MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - In a video message Friday, Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray defended the district’s decision to delay in-person learning, once again.
“Let me be clear, I will not politicize the safety. There are multiple factors and I and our dedicated board are weighing all of them,” Ray said. “Right now, we are unable to provide a new target date, as we base our local decisions of all students and educators.”
This comes at a time when district officials find themselves at odds with Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee who is pushing SCS to return to in-person learning by February 15th.
In October 2020, SCS planned to return to the classroom in January 2021. School leaders made changes after coronavirus cases increased over the holidays.
“We understand that Memphis looks much different than the state of Tennessee. We know that our population and demographic of black and brown students are disproportionately impacted by this virus, and so we want to continue to make local decisions on our decision to in-person learning,” said SCS Spokesperson Jerica Phillips.
Studies from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reveal the risk for in-person learning is lower than initially expected.
Infectious disease expert Dr. Steve Threlkeld said it’s important to first lower the infection rate in the community.
“If we’re worried about the cases that could happen in the classrooms, we better be 50x as worried about the cases that are occurring outside of the classrooms,” Threlkeld said.
According to the Tennessee Department of Education COVID-19 Dashboard, 25 SCS teachers tested positive for coronavirus this week, that’s up from 14 last week.
Phillips said the district recently surveyed all 14,000 of its staff to see how many would be open to getting the vaccine.
“We know about 4,000 - 5,000 of our employees would like to get a vaccination, we’re just waiting on a timeline and a date,” she said.
Phillips added the district is also working with the Health Department to train nurses and open pods to help expedite the process for those staff members who do want to get the vaccine.
A bill filed by State Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown would give the governor the authority to reopen schools for in-person instruction through executive order.