Shelby County Schools to Require Masks, Even for Vaccinated Individuals

Shelby County Schools (SCS) will require masks for all individuals in schools for this upcoming school year – even for vaccinated individuals. However, employees in administrative offices are only strongly encouraged to wear masks. The district issued the announcement last Tuesday, citing the influx of regular and Delta variant COVID-19 cases.

“Like school districts across the nation, SCS is following science and data to guide decisions about providing COVID-19 protection for students, teachers and staff,” stated SCS. “The District is mindful of the rising cases and the spread of the Delta variant. Therefore, masks should be worn indoors (schools) and on buses by all employees and students, regardless of vaccination status until further notice.”

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Shelby County Schools’ New Policy Limits Employees’ Speech on Social Media

Shelby County Schools (SCS) adopted a new policy during its board meeting two weeks ago to limit employee speech on social media. The policy’s goal is to “eliminate disruption” to school or district operations by regulating their employees’ social media. The policy defines social media as all internet-based communication and online content; it lists blogs, podcasts, comments, messages, audio recordings, video recordings, and posts. SCS employees are expressly prohibited from posting anything that creates or may create a disruption.

“All social media use by SCS employees that causes, or has a potential to cause, a disruption to school [sic] school/district operations are prohibited[,]” read the policy. “SCS recognizes that social media is used by many District employees as a means of communication for both District and personal purposes. SCS has an interest in promoting workplace efficiency and avoiding actual and potential workplace and school/district disruption.”

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Legislator Behind Tennessee’s Critical Race Theory Ban Weighs In on Shelby County Schools Racial Justice and Equity Training

Tennessee State Representative John Ragan (R-Oak Ridge) offered his thoughts on Shelby County Schools’ (SCS) consideration of implementing racial justice and equity training. Ragan shared with The Tennessee Star that a requirement of this training as a condition of employment could potentially be an issue – it would have to be voluntary.

As The Star reported this week, SCS may invest up to $480,000 for the racial justice and equity training offered by the nonprofit New Leaders. Upon review of New Leaders’ materials, The Star discovered that it encourages participants to adopt “culturally responsive” practices in schools – a synonym for critical race theory. Additionally, materials repeatedly assert the need for white people to be aware of their race, privilege, and power.

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Shelby County Schools May Pay Up to $480K for Racial Justice and Equity Training

Shelby County Schools (SCS) may pay up to $480,000 for two racial justice and equity trainings offered by a social justice nonprofit. New Leaders, the nonprofit, offers trainings to develop equity-focused, anti-racist educational leaders, with an emphasis on teaching about race in the classroom and the end goal of achieving social justice.

The SCS Board of Education discussed the plan to contract this training during its Academic Performance Committee meeting on Monday.

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Trial Update on Tennessee Principal Placed on Leave for Warning Students About Social Media Censorship

A lawsuit filed by a Shelby County Schools (SCS) principal placed on leave for warning students about social media censorship is making steady progress. As The Tennessee Star reported in January, Cordova High School Principal Barton Thorne had lectured students during a weekly “principal’s message” on the importance of free speech and the marketplace of ideas following the Capitol Hill riot, which he condemned.

Shelby County Board of Education (SCBE) reinstated Thorne the day that he filed the lawsuit against them. The Liberty Justice Center (LJC) is representing Thorne in the case, Thorne v. Shelby County Board of Education. In the lawsuit, Thorne alleged that SCBE violated his right to free speech and had damaged his career, reputation, and family through their response to the public and media.

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Shelby County Schools Equity Audit Revealed Black Students Had Higher Graduation Rates Than White, Hispanic Students for Past Three Years

A Shelby County Schools (SCS) equity audit revealed that Black students had higher graduation rates than their White and Hispanic peers for the past three years. Even when broken down by gender, both Black males and females graduated at higher rates than their White and Hispanic counterparts, respectively. The Shelby County Board of Education reviewed this information on Tuesday. The University of Memphis’ Center for Research in Educational Policy (CREC) conducted the audit, relying on data from SCS and the Tennessee Department of Education (TNDOE).

SCS Equity Officer Michael Lowe gave a presentation on the audit during the Tuesday board meeting. He noted that SCS didn’t actually receive the white paper of the entire audit report. Instead, the presentation was based on CREC’s executive summary of the report. The Tennessee Star requested the full audit report from Shelby County Board of Education Chair Miska Clay Bibbs. She didn’t respond by press time.

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Shelby County Schools Pushes for Expanded Role of African-American History to Counter ‘Continuous and Systemic Murder’ by Police

Members of the Shelby County School Board want to create an expanded version of African-American studies for K-12 curriculum districtwide. The proposal came from board member Stephanie Love, the District 3 representative. It argued that current curriculum has failed to remedy the negative impacts students face from the “continuous and systemic murder of African-Americans by law enforcement” and the county’s high homicide rates.

The proposal also stated that current curriculum only covers slavery and limits its scope to certain, bigger historical figures such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. If passed, the resolution would draft an expansive K-12 curriculum by June and implement the curriculum in the fall.

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Shelby County Schools Introduces Updated Plan for Re-Entry, Still No Date Established

Shelby County Schools (SCS) unveiled a detailed plan for in-person learning – but they haven’t offered any reopening dates or criteria. These updates were shared on Thursday by SCS Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray. 

SCS also created several simulation videos for what their in-person schooling and transportation would look like. Masked students engaged in all their school activities socially-distanced, including meals. And, students who opt for in-person schooling would still have to learn through virtual instruction.

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Tennessee Supreme Court Agrees to Hear State’s School Voucher Appeal

The Tennessee Supreme Court has agreed to the state’s appeal on the constitutionality of its education savings account program (ESA). The pilot school voucher program has been tied up in a legal battle for all of 2020 after its passage by the General Assembly in 2019, thereby preventing any planned advancement of the program.

The program was previously ruled unconstitutional by Davidson County Chancery Court Judge Anne Martin. She assessed it would disproportionately impact two counties: Shelby County Schools (SCS) and Metro Nashville Public Schools (MNPS). Those districts reportedly contain about 90 percent of the state’s failing schools list. The Court of Appeals upheld Martin’s decision last September.

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Staunton City Schools Latest to Follow Growing Trend of Creating ‘Equity Committees’

Staunton City Schools (SCS) are developing an equity committee to solve achievement and opportunity disparities between students. The twenty members of the committee will focus on “ensuring equitable practices” within curriculum, teaching, student and parent experiences, school policies, and hiring.
Half of the committee will be comprised of individuals involved in the school, with the other half from the surrounding community.

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