Memphis deserves to grasp why colleges will not be open

Good Friday afternoon from Memphis! As previously mentioned, The 901 is switching to a new schedule: expect a daily briefing Monday through Thursday and a longer round-up and analysis of the hottest news of the week (really curated by you) on Fridays. Don’t forget to sign up for the daily email. Now that we’re past this palaver, the good stuff continues …

Quick hits: today’s hot topics

  • In the classroom where it happens: Under heavy pressure to reopen schools, Shelby County Schools announced yesterday that each school will soon have a “family forum” to discuss their individual reopening plan, reports Laura Testino.
  • Don’t throw your shot away: After last week’s rough sledding, this week’s COVID-19 vaccinations were not in full swing in Shelby County, and hundreds of appointments remained vacant, according to Corinne Kennedy and Sam Hardiman. Meanwhile, the Shelby County Health Department opened appointments for people 70 and older yesterday, Corinne reports.
  • Asking the Wright Questions: NBC’s “Dateline” will investigate the murder of former Memphis NBA player Lorenzen Wright in the episode “Death of a Hometown Hero,” which airs at 8am this evening, our Dima Amro reports.

Time to reopen schools in Shelby County?

After Shelby County Schools Superintendent Joris Ray knocked the ankles of Tennessee Governor Bill Lee and Republican lawmakers last week for willingness to reopen schools, he announced that the district would postpone reopening “indefinitely.” will.

The setback was of course quick and severe.

Amid the excitement, Beverly Robertson, CEO of the Greater Memphis Chamber sent Ray an open letter (read in full on The Tri-State Defender) that raised some key questions that Ray and the district have long avoided answering with clarity:

What exactly does SCS need so that teachers and students can return?

Which pilots or beta tests were carried out at selected schools to outline the procedures for a possible return? The district reopening task force I served on definitely highlighted these and other important recommendations.

What benchmark strategies are being implemented to get teachers back to work?
What is the teacher vaccine distribution plan once it becomes available and how can we support it?

And most importantly, the most urgent and demanding point is: What are the aggressive strategies and overall plan for dealing with learning loss in SCS schools and students?

These are great questions that deserve an answer.

Ray is evidently motivated by a sincere zeal to protect the health of the district staff, students, and their families. But the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention just put out a paper saying schools can safely reopen if they take the right precautions. There are examples of reopening successes across the country, as the CDC points out. Dr. Anthony Fauci, a leading public health expert, agrees with the CDC.

Robertson isn’t the only one asking questions, either. Even some of Ray’s own school board members are pushing back against an indefinite postponement, as reported by Chalkbeat.

On the other hand, Ray has his supporters too: In a statement for us, Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer defended Ray’s decision with full throat and called on the Chamber and the business community to support him with heads of state.

But if Ray wants the community’s support, he has to clearly answer the questions Robertson asked, the same questions people have been asking since last summer.

Maybe now is a bad time to reopen schools. After all, the more aggressive variant of COVID-19 known as B.1.1.7 is currently tracking Shelby County, and in England the variant has already forced all schools to close. Even so, Ray and the district owe parents, students, teachers, staff, and the wider community an explanation of their decisions that will undoubtedly affect the city for years to come.

+ Speaking of schools: The question of whether Governor Bill Lee’s school vouchers are constitutional will be raised to the Tennessee Supreme Court. The Shelby County Schools have strongly opposed the proposal, which would only apply to Memphis and Nashville.

MLGW eyes restart TVA exit discussions

Last year, the Memphis City Council derailed jockeying behind the scenes of a debate over whether the city should switch electricity companies to save hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Now, four months later, the city’s public utility company could try to consider the option without the council’s approval, our Sam Hardiman reports.

When asked if the city utility would ask companies to bid again to be Memphis’ electricity provider, he said the utility could. Or it could find a workaround. It could just hire someone to issue the contract in a way that doesn’t require city council approval.

“We could just do it as a professional service agreement. We are considering this and of course we will speak to our board of directors about it. But I will be back with the mayor on the matter later this month. And we will.” I probably have more to say afterward, “said Young.

As Sam further emphasizes, MLGW would have to keep the agreement below $ 50,000 to avoid a vote by the council.

But MLGW shouldn’t have to find a workaround. The city council should do whatever it takes to find out if these hundreds of millions of potential savings are real – and what it takes is a call for proposals from potential electricity suppliers.

+ Speaking of MLGW: Kudos to Councilor JB Smiley Jr. for suggesting the utility send out voter registration cards to new customers, as reported by Sam. It’s a simple but effective (and not to mention cheap) way of registering people to vote.

New project aims to reduce food waste

A newly launched initiative, the Memphis Food Waste Project, aims to reduce the amount of food waste going to local landfills by 50% by 2030, I reported this week.

I’m going to write a number of stories on the subject of food waste (to give me a shameless plug). Read the free introductory story here. If you want to watch the rest of the series or just support local journalism in general, please subscribe here.

If you’re wondering how big the problem of local food waste is, check out the following statistics:

Memphis and Shelby Counties generate approximately 1.7 million tons of waste each year, approximately 30% of which is food-related. This is evident from Shelby County’s waste reports. To put that in perspective, that amount of foodborne waste would fill 4,535 FedEx Boeing 777s and, if you used them on a large scale, easily outweigh the Empire State Building.

This is food that can go to humans or to composting, but instead ends up in landfills, where methane gas is produced, which can warm the earth’s climate. Over the next few weeks we will be telling the stories of people working to reduce food waste – through food rescue, composting, and other ways. Stay tuned!

What else is going on in the 901?

  • For subscribers: When is the pandemic over? If we are 80% vaccinated, a local expert like our Sam Hardiman reports. Our Ted Evanoff also delves into Millington’s plan to become an oasis for youth sports. (Not a subscriber? Please consider becoming one.)
  • If you don’t see a speed limit, assume that it is 40 km / h, because from March 1st the standard limit will be, reports our Sam Hardiman. Sam also reported on a new chamber initiative to encourage equity and neighborhood investments.
  • A student at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s Health Science Center claims she was expelled for “sexual” posts on social media, our Corinne Kennedy reports. Separately, Corinne is also writing about a University of Memphis alum returning to Memphis to lead a redevelopment project in South Memphis and a redesigned plan for a hotel in Beale and Fourth downtown.
  • The case of Patric Ferguson, who was accused of kidnapping and killing a man on duty as a police officer in Memphis, will be referred to a grand jury, reports our Daniel Connolly. Daniel also reports that a Memphis man was arrested and suspected of assaulting officers during the US Capitol riot in January.

The fade out: Jeff Hulett

Here is the latest music video from Memphian Jeff Hulett, “Money” …

How the fading out? Check out the 901’s Spotify playlist. Would you like to make your own recommendation? You can reach me by email at the address below.

Ryan Poe is a columnist and storyteller who writes The 901, a weekly commentary on all things Memphis. Reach out to him at [email protected] and on Twitter @ryanpoe.

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