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Expect early problems with online learning, says Memphis superintendent. ‘We’re going to learn from our mistakes.’

Close up of hands typing on a laptop.

Shelby County Schools students are scheduled to start online learning on Aug. 31 until further notice.


Superintendent Joris Ray is warning Shelby County Schools parents to expect problems with online learning when school begins Aug. 31. 

During the school board’s work session Tuesday, Ray said this will be the first time more than 95,000 students will be online simultaneously.

For internet service providers to test capacity across the community, Ray said that the district and city and county governments are urging students and staff to get online the next two Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. for “Community Power Up Days.”

“We’re trying to mitigate all risk. But please know that something will happen and we’re going to try our best to prevent that,” he said. “But of course we’re going to learn from our mistakes and we’re going to get better and better each and every day.”

His expectation follows early problems with online learning in Nashville where district-issued laptops and tablets had trouble connecting to the internet on the first day of classes Aug. 4. Most Tennessee districts are including an in-person learning option to start the school year, but about a quarter of students statewide will be online. 

All of Shelby County Schools’ 95,000 students will be learning remotely until further notice. The other seven public school districts in the county are offering both online and in-person options. 

In Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis, about 40% of its 9,000 students opted for virtual learning, Superintendent David Stephens told the Daily Memphian. On the first day of school Monday, dozens of parents reported issues with students logging into the district’s online platform for attendance. The district resolved that issue within an hour. But other parents said on Facebook that they didn’t have complete information about how to log into individual classes, which was especially problematic for high school students who have more than one teacher. 

Board member Kevin Woods urged Ray to “over plan” for the volume of calls and emails the district will get from parents trying to navigate the online systems during the first week of school. Ray said his team will be “well prepared” to answer questions.

“What I’m hearing from districts who have started, to your point, I’m glad to hear you indicate that what may go wrong likely will,” Woods told Ray. “There will be families that this will be their first time working with technology in this environment.”

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