SCS delays return to in-person learning due to COVID-19 case surge

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Students at Shelby County Schools will not return to the classroom in January, according to a release from SCS.

The gradual reopening will be delayed due to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

The release said students will return no earlier than Feb. 8.

Shortly after releasing his video announcement, FOX13 asked for an interview with Superintendent Joris Ray about this decision and to answer some follow-up questions.

RELATED: SCS teachers and parents choose virtual over in-person learning

But the district said he wasn’t available and instead prefers to just use video releases.

In this taped, video message, Dr. Ray said the new timeline for reopening schools shifts to the second semester in February.

The district said students who in Pre-k through 5th will go back February 8 followed by grades 6th through 12th returning February 22

In the video, Ray said virtual learning and meal services will continue.

In Nashville, Governor Bill Lee has advocated for students to get back into the classroom for months.

He told reporters he was disappointed by the delay for Shelby County students.

“It is disappointing to me,” said Governor Lee. “I believe in local decision making but nevertheless I wish the children in Shelby County were in person, in classroom in a greater way than they are.”

Because the district wouldn’t make the superintendent available for interviews, FOX13 Investigator Kirstin Garriss reached out to all nine school board members for comments.

Four of them returned our messages and two agreed to interviews.

“We want to send students back but we’ve got to send students back when it’s safe and so right now it’s just not safe,” said Dr. Althea Greene, SCS board member.

School board members Dr. Althea Greene and Michelle McKissack said they support Dr. Ray’s decision to delay reopening schools to February.

The district said this decision wasn’t based on the large number of teachers who won’t return to school buildings. They say it was based on the COVID numbers in the county.

McKissack said her family was one of the thousands who wanted in-person learning.

But with nearly 500 new COVID-19 cases a day for the past week in Shelby County, she agrees it wasn’t the right time to send students back.

“It’s more intense than it was back in august when we delayed school and here we are now and it’s like we want to have kids back in school for those who want to be back in building in January but it just doesn’t make sense at this point,” said McKissack.

Read the full release below:

Memphis, TN - Shelby County Schools (SCS) is delaying the return to in-person learning due to the current surge in COVID-19 cases in Shelby County. The District had planned to reopen schools on January 4; however, the phased reopening will be delayed. Schools will reopen no earlier than the second semester, February 8 (Pre-K-5) and February 22 (6-12).

As we have seen throughout the pandemic, these are uncertain times and we must be flexible around our reopening proposal. High-quality instruction, resources, and meal services will continue to be available to support students and families while schools remain all virtual.

“We recognize the pandemic presents a growing set of challenges for all our principals, teachers, support staff, families and students,” said Dr. Joris M. Ray. “During times like this, our FAITH can be tested, and it can be hard to imagine brighter days. But, I know we can get through this as we work TOGETHER on behalf of our children.”

According to health department data, the seven-day average has exceeded 450 new cases per day over the past two weeks. The total number of COVID-19 cases in Shelby County stands at more than 53,000.

RELATED: SCS survey: Majority of parents want to continue virtual learning

The proposed reopening on January 4 was contingent upon the current status of the coronavirus in our community. Unfortunately, the holiday season is showing an upward trend in cases in Memphis/Shelby County. After much consideration, the School Board and Superintendent agree that a delay to the proposed gradual reopening of schools is best for the District at this time.

“We know that our families were looking forward to our schools reopening and we understand the importance of returning to the classroom,” said School Board Chair Miska Clay Bibbs. “We hope our community recognizes that this decision has been made in the best interest of health and safety for our students and employees.”

The District will host a virtual town hall to provide more information for families prior to the reopening. Schools will also be hosting individual virtual open houses to share their reopening plans with families.

Click here to view Superintendent Dr. Joris M. Ray’s full video transcript.

For additional facts about our reopening plan, click here.

FOX13 reached out to the Tennessee Department of Education asking for a comment on SCS’s decision and received the following statement:

“The benefits of in-person learning are well documented. This year, parents in districts across the state have demonstrated they value having choices for educating their children in public schools, whether in person, virtual, or hybrid formats. Districts have faced difficult decisions throughout the pandemic, and that’s why decisions about returning to classrooms must happen at the local level-- to ensure critical decisions about educating our children are grounded in and aligned with feedback from the community.”

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