SCS officials want teachers & staff vaccinated if schools are to reopen

SCS officials say teachers, support staff aren’t included in current vaccination phase

MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The head of Shelby County Schools responded to those who are demanding SCS get back to in-person learning.

Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee pressured SCS to return to the classroom by February 15, 2021.

Shelby County’s COVID-19 numbers are trending downward with fewer cases and hospitalizations and the transmission rate is lower.

But some SCS leaders said that’s not enough.

Amid growing calls to return to class, the school board Thursday night reviewed the district’s COVID-19 reopening plan, one that’s been ready to launch since last year.

The sticking point now is vaccinating SCS teachers and support staff.

“And I’m looking forward to having that conversation first,” said SCS board chair Miska Clay Bibbs, “before we start pointing fingers around what’s not happening.”

An SCS survey showed 4,600 of the district’s 6,000 teachers are willing to get the vaccine.

But Shelby County Health Department Director Dr. Alisa Haushalter said teachers aren’t included in the current vaccination phase, and there are no plans to move them up in line.

“The health department locally does not have the authority to make that decision,” Haushalter said, “So if there’s a desire to have teachers vaccinated sooner, my request is that really be elevated to the state level so the state can help make that happen. We’re not able to do that locally.”

Haushalter estimated it would take 10,000 to 12,000 doses to vaccinate the county’s educators.

School board member Billy Orgel said the district’s re-opening plan is solid, and he thinks the time to open up school buildings again is right now.

“I’m satisfied that we could go back February 15th,” said Orgel, “And I’m satisfied that you’ve got a plan in place. And I know there’s going to be some bumps in the road. But there bumps in the road when we came out of school last year in this horrible pandemic.”

But for Dr. Joris Ray, the man in charge of Tennessee’s largest school system, sending employees and children back to class without the vaccine is not an A-plus plan.

“Many of our teachers, parents and students are very fearful of the virus,” Ray told WMC Action News 5, “You know, we’re going to remain flexible. We’re going to remain steadfast in following science. It’s about the safety of our students and returning stronger.”

SCS wants to use 60 school nurses to vaccinate about 1,100 employees a day once the vaccine is available.

The district did not set a date to return to in-person learning.

Monday, February 8, 2021, state lawmakers will debate a proposed bill, that if passed, would give Governor Lee the authority to force SCS to reopen.

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