Shelby County Schools announce return to in-person learning

Shelby County, Tenn. — Shelby County School employees will begin returning to school for in-person learning on Monday, February 22, according to superintendent Dr. Joris Ray.

Kindergarten through 5th grade will return on March 1. Students in grades 6-12 will begin returning to in-person learning on March 8, the superintendent said Friday.

All families who want to remain virtual will be able to continue remote learning.

“We know we’ve done everything in our power to ensure our schools are safe and the data is trending in a direction that we know is safe to return,” said Dr. Ray.

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Ray made the announcement Friday during his first live in-person news conference since last summer.

Ray cited government legislation and a steady decline of COVID-19 cases in Shelby County as reasons for the decision to return to in-person classes.

Shelby County Schools spent the entire previous school year meeting digitally due to the COVID-19 pandemic and is the last district in the state of Tennessee to return to in-person learning.

The announcement comes after the school district suspended its return to in-person learning three times.

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Ray also announced a one-time Return Stronger Bonus for employees.

Certified school-based employees will receive $1,000 and $500 for classified school-based employees.

“We want our teachers in front of students and we’ve done everything in our power to ensure a safe return to our teachers as well but not only that we want to give them a one-time bonus for our teachers,” said Ray.

SCS staff say students will be encouraged to bring their own masks, but masks will be available on buses and at schools for students who don’t have them.

There will be desk shields in the classrooms and those rooms will be limited to 12 students or fewer to maintain social distancing.

The district said there’s one thing that won’t change. They say students will continue working with the same teacher they’ve had all year long.

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“We’re asking students every day to bring their fully charged devices daily and again we’re using (Microsoft) Teams to ensure that all of our students stay with the same teacher,” said Angela Whitelaw, SCS Deputy Superintendent of Schools and Academic Support.

SCS staff say they will submit COVID-19 case counts to the Tennessee Department of Education on a weekly basis and they’ve been partnering with the Shelby County Health Department to coordinate contact tracing.