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Memphis leaders vote not to release student information to charter schools

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson flank Gov. Bill Haslam at a 2016 event in Memphis.
Education Commissioner Candice McQueen and Shelby County Schools Superintendent Dorsey Hopson flank Gov. Bill Haslam at a 2016 event in Memphis.

The board for Shelby County Schools voted Tuesday night to withhold student contact information from state-run charter schools.

The decision defies an order from Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen to turn over the data to Green Dot Public Schools. The charter network had requested the information under a new state law intended to spark cooperation between traditional schools and the state’s growing charter sector.

The board’s action means Tennessee’s largest district more than likely will be sued by the state of Tennessee. On Oct. 18, the state sued Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools after its board declined to hand over information to three state-run charter schools.

A spokeswoman for Tennessee’s Department of Education said the state will evaluate its options in the wake of the board’s vote.

“We are disappointed by this decision from the Shelby County Schools Board of Education as we in good faith provided the district with additional time to comply,” said spokeswoman Chandler Hopper.

The vote came after members discussed their legal options with the district’s top lawyer during a closed executive session. At issue: Whether to stick by the board’s earlier resolution to be in solidarity with Nashville’s board, or to turn over the information after giving parents the chance to opt out. (About 7,700 Memphis families met this week’s opt-out deadline set by Superintendent Dorsey Hopson.)

Board member Chris Caldwell offered up an amendment stating that the Memphis board will not comply with Green Dot’s request. The vote was unanimous, with two members absent.

Earlier at the board meeting, parent advocacy group Memphis Lift spoke in favor of data sharing. The group, which said it gathered more than 1,200 signatures on a petition, argued that the district is blocking parents from knowing all of their school options.

Hopson responded that parent concern is what prompted the district’s initial resistance in the first place. He said information previously shared by the district was used for recruitment purposes by charter operators and representatives from Memphis Lift who were knocking on doors in neighborhoods.

What Memphis parents should know about how schools share student information

Below is school board’s resolution:

Editor’s note: This story has been updated with a comment from the Tennessee Department of Education and a copy of the Shelby County Schools board resolution.

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