Questions raised about Knox Co. Schools' timing

Questions raised about Knox Co. Schools' timing releasing students during snowstorm

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"I became aware of an attendance policy that the board adopted many years ago to the effect that students need to be present for three and a quarter hours in order to be counted present," Tamara Shepherd said. "I became aware of an attendance policy that the board adopted many years ago to the effect that students need to be present for three and a quarter hours in order to be counted present," Tamara Shepherd said.

By LAURA HALM
6 News Reporter

KNOXVILLE (WATE) - Many parents have asked why Knox County Schools decided when they did to let students leave school Tuesday during a snowstorm. Some have even asked if money played any role in the decision, calling into question the board of education's attendance funding formula.

Knox County Schools officials tell 6 News decisions on whether to cancel, delay or release students from school is never based on financial gain or loss.

Tuesday's snow event took Knox County students, teachers and parents by surprise.

One parent we spoke with, Tamara Shepherd who is also running for school board, posted her theory on the popular local blog Knoxviews.

"It was starting to become a mess, my street in particular is rural and hilly and I would have faired better a couple hours earlier," said Shepherd.

That got her thinking.

"I became aware of an attendance policy that the board adopted many years ago to the effect that students need to be present for three and a quarter hours in order to be counted present," she said.

Essentially, Shepherd believes releasing students at 11 a.m. to 11:45 a.m. was simply a way to nab state funding.

Knox County school officials say that belief is simply not true. They add the formula is determined on average daily membership which refers to as enrollment, not how many hours a student is in school.

During a news conference on Tuesday, Knox County Schools Superintendent Dr. Jim McIntyre said the decision to close at 11 a.m. was made at 9:30 a.m. and that was as quick of a turn around as possible.

"It was talking about some light snow starting around 10 a.m., the bulk of it, from the National Weather Service saying between 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. And so we made a decision to close at 11 a.m. and 11:45 a.m. We are a significantly sized school system, and so there are some logistics around dismissing early. We have to provide notification to our 50,000 parents. We have to be able to really stage and roll out our transportation when we do it early, get all our bus contractors in place," said Dr. McIntyre during that press conference.

To compare on that same day: Anderson, Blount and Roane counties dismissed at 10 a.m. along with Clinton and Maryville schools.

Loudon and Jefferson County Schools closed at 11 a.m. Oak Ridge City Schools released students between 11:05 a.m and 11:45 a.m. Campbell County dismissed at 12:30 p.m., while Scott County Schools didn't close until 1:45 p.m.

"We should be more cognizant now of a need to adopt emergency dismissal procedures that are focused on a hasty dismissal," said Shepherd.

6 News reached out to the State Board of Education to ask would there be any kind of funding incentive for a school system to keep students for a certain period of time during inclement weather. We were told an answer wouldn't be available until Friday.

Knox County Schools did send us a breakdown of their procedures for canceling school during severe weather, which you can view by clicking here.

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