SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Memphis/Shelby County United, a group of SCS teachers and parents, held a socially distanced sit-in outside the SCS Board of Education Tuesday.
They urged the school board, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee, the Tennessee Department of Education and the state education commissioner to move schools to a virtual platform until there aren’t any new cases of COVID-19 for 14 days.
Several teachers took to the mic, where they shared their personal experiences, their fears for themselves and for their students. They voiced concerns that their students could get sick, could infect elderly families in multi-generational homes, and even that they could get stuck footing the bill for PPE.
Memphis/Shelby County United said they disavow outside, or the Trump Administration’s pressures to reopen schools or lose federal funding. They support Superintendent Joris Ray’s proposal for virtual learning and they’re glad to hear that he won’t be pressured to reopen schools if it’s not safe. But they said there’s a problem there too: the virtual learning option is for the students only, not the teachers.
“We are afraid for our lives. Many teachers who are even out there today they’re faced with a choice of whether they’re going to quit their jobs or risk their life by going into the building. Dead teachers can’t teach,” said Tililea Rucker, of Memphis/Shelby County United.
Memphis/Shelby County United is also asking the Shelby County School Board to give teachers the option of teaching in the classroom or teaching remotely.
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They believe schools aren’t safe until the number of new COVID-19 cases goes down significantly.
The group said they want education leaders at the district and state levels to finalize some concrete plans based on what is known about the virus right now.
“I love my students too much for them to be sick,” said SCS teacher Tiffany Crow.
Crow is one of the dozens of Shelby County Schools teachers who are terrified about going back to the classroom this fall.
“With the current state of the pandemic, there’s no way even in a month that we can safely reenter schools in person. Even in the best conditions, we’re underfunded,” said Crow.
Organizers with Memphis-Shelby County United say hundreds of people have signed an online petition urging the school board, Tennessee Department of Education, state education commissioner, and Governor Bill Lee to consider a list of requests for the new school year.
One of their top requests is moving to a virtual platform until there aren’t any new COVID-19 case for 14 days in Tennessee.
“Honestly, we’re looking at having multiple times when students are going to have to be virtual, so at least if we made a streamline decision families and communities could really plan for that and teachers could plan,” said Crow. “Right now we’re not really sure what we’re doing and we’re giving grace on that.”
“Our decision will be guided by, we will not send students into harm’s way,” said SCS Board Member Althea Greene.
Greene said the board is working with the health department for guidance and following the new cases in Memphis closely.
“Those requests can’t be answered until we make a decision as to what we’re going to do,” said Greene. “I think they’re premature ask. I mean how many of those who are sitting-in have reached out to a board member, or board members? There’s 9 of us to say could we schedule a meeting with you.”
Crow said she and other teachers have been sending emails to the board about their concerns with reopening.
The school board has a meeting next week where we can expect some more updates about the plan to reopen schools.
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