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Update: Memphis students with disabilities will return to classrooms in phases

A classroom door with two signs: one says “mask check” and the other says “we keep our social distance”
In a change from the district’s building reopening plan, students with disabilities will phase in by grades.
Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

Students with disabilities will not come back simultaneously in Shelby County Schools’ building reopening plan as previously announced, a district official said.

Instead, the district plans to phase in students with disabilities by their grade starting on Jan. 4 with prekindergarten to fifth grade. That means students with disabilities in middle and high school won’t return to buildings until at least Jan. 19. Shelby County Schools students will continue online learning whether they return in person or not, so that students won’t have vastly different learning experiences based on their choice, district officials said. Parents have until Friday to submit their choice.

The change from the announcement last month comes as district officials hope to start reopening school buildings “at a slower pace” with a smaller group to work out issues that may arise, said district spokeswoman Jerica Phillips.

“When they looked back at bringing all children with disabilities back at the same time, they wanted to go back and make some adjustments and say let’s start with a smaller group first,” she said Thursday.

Reopening plans across the nation have frequently included students with disabilities and younger students in early phases because they need the most support with online learning.

About 11% or about 13,000 Shelby County Schools students have a disability, according to the latest state enrollment data. That includes students in the district’s nearly 60 charter schools, but most students with disabilities are in district-run schools. The state’s definition for this student group also includes those in gifted education classes.

Reopening buildings is dependent on “favorable health data” related to the spread of COVID-19 in Shelby County and could be delayed, Superintendent Joris Ray said last month.

The change was included in a list of frequently asked questions last week but not announced as a revision of the district’s plan. The district sent a letter to parents of students with disabilities Thursday with details and will hold a virtual forum from 10 a.m. to noon on Nov. 14.

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