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Friday, January 29, 2021
Greetings, SCS Family.

I want to make you aware of a difficult decision we’ve had to make regarding our plan to return to in-person learning. Our plans to gradually reopen schools on February 8 will be delayed. 
We expect the number one question people will have when hearing of the delay is: When will we open buildings and offer an in-person learning option for students and parents? Right now, we are unable to provide a new target date for returning to buildings as we base our local decisions on the health and safety of all students and educators. 

There are multiple factors, and I and our dedicated Board are weighing all of them. From the discussions about vaccinations to the guidance from the CDC, schools are safe to open, but only if we all work together to reduce the infection rate in our community. In addition, there are signs that lawmakers in Nashville may revoke their commitment to allow local control and force districts to send children and teachers back in person.
The context of our decision to return in-person is the most challenging decision any of us has ever faced. Earlier this week, I called Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and told him about our long-standing S.A.F.E. plans to return to school buildings. We’ve invested COVID-19 relief dollars, and our schools are ready to welcome students. We all want to return to normal, and we appreciate your patience as we weigh these critical decisions.

Just this week, the number of diagnosed coronavirus cases in Shelby County doubled in the course of one 24-hour period. And in two days this week, 39 of our neighbors died from COVID.

However, there are reasons for hope. Vaccinations are rolling out across the country, and I asked Governor Lee to pledge his support for prioritizing educators in the vaccination lines. While the Governor would not commit to helping us, we are working diligently with the Shelby County Health Department to train our nurses and host District sites to offer vaccinations to our educators.

Knowing what we know about the spread of the virus in this county and across Tennessee, even the Health Department has acknowledged that Shelby County Schools has played an essential role in helping our community save lives and reduce the spread of the virus. We’ve come too far by faith to turn our backs on SAFETY now. 

I pledge to you that we will return, and will return stronger. Now is not the time to deviate from our successful course of action. For those who say we need to get back to school, we say SCHOOL IS IN SESSION. Teachers are teaching their hearts out during live virtual instruction every day. We started school in August and will provide an in-person opportunity for our students and families just as soon as we can do it safely.

We are stronger together. Coronavirus will not defeat us. We are 901.
Dr. Joris M. Ray,