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Parents wait in bitter cold in hopes of enrolling children in selective public school programs

In Memphis, hundreds of parents lined up by the school district’s home office in midtown this morning in hopes of being able to send their children to one of Shelby County’s selective optional school programs.

According to the Commercial Appeal, some 800 parents picked up tickets to apply to the schools last week, and an additional 150 were handed out this morning. Applications must be in by 5 p.m. on Friday. It takes between 6-8 weeks for the district to process applications. The district serves more than 140,000 students. 

The district temporarily changed its process for optional schools due to bitter cold temperatures expected this past weekend (though yesterday’s high temperatures were in the 60s – balmy, for January!). It offered parents tickets to mark the order in which they lined up for a spot, in hopes of dissuading parents from “camping out” for multiple days in order to gain priority in a lottery for spots in the optional schools. Parents who are closer to the front of the line are more likely to get their child into the school of their choice, though students must also meet admissions requirements for many of the programs. The process is outlined on the district’s website.

Most of those parents were hoping to send their children to just a few schools, the Commercial Appeal reports: 65 of the 80 people who had planned to camp out over the weekend were hoping to send their child to White Station Middle School. White Station Middle School will accept some 100 qualifying students outside of its zone, with 20 of those spots assigned by lottery. Those who are early on in the lottery 

Chalkbeat reported earlier this month that students who are in Shelby County but outside of the merged school district will be able to attend optional schools without paying admission next year. Before Memphis City Schools merged with Shelby County Schools, those students had to pay.

The district will have several new optional school programs next year: The Germantown schools that will remain within the merged Shelby County district after the municipality creates its own district will become optional schools. The district is also planning on reinventing Fairview Middle School as a STEAM optional school, in partnership with Christian Brothers University, and transferring students in the current Fairview to nearby schools.

WMCTV has video from the line of parents at central office early this morning. A parent the station interviewed describes the system as “ridiculous.” A district spokesman said the district may revisit the process, but that many parents were used to the system as it currently exists.