SCS teachers union says they’ll return to the classroom but still want access to COVID-19 vaccine soon

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools students will return to classrooms next month.

“We’ve used millions of dollars in COVID-19 relief funds to purchase protective equipment, cleaning supplies, install safety signage, and improve building ventilation systems,” said SCS Superintendent Joris Ray.

SCS is now the last district in the state to offer that option, and it’s still not without controversy.

“We’re going to continue to do what is best for our students, and we love our students, we just want to do what’s best for them, our community, and ourselves,” said Danette Stokes, United Education Association of Shelby County President.

RELATED: Shelby County Schools announce return to in-person learning

Stokes said teachers are doing what’s best for their students, and that’s heading back into the classroom, even if that means going back without a COVID-19 vaccine.

In Tennessee, teachers are in priority group 1b after seniors and healthcare workers.

“A lot of us are going to other counties to get [the vaccine], so we’re just doing what we have to do to safeguard ourselves and make sure that we’re protected,” said Stokes.

RELATED: Should educators be moved up on the vaccine priority list to get students back in school?

Stokes said the union supports the superintendent and the school board’s decision, but she believes there was pressure from the state.

“I feel like we’re being forced back into the classroom,” said Stokes. “But the pressure from Nashville has caused our local leaders to have to those decisions.”

This announcement comes after several pushes from the statehouse for all 147 school districts in Tennessee to offer in-person learning, including proposed legislation threatening district funding.

FOX13 asked Dr. Ray how much of this decision was motivated by pressure from the state.

RELATED: New SCS data show students are falling behind during virtual learning

“You guys have seen the news and heard the comments over the last few weeks, and I know I share the same sentiments with the board. We’re always going to do what’s best for children, but also we have to do what’s best for our school district as well, and at the end of the day, we will follow science. We will continue to follow science,” said Dr. Ray.

FOX13 reached out to a few parents Friday night to get their thoughts about the decision, but they weren’t available for interviews.

However, one parent said this is a great step, but she wishes students who choose in-person learning weren’t still using tablets for class.

Other parents we have talked to previously cite health concerns as their primary opposition to in-person learning.

The district said parents who want to change their child’s option to either in-person or virtual can contact their schools.