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A collage of images of masking, virtual learning, COVID, classrooms and Critical Race Theory.

Sources (clockwise from top left): Andrea Morales, Eli Imadali, Jose A. Alvarado Jr., Valaurian Waller / Bridge Detroit, Erica Seryhm Lee, Getty Images (2) | Photo Collage: Dan Lyon / Chalkbeat

Timeline: Teacher deaths, mask debates rock Memphis during the first 30 days of school

The fight to rebuild school communities after two years of pandemic-era uncertainty.

Back-to-school season is always filled with both nervousness and excitement, but the first 30 days of the 2021-22 academic year in Shelby County Schools have been even more intense as Memphis educators, students, and parents navigate a dynamic learning landscape shaped by a pandemic.

As cases of the delta variant have skyrocketed, especially among children, district officials have grappled with shifting state-issued restrictions on remote learning, as well as the battle over Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s executive order allowing parents to opt out of school mask requirements.  

On top of it all, the Memphis community has been shaken by the deaths of educators and students. And new state standardized test data confirmed an academic slide among students across the state, but especially among those in the most vulnerable groups — students of color and those who are economically disadvantaged.

To mark the start of a topsy-turvy school year, Chalkbeat Tennessee has created a timeline of key events that chronicle the first 30 days.