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Some Knox Co. students placed on summer school waiting list, a result of the third-grade retention law

Emails from the district point to large enrollment numbers, and teacher staffing shortages as the reasoning for the waitlist.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In early March, some parents received emails from Knox County Schools saying their child was eligible to attend Summer Learning Camp. The summer learning camp runs from June 5 to June 28 — four weeks of curriculum.

At the sight of that first email, some parents enrolled their children. However, a portion of that email said, "KCS will be prioritizing available seats for rising 4th graders."

Fast forward to the beginning of May, and some families that applied for the summer program have found themselves on a waitlist.

The email reads:

"Due to the high enrollment of rising fourth-grade students and a limited number of teachers for our summer learning camps, it has become necessary to limit the number of students enrolled in 1st and 2nd grade to one class per Summer Learning site."

The email also said students who were already enrolled in summer school were placed into a blind lottery. The names drawn got a seat in the summer program. The names that didn't were moved off the roster to a waiting list.

10News spoke with a former Knox County teacher, Candace Bannister, to get a better understanding of how summer school is staffed throughout the district. She worked at KCS for 18 years teaching second, third and fourth grade.

"They put out a call for teachers earlier in the season to see how many people are interested in teaching. There's usually a pretty good turnout because you're paid outside of your salary scale for summer work," Bannister said.

She said even with the turnout of teaching staff, it's still not enough to staff the number of students expected for this year.

The district will not know the full scale of summer-school enrollment until the beginning of June. However, according to 2022's TCAP results, about 60% of Knox County students would be forced to consider summer school as an option.

"If we look at last year's testing results, it would have been like 50% to 60% of our students would not have moved on to the next grade. That's a lot to wear on your shoulders. And it hurts because those children become your children in the course of the year. Teachers want what's best for them, and have no control," Bannister said.

For students reaching below a certain score on the TCAP test, their other options besides summer school are to retake a test, get a tutor or retake the grade.

The email continues to give parents a timeline for summer class finalizations:

"The district will fill any known vacancies before June 5 with students in the order of their assigned placement on the waiting list. The school will call you in the event there is an opening for your child before that time."

In the email, Knox County Schools said this is a direct result of the third-grade retention law and the state requirements to prioritize and serve rising fourth-grade students.

"They're doing what they have to do to meet the requirements put in place by our state legislature for this retention law," Bannister said. "I'm sure this is not the choice that Knox County Schools wanted to make. But typically, they don't have a workforce in the summer that would cover all the students."

10News reached out to the school district for additional comment. KCS said the waiting list is a precaution due to the rising number of fourth graders they anticipate enrolling in summer learning camp due to the retention law.

"This will allow us to focus on staffing rising fourth grade classrooms," the district said in a statement. 


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