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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools re-open August 9, but the Memphis-Shelby County Education Association says they’ve been told there are still hundreds of positions open.

“We are told there are over 500 vacancies in this district as of last week. Don’t know how many there are today,” said Keith Williams with the Memphis Shelby County Education Association.

We asked the Shelby County Schools for the latest vacant teaching positions. Back in the spring, the school system said there were only 86. SCS now says 96 percent of teacher vacancies have been filled, and the district has hired 1,183 more positions since this time last year.

The district says there were 4,914 vacancies in the 2020-2021 fiscal year and 2,731 vacancies in 2019-2020.

In the face of COVID, SCS says it is reducing class size for Kindergarten through second grades, from around 20 students per teacher to 13.

The new Shelby County Education Association President, Anntriniece Napper, a former Kindergarten teacher herself, says smaller classes can help with social distancing in grades like Kindergarten.

“They want to sit on the carpet together. They want to use the same materials. And when we came back to school in March, the kids could not share materials,” Napper said.

SCS hasn’t said how staffing will be affected.

“How will you social distance that and how will you limit those class sizes without hiring more teachers?” Williams asked.

But Shelby County Education Association Teacher Advocate Jesse Jeff says it’s more a retention problem.

“If you look at Teach for America for example, they come in and, once you pay for their student loans, they are gone. Because a lot of the stuff you actually discover when you get in the classroom when you get there and actually teach, they didn’t teach you in college,” Jeff said.

Danette Stokes, the president of the  United Education Association of Shelby County, is hopeful.

“I am just hoping we can make sure everybody is safe. The working conditions are good for every educator and for our students and we follow all protocols and do what we have to do to keep ourselves safe and focus on closing the achievement gap with our kids our students,” Stokes said.