teacher vaccinations. They also discussed recent guidance released by the CDC that affirms what we’ve known all along: Schools can safely reopen IF we do our part as a community to keep infection rates low. While the Governor would NOT commit to helping us prioritize educator vaccinations, we are working diligently with the Shelby County Health Department to train our nurses and host District sites that offer vaccinations to our educators. The District looks forward to further dialogue with the Governor and local officials.

“And I think there should be a valiant effort to get that done,” Williams said of vaccinating educators.

“That would be one step in the right direction.” Williams said getting vaccinated for COVID-19 should help reassure teachers.

But until that happens, he gives Governor Lee’s request a failing grade.

“When it is safe,” he said, “we would be more than happy to return to school. But our life and our liberty...those things are more sacred to us than going to school.”

In Shelby County, teachers are scheduled to get the vaccine in the 1-B group.

When will that happen?

WMC Action News 5 checked with the health department late Thursday and was told: “there is no date set yet for teacher vaccinations to start.”

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