SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — The largest school district in Tennessee will soon gear up to educate students in the middle of a pandemic that’s expected to last into the fall semester.
Shelby County Schools is hoping these unprecedented times don’t mean a shortage of teachers returning to the classroom over COVID-19 concerns.
“This indeed will be a school year like unlike any other,” SCS Chief of Communications Jerica Phillips said. “We are gathering data from our teachers and educators to get a dipstick as to how they’re feeling about returning. We know there may be some retirements and some senior teachers who might not be returning.”
SCS employs about 6,500 teachers. In a statement to WREG, the district said its teacher vacancies are down so far this year.
There were 500 vacant teacher positions at the end of the 2018-19 school year. SCS said recent data show they have 244 teacher vacancies.
“The current number of vacancies is less than 5%, and that’s typical for this time of year as we prepare to go back to school, and these vacancies do include the retirees,” Phillips said.
This week, SCS Superintendent Joris Ray revealed a detailed plan for parents.
Parents will have until July 18 to decide if their children will physically go to school or enroll in virtual education.
“He must come to talk to the leadership of this school system and unions to make this happen, or we will not have much of it to happen,” Memphis-Shelby Education Association Executive Director Keith Williams said.
Williams recently told WREG the superintendent’s decision must include the union.
“But I can tell you it’s not working or not going to work until he comes to the table to work with teachers, and I mean the heart and soul of this organization will be teachers not selected teachers,” Williams said.
SCS maintains it is reaching out to teachers to make sure they have the support they need during unprecedented times in the classroom.
“We definitely understand that some of our senior teachers are concerned, and those who have existing health conditions are concerned about returning to the classroom,” Phillips said. “We want to make sure teachers have all the technology training they need if they decide to teach virtually or cannot return to school.”
The Memphis-Shelby County Education Association sent WREG the following statement about possible teacher shortages.
“COVID-19 has changed the way we think about the future of education, not just for students, but for teachers as well. As one of the largest employers in Shelby County, SCS must take the concerns of educators into consideration. Many teachers, along with other district staff have voiced concerns about returning to buildings. Many of the District”s teachers are parents and caretakers for their own parents. As so many unknown variables remain with the virus, several teachers, who are eligible, have opted to retire for the upcoming school year, with health concerns being the top reason. Though this is no one’s fault, it continues to leave a deficit for our students, who will possibly begin the school year, once again, without a certified teacher to lead their instruction.”