If coronavirus hospitalizations and cases continue to surge, Memphis students will start the school year online, Supt. Joris Ray said Friday.
“If we are where we are today, in good faith I could not open schools,” the Shelby County Schools leader told Chalkbeat. “And when I say open schools, I’m talking about in person.”
For now, the plan for parents to choose between in-person and online instruction still stands. Parents have until July 18 to decide. But Ray emphasized he plans to be flexible based on how the virus is spreading closer to the first day of school. That’s despite President Donald Trump’s suggestion to slash education funding if districts do not open school buildings in the fall.
“I’m not going to cave in to any political pressure at the national level or any threats around having in-person instruction if our data and our numbers here say something different,” Ray said.
If the district does move all instruction online in August, there won’t be enough new laptops and tablets for students. The school board approved a four-year $11 million lease in June and the new devices are scheduled to start arriving this month. So, Ray said Friday that the district could distribute both new devices and its existing inventory if buildings do not reopen for the first day of school.
The district has also purchased mobile hotspots for families that do not have access to the internet. Some have already been distributed to students in summer school.
Ray noted he would be “firm” on protecting the safety of students and staff, even if it meant delaying opening buildings. School buildings have been closed since March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
“And actually now the numbers are far worse than they were in March and we shut down then,” he said.