While Shelby County Schools said it is keeping the doors closed to in-person learning until teachers are vaccinated, most of the district's public charter schools' doors are either open or are preparing to open for students in the coming weeks.
In Frayser, students who attend Libertas School have been in the classroom since August, long before a vaccine was available. At Libertas School of Memphis, every day pre-K thru 5th graders attend in-person classes.
Music teacher Stephan Burton said while this year is different, they have found ways to teach safely.
"We found creative ways to deal with those challenges while still keeping safe distancing approaches," said Burton.
At Libertas, teachers are still waiting for vaccinations, but students gave been in class for months.
Here are the steps they are taking to keep COVID out.
- Everyone is screened everyday as they enter the building.
- Everyone is masked.
- Desks and student working spaces are distanced - whether they are in Pre-K or upper grades.
- Students are kept separated as they walk in the hall.
- They eat lunch in their rooms.
- And the students and staff are regularly tested for COVID-19 at the school.
"We've been able to make sure that not a single child or teacher has gotten the virus here at our school. And anyone else who may have gotten exposed to it can have quarantine to keep others safe," said Bob Nardo, Libertas Executive Director.
Nardo said right now, about 2/3 of the school's 460 students are attending in-person classes. The rest are taught virtually by teachers in the building.
Nardo said 85% of the students are from Frayser, Raleigh, and North Memphis. The decision to open the doors last fall instead of staying virtual was - in part - out of necessity.
"Many of our kids did not have a safe place to learn at home and their families needed us to provide this option for them here in our community," said Nardo.
Nardo said collectively, with the help of parents, teachers, and staff, Libertas' - the state's only public Montessori school - came up with a plan that would allow the students to return to school. Making it happen every day, he said, can be labor intensive.
"We keep close records of who is working with who so we can know if someone is exposed outside of school, which other families to get in touch with," said Nardo. "It's just taken a tremendous amount of teamwork and flexibility and conscientiousness."
Nardo said Libertas is proof that urban schools can be open for in person learning during a pandemic.
He added, "It is safe to have kids in school with the right precautions in place."