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School year start date pushed to Aug. 31 for Memphis students, last day June 16

A crossing guard helps children across Summer Avenue near Grahamwood Elementary School.
Joe Rondone / The Commercial Appeal

Shelby County Schools students will start the school year on Aug. 31 and end on June 16, three weeks later than planned.

Under the new 2020-21 calendar approved by the school board Monday in a 5-4 vote, students and teachers will still have a fall break in October and start the second semester in February instead of January.

Superintendent Joris Ray proposed the new start date after Gov. Bill Lee extended Tennessee’s state of emergency because of the coronavirus pandemic. Ray also cited laptop availability as the district receives shipments between late July and late August.

“It would be ideal to keep the calendar the same, but you know as well as I know, that devices will not be in August the 10th,” Ray told board members.

Ray said his recommendation was based on 12,000 survey responses from teachers and parents about two calendar options: one with a fall break and one without. The district enrolls about 95,000 students. Participants “overwhelmingly” wanted a fall break, Ray said.

For now, parents can still choose between in-person and online instruction for the fall, but if coronavirus cases continue to surge, Ray said all students would start the school year online.

Some board members worried that the first semester would get off to a bumpy start if students were only in class for five weeks before being out of school for a week for fall break. For students who start the school year in person, they also worried possible school closures during the first semester would take awhile for students to transition to learning online. Those board members said they would rather push through the fall to Thanksgiving break like some colleges are proposing.

“Should we not give ourselves some flexibility of really trying to get through as much of the school year as possible before we have to turn to an alternative situation?” said board member Shante Avant. “We don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Board members Miska Clay Bibbs, Althea Greene, Stephanie Love, Billy Orgel, and Kevin Woods voted in favor of the calendar. Board members Shante Avant, Joyce Dorse-Coleman, Scott McCormick, and Michelle McKissack voted against it.

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