NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers will debate a bill that could force Shelby County Schools to open. The district is currently the only one that has not even started reopening.
The bill was introduced by Republican Senator Brian Kelsey of Germantown. It would give Governor Bill Lee the authority to open schools through executive order.
“My legislation would ensure that the governor has the legal authority to force schools during an emergency to open to in-person learning and, unfortunately, I think we’re at that position,” Kelsey said.
The decision to reopen is currently in the hands of school districts.
SCS had planned to reopen last month, but that was put off as the number of Covid-19 cases spiked. Now cases are falling, but the district still has not committed to a reopening date.
“Shelby County Schools is the only school district in the entire state that’s not opening, and these kids deserve to go back in person because they’re falling behind,” Kelsey said.
But the push to reopen is being met with some opposition. Representative Antonio Parkinson of Memphis says it’s got to be done safely.
“I agree let’s get them open, but let’s do it safely,” Parkinson said. “And I think there should be some grace cause the superintendent has stated, and the school board that they are working to open the schools so let’s let them get them open.”
But Representative Mark White of Memphis says the time to reopen is now.
“I don’t think he (the governor) is rushing things,” White said. “You know we’ve been out of school going on 10 going on 11 months. Most of the state is back in. It’s difficult. It’s not easy.”
Some believe a possible solution is making sure teachers have access to the COVID-19 vaccine before returning to the classroom.
“Let’s get the teachers vaccinated so they feel comfortable going back into the schools, and let’s let those parents who feel comfortable right now put their children in school if they feel like it’s safe,” Parkinson said.
White added, “We want to be safe. We want to respect our teachers and their desire to make sure they don’t take this infection home. I think the science and statistics prove we can do this safely.”
Lee has said he wants schools reopened by next Monday, but the teacher’s union wants teachers vaccinated first, and that hasn’t started yet.
This week, the CDC is expected to announce guidelines for how to safely reopen schools. It’s expected to say schools can safely reopen without teachers being vaccinated.