Shelby County students go back to school with new COVID safeguards in place

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Masked up and ready, Shelby County School Superintendent Joris Ray hopped off a school bus to music Monday morning and headed inside Bruce Elementary to greet students and staff.

“We have returned stronger. Our students they are eager to learn,” Ray said.

This first day tour has greater meaning in the face of COVID. Safety precautions were everywhere. Students were masked up.

Teacher Neshellda Johnson used a mic so students could hear her clearly.

“I wanted to test it and try it out. With the mask, it works. So I don’t have to lift up and down and talk. So it’s a safety thing for me,” Johnson said.

She had qualms about safety at first.

“Being a parent and being a teacher, I was concerned for myself and I was also concerned for my daughter.  The first thing I did is I followed protocol,” Johnson said.

Schools are also prepared for the inevitable.

“We must figure out if we do, and when we do, ’cause it’s gonna happen. When we have any student or teacher who contracts the virus, we want to contain it,” Ray said.

He said they will figure out the source, work with the Health Department and follow CDC guidelines.

Students Monday were glad to see friends face to face.

“I feel really good because I am not having to talk to them through a computer screen and it actually lags sometimes,” said fifth-grader Megan Wright.

But some students are still cautious.

“If I hear someone cough, you are wondering if they have their masks on and things like that,” said fifth-grader Christian Steinson.

Counselor Angela Brookins says giving students emotional support is critical.

“Many of our children have not been in a structured environment in a year and a half. So they have lost a lot. Seeing that they have lost a lot, your expectations may have to change a little,” said Brookins.

Test results show students struggled with learning lost last year. Now it’s about righting the ship.

“We have to make the impossible possible, because our children they deserve it,” said Ray.

The school system has also received grant money that will allow it to offer optional swab tests to staff and students who want them. There will be a mobile unit at schools to sign up.

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