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Parents: Here’s your chance to offer feedback on the race to get into Memphis’ most popular public schools

Tents line the grounds outside of Shelby County Schools' central office in 2016 in Memphis, where parents have camped out every January in recent years to apply for select optional schools. The application process moves completely online in 2018.
Tents line the grounds outside of Shelby County Schools' central office in 2016 in Memphis, where parents have camped out every January in recent years to apply for select optional schools. The application process moves completely online in 2018.
Micaela Watts

The process for applying to some of Memphis’ most sought-after public schools is under review by Shelby County Schools.

The district will hold the first of two parents meetings on Tuesday night to discuss potential changes and gather feedback on admittance to its popular optional school program. The second meeting is scheduled for Sept. 18.

Optional schools have been in place since 1976 to offer specialty studies such as science, technology, the performing arts, and even chess. Most are geared toward college prep and STEM studies and compete with private schools in an effort to retain the city’s highest-achieving students.

But the application process — which is academically selective and done on a first come, first serve basis — has long been a source of criticism, especially each January when parents camp out on the grounds of the district’s central office for days to ensure a spot for their children at the most popular schools. Each year, district leaders discourage the so-called “Tent City,” assuring parents that there will be room for their kids. In recent years, the district has also moved the process online for students already in Shelby County Schools.

But school advocates say inequities in the system remain.

“(The process) obviously advantages parents who have good access to information and flexible work schedules and the support they would need to camp out or be online at a certain time,” said Ginger Spickler, creator of a local school guide for parents. “So I think any changes that would make the process more equitable, it would be a positive development.”

Details on the meetings and how to RSVP are below:

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