by Laura Faith Kebede
Kirby High School students are moving to three nearby schools starting Monday, Shelby County Schools leaders announced Monday night.
About 800 students in the southeast Memphis school have been out of school for seven days because a rats nest near the school was disturbed and the rodents ran into the building.
Superintendent Dorsey Hopson could move the children back into the building in six to eight weeks, when eradication and building repairs are expected to be finished. But Hopson said he would rather wait until after the semester ends in December to move students back into Kirby High School to avoid more disruption.
Ninth and 10th grade students will go to DuBois Middle School of Leadership & Public Policy, a charter school about 4.5 miles from Kirby High School. Juniors and seniors will go to Kirby Middle School, which is run by charter network Green Dot Public Schools under the state-run Achievement School District. Some special education students will go to Southwind High School, about 4.5 miles away.
Laptops will be distributed Wednesday at Hickory Ridge Middle School and students will be expected to complete online assignments Thursday and Friday, before they go to their new schools. If they cannot connect to the internet at home, the district has reserved student work space in designated rooms at three libraries and a community center.
Hopson told a crowd of about 200 parents, students, teachers, and community members that this solution was the fastest way to get students learning again.
“These are the best options for our students to start now,” he said.
Suggestions on where to relocate students ranged from a nearby mall to megachurches in the area. But Joris Ray, an assistant superintendent for the district, said there was too much work to be done at the mall to get it ready for students in accordance with state rules.
District officials reiterated Kirby High School would have additional renovations when students return, but have not decided on specifics. The school in the Hickory Hill neighborhood of Memphis is about 30 years old, relatively young compared to some buildings in the district. But still, the school needs a new roof, painting, and other repairs that will cost about $2 million – not unusual for Memphis school buildings.
Kirby High School is among the lowest performing on state tests in Tennessee. Steevon Hunter, who has been principal for two years, said he’s still working on a plan to make up for lost instructional time.
“We’re going to use this as a set up for success,” Hunter said in a video produced by the district. “We’re going to take the adversity and turn it around and make it work for our good.”
A rats nest was discovered in an old, large storage bin that contained mulch. The bin, which was being cleaned by school staff, was located between the school’s greenhouse and the school building, Hopson said last week. That disturbance to the nest caused the rodents to “run inside the school.” The Shelby County Department of Health cleared the school to reopen last Tuesday, but the stench of rats dying days after coming in contact with the poison prompted the district to close the school again Thursday and Friday of last week. The district has already spent about $70,000 to address the problem.
Andrea Douglas, a parent of a senior and sophomore at Kirby High, had mixed feelings about the district’s fix. She’s concerned her older son, who drives to school, won’t make it on time if he has to drop off his brother too.
“I’m glad they got a solution to go somewhere,” she said. “But I’m not happy they’re splitting up.”
Douglas said she worries her sons and their peers will fall behind academically as they adjust to the new school environment. But, she said she’ll “bear with this” until the semester ends.
Transportation will be provided for all Kirby High School students who need it. Those who normally walk to school will be picked up and dropped off in the high school’s parking lot. Open houses will be held at DuBois Middle and Kirby Middle on Saturday for students and parents to get familiar with the buildings and ask questions.
So far, Hopson said there haven’t been a lot of requests for students to transfer to other schools. He wants to avoid temporary transfers that could further disrupt instruction when students return to Kirby’s building.
Read the district’s information sheets about the transition below.
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