Memphis-Shelby County Schools board to take action on Joris Ray’s employment

A woman stands behind a Memphis-Shelby County Schools podium next to two men and a woman
MSCS board Chair Michelle McKissack (center) stands beside, from left to right, Herman Morris Jr., board member Charles Everett, and Vice Chair Althea Greene as they listen to a reporter’s question at a press conference in July. The board will convene Tuesday to discuss district leadership matters — just over a month after putting Superintendent Joris Ray on paid administrative leave. (Samantha West / Chalkbeat)

The Memphis-Shelby County Schools board has called a special meeting for Tuesday to discuss and take action on the status of Superintendent Joris Ray.

The meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., comes as the board awaits the results of an external investigation into claims that Ray abused his power and violated district policies by having adulterous affairs with subordinates, as alleged in recent divorce filings.

There is only one action item for the meeting, according to an agenda posted Monday evening: “Discuss and take action on the Shelby County Board of Education’s employment relationship with Superintendent Joris M. Ray.”

In a press release issued Tuesday morning, MSCS board Chair Michelle McKissack said the board has “intentionally had limited conversations” about the investigation since mid-July with the hope of “maintaining a clear focus on the start of the new school year and educating students.” The school year started Aug. 8.

But the investigation is now at a point where “the board and the public must be reengaged regarding the status of this issue,” McKissack said.

Ray, who became superintendent of Tennessee’s largest school district in April 2019, has been on paid administrative leave since mid-July, when the board formally launched the inquiry and hired former U.S. Attorney Edward L. Stanton III to lead it. At the time, Ray said he was confident he had not violated district policies. 

Chalkbeat has since learned that at least two of the women Ray’s wife claimed in divorce filings that he had affairs with were people he supervised. It remains unclear whether the alleged affairs occurred when Ray was supervising the women, or whether the affairs fall within the scope of the school board’s investigation. 

MSCS board Chair Michelle McKissack has declined to say whether the scope has changed in light of that finding. After winning reelection to the board earlier this month, McKissack said Stanton was in the process of conducting interviews, sorting through documents, and gathering information. She couldn’t provide a timeline for how long the investigation would last or when the board would take action.

Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at swest@chalkbeat.org.

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