New online student registration kicks off at Shelby County Schools

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Roxanna Vasquez, 11, speaks with district employee Brandon Pinson at the online student registration kickoff for Shelby County Schools.

Eleven-year-old Roxanna Vasquez huddled with her family around a computer during the online student registration kickoff event Monday at the Shelby County Schools Board of Education building in Memphis.

Within 30 minutes, Roxanna was officially registered to attend Colonial Middle School this fall — no paperwork and a reasonable wait time.

An easier, more efficient registration process is the goal as Tennessee’s largest public school district officially moved to all-online registration beginning this week. (See Chalkbeat’s preview of the change, including the challenge of the “digital divide” in Memphis.)

In previous years, student registration has been hampered by long lines and excessive paperwork that made it difficult for working parents to sign up their children for the new school year.

District officials hope the new system not only assists families, but provides administrators with more accurate and timely enrollment estimates, which are critical in planning and staffing schools for the new school year, which begins Aug. 10. In past years, registration day was held just a week before the first day of school, leaving administrators to scramble to manage those important details. In addition, many unregistered students would show up days and even weeks late to school, impacting school operations and funding.

Parents gather to work with district translator Silvia Cubillos.
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Parents seek assistance from district translator Silvia Cubillos.

Monday’s kickoff featured rows of computers, support personnel and translators at five locations in a campaign that will continue through Aug. 4.

While feedback was generally positive, there were some hiccups, including an invitation by one non-school group to help Hispanic families with the registration process — for a fee of up to $25. District officials immediately sent out warnings to ignore the social media invitation from a group called Villaseñor Taxes.

“I saw the ad for charging for help on Facebook,” said Plutarco Vasquez, Roxanna’s father, who is originally from Mexico and speaks in broken English. “It’s sad. Some people will pay that because they don’t know better. What the schools are doing today, all of this is free.”

online registration

A steady stream of parents kept two employees busy from the district’s English as a Second Language (ESL) department at the central office registration site. Additionally, the district’s location at 920 N. Highland St. was designated specifically for English language assistance.

As of Monday evening, more than 20,000 students — almost one-fifth of the district’s expected total enrollment — had completed or started the online registration process, said district spokesman Christian Ross.

The new process is better for parents who have to work and can’t take off for registration day, said Samantha Parks, who signed up her 9-year-old daughter for Getwell Elementary School. “It just makes more sense to do this from home or a library, wherever you can,” she said.

Even so, Parks wasn’t able to register her other two children because their student codes, known as “snapcodes,” were not showing up in the computer system. She was told that redoing their paperwork as if they were new students would address the problem.

A new process doesn’t come without challenges, including the distribution of snapcodes to parents. About 110,000 codes were mailed to parents, which took longer than originally expected, Ross said.

District employee Brandon Pinson works with Samantha Parks at the online registration event.
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
District employee Brandon Pinson works with Samantha Parks.

“We’ve had a lot of parents calling to ask where their snapcodes are,” Ross said. “Some have been able to receive them by email, and others are coming up to the district offices. We’re asking parents to be patient with us and recognize it’s not going as fast as we would want.”

Ross emphasized that the window for online registration is three weeks, so there is still sufficient time to work out the kinks.

“This has turned into positive for our school staff and parents, as it’s taken off a lot of stress that comes with thousands of parents showing up on one day to register their kids,” Ross said. “This gives more time for schools to have their doors ready to open on Aug. 10th.”

In addition to registration assistance, the kickoff event featured games for the kids, free Chick-fil-A dinners and a showcase of other district services. Children who came with their parents were able to receive a free physical, shoot basketball goals to win prizes, and learn about healthy eating from the district’s health services.

“This kind of thing is good for the kids to be a part of,” Parks said. “It makes what can be a stressful thing way more doable.”

Alliyah Parks, 9, tries to catch a basketball. Her mother had just finished registering her for school.
PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Alliyah Parks, 9, tries to catch a basketball during a game. Her mother had just finished registering her for school.

What's Your Education Story?

As the 2018 school year begins, join us for storytelling from Indianapolis educators

PHOTO: Dylan Peers McCoy/Chalkbeat
Sarah TeKolste, right, and Lori Jenkins at a Teacher Story Slam, in April.

In partnership with Teachers Lounge Indy, Chalkbeat is hosting another teacher story slam this fall featuring educators from across the city.

Over the past couple of years, Chalkbeat has brought readers personal stories from teachers and students through the events. Some of our favorites touched on how a teacher won the trust of her most skeptical student, why another teacher decided to come out to his students, and one educator’s call to ramp up the number of students pursuing a college education.

The event, 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 13, is free and open to the public — please RSVP here.

Event details:

5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.
Thursday, Sept. 13, 2018
Tube Factory artspace
1125 Cruft St., Indianapolis, IN 46203
Get tickets here and find more on Facebook

More in What's Your Education Story?

School safety

Hiring more security officers in Memphis after school shootings could have unintended consequences

PHOTO: Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post/Getty Images

Tennessee’s largest district, Shelby County Schools, is slated to add more school resource officers under the proposed budget for next school year.

Superintendent Dorsey Hopson earmarked $2 million to hire 30 school resource officers in addition to the 98 already in some of its 150-plus schools. The school board is scheduled to vote on the budget Tuesday.

But an increase in law enforcement officers could have unintended consequences.

A new state law that bans local governments from refusing to cooperate with federal immigration officials could put school resource officers in an awkward position.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen recently reminded school personnel they are not obligated to release student information regarding immigration status. School resource officers employed by police or sheriff’s departments, however, do not answer to school districts. Shelby County Schools is still reviewing the law, but school board members have previously gone on the record emphasizing their commitment to protecting undocumented students.

“Right now we are just trying to get a better understanding of the law and the impact that it may have,” said Natalia Powers, a district spokeswoman.

Also, incidents of excessive force and racial bias toward black students have cropped up in recent years. Two white Memphis officers were fired in 2013 after hitting a black student and wrestling her to the ground because she was “yelling and cussing” on school grounds. And mothers of four elementary school students recently filed a lawsuit against a Murfreesboro officer who arrested them at school in 2016 for failing to break up a fight that occurred off-campus.

Just how common those incidents are in Memphis is unclear. In response to Chalkbeat’s query for the number and type of complaints in the last two school years, Shelby County Schools said it “does not have any documents responsive to this request.”

Currently, 38 school resource officers are sheriff’s deputies, and the rest are security officers hired by Shelby County Schools. The officers respond and work to prevent criminal activity in all high schools and middle schools, Hopson said. The 30 additional officers would augment staffing at some schools and for the first time, branch out to some elementary schools. Hopson said those decisions will be based on crime rates in surrounding neighborhoods and school incidents.

Hopson’s initial recommendation for more school resource officers was in response to the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people and sparked a wave of student activism on school safety, including in Memphis.

Gov. Bill Haslam’s recent $30 million budget boost would allow school districts across Tennessee to hire more law enforcement officers or improve building security. Measures to arm some teachers with guns or outlaw certain types of guns have fallen flat.

For more on the role and history of school resource officers in Tennessee, read our five things to know.

Sheriff’s deputies and district security officers meet weekly, said Capt. Dallas Lavergne of the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. When the Memphis Police Department pulled their officers out of school buildings following the merger of city and county school systems, the county Sheriff’s Office replaced them with deputies.

All deputy recruits go through school resource officer training, and those who are assigned to schools get additional annual training. In a 2013 review of police academies across the nation, Tennessee was cited as the only state that had specific training for officers deployed to schools.