Cheatham County School Board met Monday, September 12, for their monthly board meeting where they were met with a difficult dilemma involving two students, one of which is a senior this year, and a district policy zoning violation.
A northern cluster family with two children attending Sycamore Middle School and Sycamore High School were notified approximately two weeks after the start of the current school year and told their children were no longer able to attend the district schools.
The mother pleaded with board members to overturn the decision made by the central office staff, stating she and her husband were unaware when they moved, approximately 150 feet from their previous residence in March of 2016, that they were out of the school district’s zoning regulations.
“It’s his senior year. he’s attended Cheatham County Schools with the same friends since kindergarten. He doesn’t want to go anywhere else,” the mother stated while addressing board members.
Central office staff discovered the zoning issue after acquiring student registration information that had been sent home and returned at the beginning of the current school year.
In March 2016, the family moved approximately 150 feet from the zoning line into Robertson County and was given a Cedar Hill address. District policy states students are unable to attend out of zoning schools unless they pay a zoning fee and the school isn’t at student capacity.
Beth Batson, Supervisor of Human Resources, Student Services and Policies informed board members the schools in the northern cluster of the county, which includes Sycamore High and Sycamore Middle Schools, were at student capacity.
Furthermore Batson explained they’d had to turn other families away due to student capacity. The district has thirteen schools, but currently only four schools have available enrollment and their are quickly nearing capacity, informed Batson. The schools with available enrollment include Cheatham County Central High School, Cheatham Middle School, Harpeth High School and Harpeth Middle School. The remaining nine schools are at student capacity and unable to accept students living out of zone. (www.cheathamhighccs.com, www.cheathammiddleccs.com, www.harpethhighccs.com or www.harpethmiddleccs.com)
According to the children’s mother they’d continued riding the same bus they’d previously ridden to attend Sycamore schools after moving to the new residence and wasn’t notified they were doing anything wrong. They continued attending the schools, without any notification, from March until the end of the school year in May.
Chief of Academics Dr. Tara Watson informed members of the board they did try notifying the family in April, after they failed to attend a Truancy Hearing, but were unable to reach the family.
The mother took responsibility for her children’s absences stating it wasn’t her children’s fault, explaining she’d being dealing with medical issues during that time period, which affected the children’s school attendance.
Vice Chair John Louallen upheld the central office decision stating policies must be followed. He admitted they could be changed or provisions made within policy but it would take time and couldn’t be done for the students to attend the schools within a reasonable time period.
During a short recess called for by Chair Kimberly Messer, teachers, administrators and central office staff, attending Monday’s meeting, voiced concerns amongst themselves. They feared overturning the central office decision would causing an influx of parents and students, who’d also be told they couldn’t attend the district schools for reasons stated within policy, also pleading for special exceptions.
Newly elected board member Jennifer Hamlin argued the family had already been accounted for in the current school year and the students were allowed to attend the schools for nearly two months without any notification the prior year. She agreed policies needed to be adhered to but also knew there were times special exceptions could or should be rendered in the best interest of the family. Hamilin reiterated the students were still picked up on the same bus route, without the bus driver even recognizing the children were living out of zone. Furthermore, not wanting to force a student to attend a different school during their senior year and they’d attended district schools throughout their educational career, encouraged board members to consider rendering a vote for a special exception, which they were within reason and had cause to do under board policy.
The mother upheld her children’s academic status and behavior they’d displayed at school, further encouraging the board members to overturn the central office decision.
Gupton noted, addressing the parent, “The records clearly speak for themselves. No doubt about it, you have great kids, but that isn’t the issue.”
The student files, explained Gupton, with exception of the truancy issue, indicated there hadn’t been any behavioral issues and that they were academically succeeding. He recommended the family attend Robertson County Schools, stating it was a great school district and thought the board should uphold district policy and the decision made by central office staff.
A motion was made by Jennifer Hamlin to overturn the decision by the central office with stipulations that family agree to district policy which requires students allowed to attend schools outside their zoning pay a fee of approximately $1,823 dollars per child, per semester, an estimate of $3,664 thousand dollars for the 2016/2017 school year. They were also informed, if approved, the special exception would only be for one year. After the one year, if they continued living outside zoning boundaries, they’d have to adhere to policy by attending the school district for which they were zoned. Prior to voting the mother agreed to the stipulations set forth in the motion.
A vote of 4-2 overturned the central office decision. Votes by Chair Kimberly Messer, David Risner, David Bibee and Jennifer Hamlin allowed the family a special exception for one year to attend Cheatham County Schools in the northern cluster. Board members James Gupton and Vice Chair John Louallen voted to uphold the decision previously made by the central office, following district policy on violation of zoning requirements.
The students returned to school the following day after missing nearly three weeks of school. Director of Schools had told the parents any absences obtained by the students while awaiting the appeal hearing could be dealt with after a decision was rendered by the board.
The students absences will not be held against them since the board overturned the previous decision that had kept the children from attending classes.
Interested in learning more about Cheatham County School District, its policies, agenda or schools you can visit their website at www.cheathamschools.net. *Note – Family isn’t named to protect the identity of the minor students. Thank you for you understanding.
*Article published in the I-24 Exchange Newspaper distributed in the northern cluster of Cheatham County, Tennessee, to approximately 10,000 residents mailboxes each week as well as local shopping markets, restaurants and gas stations. It can also be found online at www.eschangehotspot.com where you will find additional news not included on this site. I would encourage you to visit.
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