But school officials told them they couldn’t attend Friday because a backlog of new- and transfer-student paperwork had to first be entered into the system.
The school system didn’t allow Spencer’s children to attend Monday either. On Tuesday, they still weren’t in school. Spencer said Wednesday morning was their first day.
They were among 86 students whose parents submitted proper documents by last week’s registration but couldn’t attend at least on Friday, if not longer, said Karen Cagle, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Another 36 students had submitted proper documents after registration day on either Thursday or Friday and couldn’t attend at least the first day as well.
“They said last Wednesday they couldn’t attend until ‘sometime next week,’ ” Spencer said. “They said the system was backlogged with forms and that school personnel and retired educators would be spending all weekend inputting student information.”
Spencer had been told last week she would be contacted over the weekend, but when she wasn’t, she called the administrative office Monday, and a representative was able to input her children’s information while she was on the phone.
“Of course, my kids weren’t complaining,” said Spencer, who worked in a school registration office in Iowa. “Actually, my eighth-grader, though, was upset that she couldn’t attend the first day just like everyone else. When you move to a new city, that’s extremely important to a child.”
The school system had an unusually high number of new families moving into the area as well as a lot of transfer requests this year, Cagle said, and they all seemed to pour in much closer to the first day of school than in years past.
Children’s information must be entered into the computer system before they can attend school, Cagle said, and the huge number of new and transfer students prevented that from being done before Friday’s first day of classes. During the two weeks before the start of school, 900 families of new and transfer students turned out to register at the Office of Student Assignment.
Linda Doby’s family was one of them. She and her family moved to LaGrange within the last month from Chicago, and even after registering the Monday before registration day, her two daughters were not allowed by school officials to attend school Friday, she said.
“We were told there were about 300 students new to the system that had to be inputted into the computer before they could input my daughters’ information into the system,” she said.
“I was told that ‘it’s only one day’ and that the absences wouldn’t be counted against them,” she said, “But my daughter, a high school freshman, was devastated. With moving to a new town, being able to go on the first day like everyone else was huge for her. In Chicago, her school had a valedictorian for eighth grade, and she was the school’s valedictorian. School is everything to her.”
By Tuesday, Doby was happy to report her daughters had to miss only Friday and said the counselors at Troup High School had done an excellent job getting her daughter registered for classes.
The right thing?
The Spencer and Doby children now are getting settled into their new schools to begin the new year. But the question remains: Was the school system within its realm of state policy and procedure to keep them out of school?
Matt Cardoza, director of communications for the Georgia Department of Education, says no.
“Based on rule and law, they should have admitted them into school that day,” Cardoza said after he talked with a policy representative in the state office and reviewed state legal documents. “By rule and law, even if a student doesn’t have the qualifications to enroll, a school system has to give them provisional enrollment for 30 days. Strictly on rule, even if (students and parents) show up with nothing, you can’t send them back home if they want to be in school.
“I understand the reality, but there’s a rule and a law. I understand you can’t get them in the system, but you can’t send them back home.”
Cardoza said he is referring to state Department of Education legal documents that say, “Other than students specifically exempted by rule or by law, a student shall be enrolled on a provisional basis and allowed to attend an LEA (local education agency) for 30 calendar days while awaiting evidence of age, residence or other requirements. The provisional enrollment period may be extended for extenuating circumstances.”
That same document says, “A student should not be denied enrollment into an LEA if the student meets residency qualifications and otherwise would not be denied enrollment under O.C.G.A. 20-2-751.1 and O.C.G.A. 20-2-751 concerning student expulsion.”
And another: “The LEA shall be required to provisionally enroll students pursuant to Section (2)(c)1 of this rule if their local policy places additional requirements on the other person when enrolling a student in their control or charge.”
For the school system, the 30-day provisional rule easily works for a child who moves in the middle of the year and is one of the few being processed at a given time. But the reality of inputting hundreds of students more than expected at the last minute is even more difficult than it sounds, says Don Miller, chief financial officer for the school system.
The system anticipates about 500 new and transfer students to enroll during the week of registration. This year, it was between 900 and 1,000, and school officials were trying to figure out why even as they and volunteer retired educators worked through the weekend to input student information.
“We had 300 applications on Wednesday alone, and at 15 to 20 minutes of inputting information per child, that alone takes 75 hours,” he said. “Then we had 100 come in Thursday, and another 400 show up that first day.”
Since Miller arrived eight years ago, enrollment data collection for the state Department of Education has increased exponentially.
“It used to be if a student here was transferring to Gwinnett High, we could have parents sign a form and send them,” he said. “Now we have to get written confirmation from Gwinnett High that the student enrolled there, or that student will be considered a dropout. It’s the same with students who go back to school in Korea.”
The middle- and high-schoolers’ information is especially important because until Troup County schools can receive a transcript from that school, a school doesn’t know if a child should be enrolled in remedial or advanced classes or if the child has even been expelled from a former school, Cagle said.
Once students are input in the system, they are given a Georgia test accountability number, which is vitally important for class placement purposes, Miller said. The state now has trackers that can tell for sure what grade in which a child should be placed and also his correct birthdate.
Even with higher accountability with the state on data collection, Miller said the school system has never had the situation as of this year’s not being able to get children in school on the first day when they registered with proper documentation on time. He said the system will be looking at ways to improve and ease the process.
“People in the state office can tell you all they want, but I wish they would write a letter for us to give to data collection because of what we’re required to provide them on each student,” he said. “This year it was not physically or logistically possible in the time frame.”
Miller said he can by no means say for sure, but he thinks the earlier start date compared with last year’s may have been a factor in the influx of parents and students late in the process. Last year with the shortened 165-day calendar, school started Aug. 18. This year, when reverting to the 180-day calendar, the school year began 13 days earlier, on Aug. 5.
Last year, enrollment grew by 342 from the first day to the fourth day of school. This year it grew 802 in that same four-day time period. Enrollment stood at 11,888 Wednesday, which does not include the 600 pre-kindergarten students who start classes Sept. 2.
Natalie Shelton can be reached at nshelton@ lagrangenews.com or (706) 884-7311, Ext. 229.