NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools officials have delayed the return to in-person learning that was set to begin on February 8, a news release from the district announced Friday.
Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray said they do not have a date for when school will begin.
“Right now, we are unable to provide a new target date for returning to buildings as we base our local decisions on the health and safety of all students and educators,” Ray said.
“There are multiple factors, and I and our dedicated Board are weighing all of them,” he added. “From the discussions about vaccinations to the guidance from the CDC, schools are safe to open, but only if we all work together to reduce the infection rate in our community.
School Board President Miska Bibbs said it is the best decision.
“There is no easy answer. We are all working toward getting to something that will work for most,” said Bibbs.
Shelby County Schools, the state’s largest district, originally planned plans to start bringing students back to campus next month starting with the younger students. Middle and high school students would have returned on February 22.
“Knowing what we know about the spread of the virus in this county and across Tennessee, even the Health Department has acknowledged that Shelby County Schools has played an essential role in helping our community save lives and reduce the spread of the virus,” Ray said. “We’ve come too far by faith to turn our backs on SAFETY now.”
The news comes as Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee reportedly pushes Nashville and Shelby County education leaders to have an in-person option for students ready to go by February 15, the Tennessean reported.
Recently, lawmakers also filed House Bill 7021, which would required both school districts to make available an in-person learning option or lose state funding. The schools would have to be open for a minimum of 70 days this year and 180 days next year.
“How can you be successful when you take away from the least of these?” said Bibbs. “What about that makes sense if you are trying to push excellence and make sure kids have everything they need.”
In an interview with WREG earlier this month, Superintendent Ray laid out what would get schools open.
“We’re going to continue to follow science and that’s what we’re going to do. The numbers are in triple digits if you look at what’s happening around us. I have to ensure the safety and well-being of all of our students and all of the 14-thousand employees,” Ray said.
The school system now cites increased coronavirus cases in Shelby County and deaths associated with the virus as reason for pause.
“We continue to have days we go down and then we go back up in the matter of 24 to 48 hours. Again, we are monitoring conditions here locally in Shelby County,” said Jerica Phillips with Shelby County Schools communications.
Ray also said he asked the Governor to prioritize educators for vaccines, but the Governor wouldn’t commit.
Teacher and the head of the United Education Association, Danette Stokes, says for teachers that is a real concern.
“As an educator, prioritize us on the list for vaccinations. Make that a priority. Put us at the top of the list,” Stokes said. “Also, a statewide mandate for masks. Follow what the CDC is saying to help us safely return.”
Nashville Metro Schools said Friday they could announce a plan to return to in-person learning as soon as Monday.