Most Memphis parents aren’t ready to send children back to classrooms in January

A poster promoting social distancing hangs in a school building hallway

Parents of 65% of Shelby County Schools students do not plan to send them back to school buildings in January, based on survey results obtained by Chalkbeat. 

The results show that despite district officials’ desire to have students return to classrooms, most parents aren’t convinced. 

Some parents told Chalkbeat they are reluctant because COVID-19 cases are surging, some are unsatisfied with online learning continuing even if students are in the building, and others don’t think it’s worth the risk of exposure if the teacher chose to remain at home. 

Parents of just 24% of students chose to send them back to school buildings, where instruction through a computer screen will continue. As of Friday, the district was still awaiting responses from the parents of about 9,740 students or 11% who didn’t respond to the survey in July or this fall, in the district’s second attempt to reopen Memphis classrooms.

The results may not matter if the pandemic continues to worsen. Superintendent Joris Ray said last month that his plan to reopen buildings in January is dependent on “favorable health data” related to the spread of COVID-19 in Shelby County and could be delayed. If the plan is delayed, all 90,000 Shelby County Schools students will continue to learn remotely as they have since the academic year began in late August.

Just this week, school systems in Mississippi, Arkansas, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Illinois have either delayed their reopening plans or reverted to all remote learning as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations spike

The deadline was Nov. 6 for parents and teachers to choose whether to continue online learning from home or in a school building. The district delayed publicly sharing the results to follow up with parents who hadn’t responded. Chalkbeat prompted Shelby County Schools to release the latest parent survey data Friday after receiving survey results as of Nov. 3. 

The response rate from parents earlier this month was higher than this summer when parents of about 37% of students did not select a choice. The district considered a parent not responsive if they didn’t make a selection in both July and November. Parents who chose a learning option in July and did not wish to change it were not required to make the selection during the second round.

And there’s still the open question of how many teachers chose to continue teaching from home. Leaders of the district’s two associations, who represent about half of teachers, projected that a vast majority of teachers plan to remain home based on conversations and meetings with members. 

During a parent meeting on Facebook Live for Bruce Elementary School on Thursday evening, Principal Archie Moss said all of his teachers opted to stay home. He and his staff are working on a plan to monitor the students who return to the building and noted some may be in a room with students who are not in their class or grade. 

“They might be in the room with a third grader, a second grader, and your child might be in the first grade,” he told parents. “They’re all still doing their own individual thing because they’re all still going to be learning through the computers.”

After hearing details from Moss, one parent commented she wanted to change her mind and keep her child at home.  

Another parent, Brandi Linsey, who has twins in kindergarten at Kate Bond Elementary, said she initially wanted her children to return to campus this summer, but then she, her husband, and several other family members contracted COVID-19 after attending a family birthday party where most people wore masks. Her mother-in-law, who was at the party and was recovering from leukemia, died due to complications from the coronavirus, she said. 

“The one time we were lenient, we got it,” she said. Despite the draw to have child care when school buildings reopen, Linsey said she would rather not take the risk. 

“I know what virtual looks like so far and that’s doable so I’m going to stick with that,” she said.

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