New bill would give governor authority to order SCS to reopen to in-person learning

New bill would give governor authority to order SCS to reopen to in-person learning

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Schools’ decision to once again delay the start of in-person classes comes at a time when district officials find themselves at odds with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee.

Lee has been pushing SCS and Nashville schools to reopen to in-person learning.

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

But the decision to reopen schools may not be up to the district for much longer.

A bill filed by State Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, would give the governor the authority to reopen schools for in-person instruction through executive order.

Kelsey, who is chairman of the Senate education committee, says parents who want their kids to return to in-person classes, should have that option.

“I do think it’s unfortunate that our school board members just continue to listen only to the teachers union and they’re not listening to parents,” said Kelsey. “And in those situations where they’re not listening to parents, the state has to ensure that parents’ wishes are listened to.”

Kelsey says the committee will consider the bill on Feb. 10.

SCS announced Friday it is once again delaying its return to in-person classes.

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It had planned to gradually begin allowing students to return to school buildings on Feb. 8.

“Right now, we are unable to provide a new target date for returning to buildings as we base our local decisions on the health and safety of all students and educators,” said SCS Superintendent, Dr. Joris Ray.

The delay comes as Lee continues to push SCS to start offering in-person classes no later than Feb. 15.

“It’s been really clear from my perspective that kids need to be in school,” Lee said.

While not mentioning Kelsey’s bill directly, Ray noted “there are signs that lawmakers in Nashville may revoke their commitment to allow local control and force districts to send children and teachers back in person.”

“It’s a shame that the governor has to step in in this instance, but I think that he is right to do so to protect the wellbeing of our children,” Kelsey said.

State Rep. Antonio Parkinson said there are real concerns many parents in Shelby County have about sending their kids back.

“Everybody wants the children back in the classroom, or at least an option for children to go back in the classroom, but not at the cost of one single life,” Parkinson said. “Parents, especially those from the Black community, are really concerned about bringing the virus into their homes. A lot of these homes are multi-generational and if you put children in a situation where they can become little carriers of the virus, they could bring (the virus) back to these homes.”

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