Bulk of suburban districts step into the uncertainty of a new school year

By  and , Daily Memphian Updated: August 18, 2020 7:44 AM CT | Published: August 17, 2020 2:21 PM CT

With a backdrop of emotions from anxiety to relief, four more suburban school districts opened to students on Monday as the uncertainty of learning in a pandemic lingers.

Students in the Arlington, Bartlett, Collierville and Germantown schools returned to class with precautions in place for those showing up on campus or virtual learning for those studying from afar.

Students at Shelby County Schools begin classes virtually in two weeks. Lakeland and Millington districts opened Aug. 10.

Several schools return to in-person learning

For schools re-opening Monday, it provided the first opportunity to see if their plans to combat or deal with the coronavirus problems were sufficient. Testing, cleansing and social distancing were the first exams students and administrators needed to pass, after new drop-off policies for students to arrive.

Basically, most everything was new.

“Usually students are more social, and there are more hugs” Jason Manuel, superintendent of Germantown Municipal Schools, said. “It’s still special, but it’s just different.”

Suburban schools release reopening plans

Bartlett City Schools Superintendent David Stephens began visiting classrooms at 6:30 a.m. Monday. He classified it as the “smoothest” first day of school he can remember in a long time. He attributed the lack of problems to about 40% of the 9,000 students in BCS selecting the virtual learning option this school year.

“That’s really helped just the numbers and being able to get students into school in the morning, and socially distance and do all the things we need to do,” Stephens said. “That’s a big advantage.”

BCS is offering in-person learning and virtual learning for the first nine of weeks of the 2020-21 school year. High school students are utilizing a hybrid model of in-person and virtual learning to begin the year.

The only issue BCS faced Monday morning was a high volume of people trying to log in simultaneously. The problem was addressed in about 10 minutes, Stephens said.

Students and staff were compliant in following the masking and social distance guidelines, which Stephens considers crucial to mitigating the spread of COVID-19.

In his 33-year career, Stephens never imagined running a school system during a pandemic. He said plans are flexible to adapt if and when changes are required.

“Like I tell everybody, even in times like this in Bartlett, there’s definitely no other place I’d rather be,” he said. “We got a really good team and a great community and we’re just going to keep doing the best we can.” 

For new Arlington Community Schools Superintendent Jeff Mayo, the first day of school opened with few issues. A high percentage of students and faculty complied with the protocols, validation for the plans ACS crafted throughout summer.

“Our principals, employees, teachers, support staff, everyone has worked an unbelievable amount of hours to make sure that we were ready for our students,” Mayo said. “What I’ve seen this morning has validated that.”

ACS is offering either five days of in-person or virtual instruction for students K-8. For high school students, like BCS, they are offering a hybrid learning option. About 700 to 800 ACS students chose the virtual learning option, Mayo said.

“I think the message is we have invested and planned for safety and peace of mind as closely as we feel we can,” Mayo said. 

At Houston High School, only about 700 kids were in the building that can hold 2,000 students. The rest were at home learning through the school’s hybrid or virtual model. Another 700 will attend Tuesday. The remainder will continue to learn via the district’s virtual option.

Parents were asked to prescreen their children and enter responses to questions into an app.

Manuel noted Monday wasn’t the “same feel” previous first days of schools held. All students, teachers and staff wore masks.

In some classes just seven students sat at their own table safely spread out. In other classes, desks were marked where students couldn’t sit.

Students have a staggered transition between classes in an effort to limit clustering in hallways. As students switched classes Manuel reminded them to social distance.

“Spread out,” he said from behind his mask. “Start doing 6 feet.”

Tape on the wall and social distancing stickers give students a 6-foot visual aid.

At Collierville High School, there was a similar feel. Masks and efforts to spread out were in place as Superintendent Gary Lilly made a stop there.

It’s the second first day of school he has experienced since he was named to his position in 2019. He noted this year has “unique challenges” due to COVID-19 precautions and safety measures they must follow.

After the district released its third and final Back to School plan, he acknowledged a slight sense of relief to see it in place.

Elementary students may attend five days a week, The rest are on a hybrid schedule. But all had the option to choose 100% virtual and about 36% of students across the district did.

“I didn’t see any students or staff not wearing a mask,” he said. “I think people understand to have school will really be contingent on keeping everybody healthy. … I feel students are willing to do their part, and they understand what the expectations are. So far, so good.”

Parents were to ask their children about any symptoms before dropping them off.

“It’s likely we will hit some (bumps), but we are committed to working through issues to provide exceptional education for our students all while keeping them safe and healthy so we can continue to have school,” Lilly said.


Germantown Municipal School District Collierville Schools Bartlett City Schools coronavirus Arlingon
Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren

Abigail Warren is a lifelong resident of Shelby County and a graduate of the University of Memphis. She has worked for several local publications and covers the suburbs for The Daily Memphian.

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf

Omer Yusuf covers Bartlett and North Memphis neighborhoods for The Daily Memphian. He also analyzes COVID-19 data each week. Omer is a former Jackson Sun reporter and University of Memphis graduate.


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