Questions on navigating education and life during COVID-19 in Memphis – asked and answered

It’s been more than three months since the city and county mayors declared a state of emergency in response to the coronavirus, and we’re still figuring out how to live through this global pandemic.

While the spread of the virus slowed enough in May for local officials to begin reopening businesses, a recent spike in cases and hospitalizations delayed moving into the next reopening phase. On Saturday, the Shelby County Health Department reported the highest one-day increase in COVID-19 cases.

Over the last several weeks, the Memphis Media Collaborative (Chalkbeat Tennessee, High Ground News, the Memphis Flyer and MLK50: Justice Through Journalism) sent a COVID-19 information needs survey by text message to residents across Memphis.

Dozens of you responded, with questions about everything from summer school to bill payment assistance to coworkers who won’t practice social distancing.

Below are answers to your education questions and links to resources. Go here for questions and answers on protections for employers and employees, healthcare, reopening, and more.

Let us know more questions we should be answering at

What will happen over the summer? Will there be summer school and in-person camps? 

Memphis summer learning will be online and smaller than usual this year.

Memphis students who did not earn passing grades before buildings closed in March because of the coronavirus pandemic will have the opportunity to advance to the next grade, through online summer school that also will provide them laptops and hotspots for internet access. Online classes are scheduled for June 8 through July 16.

This year, the district plans to limit its summer learning academy to reading lessons for kindergarten and first grade students. The district had hoped to expand the academy to all elementary school students and eighth-grade students transitioning to high school, but the county commission declined the district’s request to fund it.

Summer camps’ plans are a bit of a mish-mash. Many camps are open and operating under COVID-19 protocols, with daily temperature checks for campers, no parents past the doors, and in some cases, campers wearing masks. Other camps made the decision not to open this summer. In some cases, camps’ application windows have closed. Memphis Parent offers a Camp Guide here, but calling camps individually may be the best way to learn how they are responding and if they are still accepting new campers.

Where can I find free meals for my child this summer? 

To ramp up food distribution for children who need it this summer, Shelby County Schools is resuming meal preparation with help from the YMCA of Memphis and the Mid-South.

Shelby County Schools will resume food preparation starting July 1 and YMCA will help the district add new distribution sites and recruit volunteers to meet the heightened demand. You can go here to find the current food distribution site closest to you. 

Families can also apply by June 29 for about $5.70 per child per day through the state’s Pandemic Electronic Benefit Transfer program.

How is Shelby County Schools preparing for the fall and the new school year? What will school look like? 

There are still a lot of unknowns, but Shelby County Schools is planning to give every student a laptop or tablet by November, with distribution starting in August.

District officials have said that instruction in the fall could be in person, online, or a combination of both. More details are expected in early July after a community task force submits recommendations to Superintendent Joris Ray. Classes are scheduled to start Aug. 10, though even that start date is tentative

How could social distancing occur in crowded classrooms? Will masks be provided for students and staff?

The short answer is: No one knows yet. The coronavirus has forced school districts across the nation to address a host of pandemic-related needs to ensure the safety of students and teachers when classes resume in the fall while also trying to address the loss of instructional time due to school closures this year. 

Shelby County Schools officials gave a first look into some of the options being discussed during a budget presentation in May before county commissioners.

“For safety, we’re thinking about digital thermometers, PPEs or personal protective equipment, handwashing, sanitizing supplies, training,” said Toni Williams, finance director.

She noted that the needs change every day “as we’re learning more and more and becoming educated about how everyone is addressing this pandemic.”

Reporter Laura Faith Kebede contributed to this report.

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