Memphis parents want safer school option after Westwood student’s COVID death

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Tennessee lawmakers basically got rid of virtual learning as an emergency option for schools, with few exceptions. But some Memphis parents are calling for more action after learning a 16-year-old student died after contracting COVID-19.

It was a rough start to the morning Tuesday as parents dropped their kids off at Westwood High School after learning a student passed away from COVID-19 over the weekend.

The child’s family identified him as 16-year-old Azorean “Zo” Tatum. His mother told WREG he collapsed at school on August 13 and was taken to the hospital where he was diagnosed with COVID.

She said despite being treated and released, his condition worsened and he later died at the Lebonheur Children’s Hospital. His mother says he was vaccinated.

Azorean “Zo” Tatum

“My condolences go out to the family of that child. It’s a hard thing right now,” said Alfred Flowers, a Westwood High parent.

Le Bonheur doctors say they’re treating 28 children with COVID. Eight of the patients are in the ICU and two are on ventilators.

“Why is the school still open? These kids should not be in here,” Westwood High parent Kevia Moore said.

According to the Shelby County School district, the Tennessee state board passed new rules and criteria for closing schools and remote learning.

As a result of these new rules, the state says parents who want their kids to continue to receive a significant portion of their instruction remotely must enroll their students in a virtual school.

The Tennessee Department of Education says the only exception would be if Gov. Bill Lee declares a state of emergency and the commissioner of education grants permission.

SCS has a virtual school serving grades 4 through 12, but parents we spoke to say they would like more virtual options especially as cases continue to rise daily.

“I don’t like virtual, but at this point, yeah,” Moore said. “I mean, it’s not good for my small babies, but that’s the best thing they got going right now because opening these doors ain’t doing nothing but putting us in harm’s way.”

Shelby County Schools said on their social media that they hear the concerns and they understand the frustrations parents may have when it comes to options for remote learning. However, they say that they want parents to know that they remain committed to prioritizing safety for all students and staff.

SCS COVID-19 dashboard

Tuesday, SCS released a dashboard showing updated numbers of students and staff diagnosed with COVID-19. You can access it here.

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