The option for in-person classroom instruction will return to Shelby County Schools nearly a year after the pandemic created a massive shift to all-virtual learning.
SCS leaders—citing improvements in the local transmission rates of COVID-19 and the promise of wider distribution of vaccines—announced Friday that beginning March 1, kindergarten through fifth graders can return to buildings. Grades 6-12 will reopen on March 8.
Tennessee’s largest school district is the last to open school doors for students, a local decision that put it at odds with state lawmakers who have proposed measures that would force hold-out districts to offer in-person learning.
Online learning will remain an option for students. In October, about 70 percent of SCS parents said this was their preference, according to a SCS spokesperson. Parents are expected to commit to either choice for the remainder of the school year.
District Superintendent Joris Ray is asking teachers and staff to return Feb. 22 in preparation for students' arrival. School staff are being offered a one-time bonus of between $500 and $1,000, although specific eligibility requirements have not been announced.
“We want our teachers in front of our students, and we’ve done everything in our power to ensure a safe return for our teachers as well,” Ray said, noting that he initially wanted to give teachers the choice to remain virtual.
Teachers are next in line on the state’s vaccination plan, but local health officials have said they likely will not be able to open up lines for them until early next month when vaccine allocation increases.
Danette Stokes, president of the United Education Association of Shelby County, said she stood by Ray’s decision but noted that pressure from state leaders to re-open left him with little choice.
“Educator, we are in this together,” she said at a press conference with Ray, where he announced the re-opening plan. “Please know that our superintendent has listened to educators. We have been at the table.”
In-classroom students will still be using their online devices to stay connected to their virtual classmates at home.
“Students learning virtually and in-person, we want them to have the same instruction,” Ray said.
More information about the district’s re-entry plan can be found here.