SHELBY CO., Tenn. (WMC) - Shelby County Schools remains the last district in the state of Tennessee to return to in-person learning, and there’s a growing call for vaccines before heading back to class.
“An unsafe reopening puts everyone at risk, and especially what we’re calling for is for educators to be prioritized to have access to the vaccine before being forced back into the classroom,” said Danette Stokes, President of the United Education Association of Shelby County.
Friday, Stokes led a group of parents, educators, and local officials in expressing their concerns about returning to school without the proper precautions in place. “Governor Lee has mishandled this pandemic from the beginning and is now trying to re-open schools unsafely,” Stokes said.
This comes as Tennessee Governor Bill Lee, last week, pressured Shelby County Schools to return to in-person learning by February 15. Educators said they want to go back to teaching in-person, but they should be on the priority list for vaccinations.
“Think of it as a car, you wouldn’t put your child in an unsafe car before fixing it... please fund and help us get back,” said Donna Goings, a clinical social worker with SCS. School leaders said vaccinations are necessary for teachers before heading back. An SCS survey showed 4,600 of the district’s 6,000 teachers are willing to get the vaccine.
“I support Dr.Ray and his team,” said SCS Board Member, Rev. Althea Greene. “They have been working on a return stronger reentry plan since last year, we didn’t just wake up yesterday to do this work.” Parents also say they’d like to see their students in class, but only with the proper safety precautions.
“Our students are just really not understanding especially the younger students not really understanding what’s going on or how long is this going to last,” said SCS Parent Marcina Egedgebe.
WMC Action News 5 reached out to the Governor’s office for a comment on teachers’ concerns.
A spokesperson said teachers have received priority under their vaccine administration plan right after healthcare workers and the elderly and as federal supply picks up, the more quickly they can get through phases.
We also reached out to the Tennessee Department of Health to see if there is any plan to prioritize teachers so they can get the vaccine earlier -- we’re told counties who are not currently vaccinating teachers will move to phase 1B once they have vaccinated the 70 and older population.