Gov. Bill Lee asked Memphis school leaders last week to offer an in-person learning option by Feb. 15 but sidestepped questions Wednesday about what would happen if they don’t.
“We’ve only talked about what we can do to support them,” Lee said of his conversations with Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray. He added that he wants to “keep communications open” with Ray.
The remarks appeared to defuse a possible showdown between the state and its largest school system over the best way to educate Memphis students during the deadly pandemic, which has been hardest on people of color and those from low-income communities. Meanwhile, several local Shelby County health officials said a return to classrooms could be managed safely.
The governor spoke during an exchange with reporters after signing a handful of education bills into law from the recent special legislative session on education.
Ray announced last Friday that he was delaying students’ return to Memphis classrooms for a third time, despite the governor’s call for a mid-February in-person option and a threat from legislators to reduce or cut state funding for districts that don’t comply. The superintendent said state and local officials need to work together first to further reduce the infection rate in his mostly Black community.
Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, the only other Tennessee district meeting completely virtually, is scheduled to begin returning to in-person learning on Thursday under a transition plan Director Adrienne Battle announced on Monday.
This article was originally published on Tennessee governor softens tone but still wants Memphis students in classrooms by mid-February