Shelby County Schools are preparing for what they hope will be their first full year of in-person instruction since the 2018-19 school year. The district has been working behind the scenes this summer to prepare its buildings, buses and staff for the first day of school on Monday as the delta variant rages on, leading to spikes in COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations in ‘children and death.
Memphis was the last district in Tennessee to return to in-person learning last year, opting for all online courses until it reopened in March, following pressure from Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee. But even then, about two-thirds of Memphis students chose to stay online. Through a series of neighborhood celebrations, town halls and press events over the past few days, the neighborhood is back welcoming enthusiastic families and reassuring reluctant ones.
“In person, it will be safe, and we have all the precautions and measures in place for a safe return,” a district official said this week.
Masks are mandatory in Memphis schools
Shelby County Schools was one of the first districts in the state to announce that it would require masks for all students and school staff this year.
Despite threats from Tennessee House President Cameron Sexton to withhold funding for any district requiring masks, Memphis officials upheld their decision, citing recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics and updated guidelines from US Centers for Disease Control, which recommends “universal indoor masking.” by all students (ages 2 and over), staff, teachers and visitors to K-12 schools, regardless of their immunization status.
In a reversal of previous policy, on Thursday, Metro Nashville Public Schools voted to require face covering in schools. Then on Friday morning, the Shelby County Health Department announced that masks will be mandatory at all public and private schools in the county.
Although masks are mandatory in Memphis schools, students entering school buildings each day will not receive temperature or symptom checks; However, visitors will still have their temperature read before entering school buildings to check for signs of fever, a symptom of COVID-19.
Three security companies will clean the schools
District officials said guards and staff would clean common areas, including libraries and classrooms, twice a day, and tidy and clean bathrooms “at least four times a day.”
Three security companies will maintain the school buildings this year, each responsible for a different group of schools. In one of its most divided votes this spring, school board members voted to split the nearly $ 26 million contract between SKB Facilities & Maintenance and two local ServiceMaster franchises: ServiceMaster by Stratos based downtown Memphis and ServiceMaster Facilities Maintenance in southeast Memphis.
The district has contracted with several companies for years, most recently ServiceMaster and Aramark, but this year the council dropped Aramark as a supplier after persistent complaints about the cleanliness of the school. Some board members expressed reservations about maintaining ties with ServiceMaster.
“The cleanliness of our buildings has been an issue for some time, and we are improving so much in our system. Improving our cleaning must be one of our top priorities, ”Board member Joyce Dorse-Coleman said at a committee meeting earlier this year.
The three companies were given “a mandate” to have schools cleaned and stocked with child care supplies by August 1.
Assigned seats and masks are required on buses
Students will be seated in assigned seats on buses, in classrooms and in the cafeteria. The assigned seats will help in the tracing of contacts. District officials have said they will practice social distancing on buses “when possible,” but it is likely that there will be a student in each row. Just over 23,000 students, including 1,700 special education students, are eligible to take school buses in Memphis.
Buses will have hand sanitizer and masks for students who need it as masks are mandatory. Workers will also disinfect the buses each time they return to the field.
On the first day of school, 373 new air-conditioned school buses will greet riders across the city. The bus fleet, equipped with GPS, driver tablets and internal and external cameras, is part of a new contract with Cincinnati-based carrier First Student.
“It’s a new 2022,” said Adam Cleary, MidSouth District Manager for First Student. “They get off Thomas’ production line and get here in Shelby County literally the next day or as soon as they can.”
Cleary said providing the district with a fleet of new buses during the pandemic was a challenge for manufacturer Thomas Built Buses.
“They had similar challenges the rest of the world is experiencing with supply chains this year, but they worked really hard for us to make sure we had these buses on time and ready to serve our students here in Shelby County, ”he said. noted.
Water fountains remain prohibited, but regular cafeteria activities return
All water fountains will remain closed this year to prevent the spread of germs. Instead, schools will provide students with bottled water. This spring, the school board voted in favor of a contract with Whitehaven’s water distributor, Water Source, to deliver bottled water every two weeks to all schools.
The $ 510,930 contract, or about $ 4.60 per student, is expected to give the district enough bottled water to last until December, said Genard Phillips, chief commercial officer.
Students are also encouraged to bring their own reusable water bottles, which they can refill at stations around the building.
Cafeterias will resume normal operations, serving students across the district about 150,000 hot and cold meals per day.
“We’re excited to return to all of our service models, which provide meals for breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner,” said Eugene Bradford, executive director of Nutrition Services.
There are markers in the service lines to encourage social distancing, Bradford said. And the 1,300 district nutrition staff received training to learn more about food service in the event of a pandemic.
Schools will have sneeze guards, sanitary stations and cleaner air
Classrooms and libraries are equipped with sneeze guards on desks and tables.
In addition, school employees have placed signs throughout the buildings reminding students to distance themselves socially, to wear masks and to wash their hands. Disinfection and hand washing stations line the hallways and common areas.
During the summer, maintenance crews thoroughly cleaned buildings and performed maintenance on HVAC and ventilation systems. Teams replaced the air filters with updated filters that remove more bacteria from the air.
“We don’t wait until summer to change these filters. It is performed periodically as part of our preventive maintenance program, ”said Jake Allen, executive director of facilities. “We want to make sure that there is constant fresh air circulating in the building. “