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A view of downtown Nashville, Tennessee's state capital

A view of downtown Nashville, Tennessee’s state capital

As state Supreme Court declines to hear case, Memphis shares student contact information with charter schools while Nashville seeks options

Nashville’s school district is quickly running out of options in court to withhold student contact information from state-run charter schools.

Tennessee’s Supreme Court declined to hear the case after two courts ruled in favor of the State Department of Education, said Nashville’s lawyer, Lora Fox. One judge cited Nashville’s “clear” obligation to hand over the student data under a state law passed in 2017 requiring districts to respond within 30 days.

The decision affects Memphis, where school leaders also defied the state’s order to hand over student data, arguing that federal guidelines allow districts to decide who can receive student contact information and why. But Shelby County Schools leaders already started sharing names, grades, and addresses of students after an appeal was rejected earlier this year, district leaders said.

The case between Nashville and the state touches on issues of student privacy, school choice, and competition for students in Tennessee’s two largest districts, home to most of the state’s charter schools.

Related: How common is it for districts to share student contact info with charter schools? Here’s what we know.

At least one Nashville school board member wants the state to sign an agreement that prohibits charter schools from using the information to advertise to parents. He also wants the district to allow parents to opt out of sharing student contact information — similar to what Shelby County Schools did in 2017.

“Fundamentally, the state is demanding — and the courts are facilitating — violations of student and family privacy,” said Will Pinkston, a vocal opponent of charter schools who is resigning from the school board soon. “We need to do everything humanly possible to protect student and family data from predatory charter operators.”

Related: Lagging enrollment fuels Tennessee charter schools’ push for student contact data

Charter operators say that contact information is vital to making sure parents know what school options they have, especially if local districts see charter operators as competitors and are more likely to make it harder for parents to receive information about charter schools.

In a reverse from previous years, Jocquell Rodgers, the spokeswoman for Green Dot Public Schools, a charter school operator in the state-run Achievement School District, said Shelby County Schools responded “in a very timely manner” this year when her team requested names, grades, and addresses of students in their enrollment zones and for students in the state’s bottom 5% of schools.

“We had built strong recruitment even without it, but it did help us connect directly with families in our enrollment zone,” Rodgers told Chalkbeat. Before, “we were blindly communicating based on mailing houses… The information opens up an avenue for families to actually make a choice.”