Photo: Tennessee State Governor Bill Lee
Published February 1, 2021
The two largest school districts in Tennessee are Nashville and Memphis, and Governor Bill Lee has asked both of them to resume in person classes by February 15.
After a special legislation session on education was held last week, Lee spoke to the superintendents of each district.
Adrienne Battle from Metro Nashville Public Schools and Joris Ray from Shelby County Schools, both announced updates they made to the schools reopening schedule, despite the tension after the special education session.
However, neither of the updated reopening timelines confirmed if schools would have in person class options by Lee’s February 15 deadline.
The Covid-19 virus has slowed some in Nashville, and Battle may announce school openings sooner than originally expected.
In Memphis, specifically schools in Shelby County, openings have been pushed back indefinitely as the virus continues to surge through the district.
Shelby County Schools have not been holding in person classes since March of 2020, and Nashville was able to let certain students return in the Fall, but only for around six weeks before closing again.
The Tennessee Department of Education sent out a letter claiming that the school district would need to account for nearly $110 million before being able to get more federal aid.
Laine Arnold, a spokesperson for Lee, said on Thursday that the governor had spoken to the district leaders.
Arnold said, “the governor had spoken with them [district leaders] this week to express concerns around the lack of in-person options, his concerns about low-income students and the overwhelming data that supports promptly getting back to the classroom. He has offered support to both districts and believes that both Shelby County and Metro Nashville schools should offer parents an in-person option no later than Feb. 15.”
Arnold said that the next two weeks would be “an appropriate timeframe to make preparations and help manage expectations for parents.”
A spokesperson for the Nashville school district, Sean Braisted, said that Battle talked to Lee on Thursday about the February deadline.
“Dr. Battle appreciated the opportunity to talk with Governor Lee to educate him on our reopening plans here at Metro Nashville Public Schools,” Braisted said, “As Dr. Battle has repeatedly said in public and to the Governor today, MNPS will begin phasing-in students based on a decrease in community spread as reflected in our COVID-19 risk tracker. The schedule for returning students back to the classroom will be based on the health and safety of our students and staff as a top priority, and not on arbitrary timelines requested by the Governor.”
Shelby County Schools spoke to Lee’s office on Tuesday in order to discuss the special session on education legislation. Ray spoke directly with the governor on Wednesday to talk about the February 15 deadline.
Jerica Phillips, spokesperson for Shelby County Schools, said that they discussed the deadline but it was never agreed on. The two did agree that schools should be opening up fairly soon.
Phillips said, “They share that same goal, but they differ on how to achieve it.”