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Memphis parents say they need more details about the new school day routine to make a decision

Close up of a student writing in a graphing notebook.


Update, July 16, 2020: Shelby County Schools is extending the deadline for parents to decided between online and in-person instruction to 11:59 p.m. on July 24.

Violet Odom is torn between sending her daughters back to school when the academic year starts or keeping them home to learn online. 

On one hand, she wants to minimize how many people her children come in contact with, especially as coronavirus cases surge in Memphis and across the nation. Virtual instruction seems to be the way to accomplish that. 

But Odom also works from 7 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at a chemical plant and her daughters, in third and eighth grade, would only have each other to figure out how to navigate online classes during the day. 

“I’ve got so many mixed emotions,” she said. “I for sure want them to be safe, but I don’t know how to feel.”

Shelby County Schools parents have a week and a day to decide whether or not to send their children to school buildings. If they choose online, they’ll be among the first to receive laptops, tablets, and Wi-Fi hotspots later this month. If families want to change their minds, they will have to wait until the first semester ends, though district officials said they will consider “extenuating circumstances.” Still, parents say they need more details to make an informed decision.

So far, most parents say they want to keep their children home. Superintendent Joris Ray said of the nearly 11,000 responses the district has received since Monday, 76% of them have opted for online learning. The responses represent about 11% of the district’s 95,000 students. 

“There’s a lot of confusion,” said board member Michelle McKissack earlier this week at a committee meeting. She told district staff to provide a “breakdown of what the school day looks like, both virtually and in person.” 

“There are so many questions that are out there for parents to make a decision,” she said. “And looking over the plan, while it’s really great, it’s also kind of broad.” 

Jerica Phillips, a spokeswoman, said the district plans to release simulation videos Monday that will help parents visualize what a typical day could look like online or in person.

“The importance of making commitments is being able to support class ratios and staffing,” Phillips said.  “We just don’t want that to be the message to say that you can flip flop back and forth.”

Odom saw the results of the district’s initial parent survey and was delighted to hear most parents preferred online instruction. It means there would be fewer children in buildings, which to her feels safer than having buildings at full capacity.

“The size of class will be smaller and they’ll be better able to be 6 feet apart,” Odom said. 

Still, she wants to learn more before making a decision. 

“With the numbers still rising, I wouldn’t want to send them out there without knowing what it looks like,” she said.

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