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With deadline past, Memphis district pushes for more parents to respond to return-to-school survey

Student sits at a laptop for online learning
The deadline for the parent and teacher survey was Friday.
Laura Faith Kebede/Chalkbeat

The deadline for parents and teachers to choose where they continue online instruction has passed. But Shelby County Schools leaders said survey results won’t be released this week as school leaders do “one last sweep” with parents who have not responded.

“Schools are currently working to reach out to ensure those families are updating their contacts, receiving our communication and aware of the default option that would automatically select in-person learning,” the district said in a statement Monday.

Jerica Phillips, a district spokeswoman, did not share how many parents have not responded. But she said the number was enough to prompt leaders to encourage principals to reach out to those who didn’t respond.

The results will shape how the district deploys staff to its nearly 150 school buildings when they open, which is tentatively scheduled for January in two phases. Whether at home or in the building, the district’s 90,000 students will still learn through a screen. That way, officials said, students in the building won’t have an advantage over students learning at home, but they will also have the opportunity to interact with each other.

When parents had the choice of in-person instruction and remote learning in July before the district decided to go all virtual, about 37% didn’t respond. Those students defaulted to in-person instruction. Combined with the parents who chose in-person instruction, about half of students would have been expected to return to buildings in August.

But this round, students would not receive traditional instruction if they return in person. All students will continue to learn through Microsoft Teams, the videoconferencing platform the district has been using, even if their teacher is in the room. That’s a deal breaker for parents like Pam Crislip, who initially wanted her two daughters to go back to the classroom.

“If this were truly going back to school, we would be going back. But this is not,” said Crislip, whose children attend White Station High School. “It sounds miserable to me to go back like that.”

Even though about half of teachers are now working from buildings while students are at home, leaders of the two teacher associations predict most of the district’s 6,500 teachers will opt to stay home. That means support staff would need to monitor classrooms. It’s unclear if there would be enough staff if the vast majority of teachers stay home.

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