Shelby County teachers rally in support after superintendent considers keeping schools closed

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray got a strong show of support Tuesday after saying he’d consider keeping schools closed if coronavirus cases continue to rise.

Dozens of teachers stood outside SCS offices Tuesday afternoon holding signs in support of Ray and virtual classrooms.

“Stand with Ray. When he says he won’t go back until it’s safe, believe him,” teacher Laura Braytenbah said.

Classes were originally supposed to resume August 10, but the date has been pushed back to August 31. Ray said that could change if there’s a sudden uptick in coronavirus cases.

“We’re going to follow science, and we’re going to do what’s best for our students. No one’s going to force me to open schools if they’re unsafe,” he said during an appearance on CNN.

Instead, Ray said all students would attend classes online, as 77% of parents are currently opting for their children to do.

“What good is an education if you’re dead? What good is a teacher if they’re dead? How can we do our job if we got one foot in the grave and we’re on a ventilator?” said Will Kelley, a Kirby High School teacher.

The teachers who gathered Tuesday were part of a group called Memphis/Shelby County United. It’s calling for all classes to take place online until Tennessee goes 14 days without adding any new coronavirus cases. The state added more than 2,000 cases Tuesday.

“I’m not putting myself at risk,” Braytenbah said. “I’m not putting my colleagues at risk. I’m not putting my kids at risk, and I will refuse to return in the fall if we do not go to a fully virtual platform.”

Ray hasn’t yet laid out the specific criteria he would need to see to keep schools closed past the August 31 start date.

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