Shelby County commissioners push for answers about upcoming school year

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SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Shelby County Commissioners want answers about how the upcoming school year will look during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Many commissioners thought they were going to hear from someone with Shelby County Schools directly to get those questions answered Wednesday, but a line of communication broke somewhere.

Dr. Cedrick Gray, director of education for Shelby County, serves as a liaison between the commission, the various districts in the county and the school board.

At a committee meeting two weeks ago, commissioners said they wanted to hear from someone with SCS after a presentation from Gray. 

“Just a reminder, this was an expectation of some comments from Shelby County Schools, so my comments today are short because of that,” Gray told commissioners.

Letters between commissioner Edmund Ford Jr. and SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray discussing concerns for the upcoming school year were shared with WREG.

In his letter, Ray said he would present at Wednesday’s meeting if invited. SCS told WREG the district didn’t receive an invitation.

“The discussion around school re-opening is very difficult,” commissioner Michael Whaley said. “You essentially have a lot of un-ideal choices.”

Commissioners received a handout with an overarching look at the various districts’ in-person, virtual plans or hybrid plans.

“We must remember that we have a large diversity of teachers and especially a lot of teachers who were within those at risk groups, whether it’s due to co-morbidities or age,” commissioner Tami Sawyer said. “The people who are gonna have to clean bathrooms and hallways and touch the water fountains.”

Commissioner Ford Jr. also asked about possible hazard pay for employees. 

“So I’m asking sincerely and nicely, today, maybe not tomorrow, that we find some resolve for some of these items,” Ford said.

Commissioners requested someone from the district be at their next committee meeting.

SCS has done multiple in-person and online presentations, as well as listening sessions for families to address the concerns for the upcoming school year.

The superintendent also tweeted Tuesday night that he is committed to providing the same flexibility for educators about the possibly teaching remotely. 

SCS said it wants to keep an open dialogue.

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