SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — Students outside of Bellevue Middle School were masked up, lined up, and ready to go for their first day of school.
Monday morning, the Shelby County School District welcomed back all students for the first time since March of 2020. SCS announced masks would be required to be worn by students and staff prior to the county health department issuing a mandate.
“I’m super excited to be back on campus and the kids can have some level of normalcy," Juaniqua McCLennan, a parent of a middle school and elementary student said.
McClennan said she was comfortable having her kids return for the first time and was confident with the protocols in place. For other parents, there were more nerves waiting in the drop-off line.
“I’m a nervous wreck," SCS parent Evita Dandridge said. "I hope the kids can have a COVID-free, any virus that wants to send them home, free year. Let these babies have a good uneventful year.”
Just like parents, students returning for the first time were nervous, but were excited to be back at school with friends.
“I feel good because I’m not going to have to talk to them through a computer screen," Bruce Elementary 5th grader Megan Wright said.
“All my friends I can see them," classmate Christian Stinson echoed. "Everybody is okay but the bad part about it is if I hear someone cough you’re wondering if they have their mask on.”
Both students said they take masking up seriously and were very aware of safety protocols.
Inside the Bruce Elementary fifth grade classroom of Neshellda Johnson, desks have dividers and she speaks through a microphone so her students can hear while she's masked up.
Johnson said like others, she was nervous about returning but she's confident with the protocols in place, everything will ok. She says it was important to have all students back this year.
"When they’re at home they have little control over what gets done," she said. "When they’re here in front of us we’re able to close those gaps faster because they’re in that space and we can assure they do the work.”
Bruce Elementary was among the first-day visits that Superintendent Dr. Joris Ray and SCS leaders made. After visiting classrooms, Dr. Ray told the media that this year the mental health and well-being of students while keeping them and teachers safe is the district's top priority this year.
“We are going to continue science. We will tell parents to trust us. We want to keep our students safe. I understand their angst," he said. "....It starts with students wearing masks. Starts with teachers wearing a mask.”
With a rise of the Delta variant hitting the Mid-South, Dr. Ray said whether or not to reopen the district fully was out of their hands.
“The state passed a law; 100% in-person learning," he said. "We’re going to comply with the law. We’ve been threatened to have resources taken from us. But as we know, schools are the best place for students.”