State lawmaker from Memphis disagrees with schools sending accountability letters to parents

WATCH: Tennessee state lawmakers are upset over accountability letters sent by schools to parents this week

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — A state lawmaker from Memphis is up in arms after schools began sending out accountability letters to families.

Those letters told parents that certain student groups in their schools were underperforming.

The letters are meant to identify why certain schools are lagging behind other Tennessee schools.

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State Rep. Antonio Parkinson (D-Memphis) said these letters shouldn’t have been sent out at all.

The Tennessee Department of Education sent FOX13 a template for how schools across the state should be and are writing the letters to parents. The letters identify underperforming student groups, such as n achievement, growth, graduation rate, and chronically out of school.

“We are writing to inform you that [School name] is identified for [Designation] as required by ESSA and the U.S. Department of Education. [Insert designation criteria],” the template reads. “[School name – ATSI or TSI only] is identified for the following student groups: [List student group(s) and reason why].”

Two letters currently floating around are from two different schools in Knox County.

Chilhowee Intermediate School lists white students as the student group underperforming and identifies the reason as “growth below state expectations”.

The second school, Cedar Bluff Middle, lists black students as underperforming. The school doesn’t list the reason why. Both schools are classified as target support and improvement schools (TSI).

A TDOE spokesperson said that federal law requires schools to notify parents if their school is listed under of one of three categories: comprehensive support and improvement schools (CSI), TSI and additional targeted support and improvement schools (ASTI).

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While the TDOE spokesperson listed those three school designations, the template listed only TSI and ASTI as sending out this letter.

Parkinson said that by identifying a group of students, it will foster more bullying at those schools.

“My concern is the culture of bullying or the culture of racism or the culture of discrimination that is being set is basically state-sponsored,” said Parkinson.

TDOE couldn’t identify exactly how many schools sent out those letters but said those letters were to be sent out by September 1.

Based on TDOE’s accountability rankings this year, there are 203 total schools listed as CSI, TSI, and ATSI – 185 in TSI and ATSI.

Nine Shelby County Schools are listed in ATSI, 27 in TSI and one in CSI.