Frequently Asked Questions
- Who do I call with a concern about something that happened at my child's school?
Because the day to day operation of schools is governed by local boards of education, most concerns can only be addressed by the local school district and school. Therefore, concerns should first be shared with the school. Local school districts usually have staff assigned to each particular area of school operations who can also provide assistance.
Depending on state law and local board policy, some decisions of principals may be appealed to the director of schools (for example, suspension decisions from a due process hearing) or to the local board of education (for example, student assignment to a school). However, neither the State Department of Education nor the State Board of Education has authority to overturn the decisions of local boards of education. Local boards of education supervise the director of schools. Members of local boards of education are elected by the voters in their district. Click here to find the contact information for all school district central offices.
If you feel that your child is being discriminated against because of disability, national origin, sex or race, you should contact the local school district's civil rights officer and/or the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights.
- What requirements must a school support organization meet?
Tennessee Code sections 49-2-601 through 49-2-612 address school support organizations. The Code requires the local board of education to formulate a policy governing school support organizations before such organization may use a school district’s or an individual school’s name, mascot, logos, or property for fundraising. T.C.A. 49-2-604(a). The minimum requirements for local board policies on school support organizations are found at T.C.A. 49-2-604(b), and T.C.A. 49-2-604(c)-(i) sets out further rules governing school support organizations. Notably, a school support organization shall: maintain detailed statements of receipts and disbursements; ensure that its funds are spent only for purposes related to the organization’s objectives; provide, upon request by certain individuals, access to the organization’s books, records, and bank account information. Furthermore, no school employee may act as a treasurer or bookkeeper for a school support organization.
For more information on this law and how it affects your school, district or organization, please contact the Comptroller's Office, which oversees this program: (615) 401-7871 or TN.Municipal.Audit@state.tn.us.
School Enrollment and Assignment
- How old must my child be to attend school?
For the 2014-2015 school year and all school years thereafter, a child entering kindergarten must be five years old on or before August 15. T.C.A. 49-6-201(b)(3). However, a child does not have to enroll in school at five years of age, but enrollment must occur no later than the child's sixth birthday. T.C.A. 49-6-3001(c)(1); SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.03(10)(a)
"Any transfer student applying for admission who was legally enrolled in an approved kindergarten in another state and who will be five years of age no later than December 31 of the current school year, shall be enrolled." SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.03(10)(b). So, a child entering school during the fall from another state may enter kindergarten as long as the child turns five that calendar year and was enrolled in an approved kindergarten in the other state.
The compulsory attendance law also applies to five year old children once they have attended school for six weeks. "[A] child may be withdrawn within six (6) weeks of initial enrollment without penalty." TCA 49-6-3007(g).
"No child shall be eligible to enter first grade . . . without having attended an approved kindergarten program; provided, that a child meeting the requirements of the state board of education for transfer and/or admission, as determined by the commissioner, may be admitted by an LEA, notwithstanding any other provision or act to the contrary." T.C.A. 49-6-201(d)
Depending on local board policy, children may be allowed to go from kindergarten directly to second grade. TCA 49-6-3106.
- What if I want my child to be assigned to a different school?
Local boards of education are responsible for making student assignment decisions. TCA 49-6-3102(b). TCA 49-6-3103 lists some factors local boards may consider in making such decisions. Parents/guardians may appeal assignment decisions to the local board of education; the appeal must be submitted within 10 days of the assignment decision. TCA 49-6-3201 through 3206.
- Who determines grade placement of students
For students in grades K-8, local school systems must develop and implement grading, promotion, and retention policies. These policies must be annually communicated to parents and students. SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.05(3)(b). Pursuant to SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.05(3)(c), a uniform grading system is used for students in grades 9-12. The uniform grading system can be found here. In many districts, principals and/or teachers make the final determination regarding whether a student should be retained or promoted to the next grade.
- Must students present a social security number to be enrolled?
No. In 2007, the State legislature deleted repealed the statute making social security numbers the method of student identification. Schools may ask for social security numbers to use as a school ID, but no student is required to provide a social security number. Federal law prohibits state or local government agencies from denying an "individual any right, benefit, or privilege provided by law because of such individual's refusal to disclose his social security account number." Sec. 7(a)(1) of the Privacy Act (found at 5 U.S.C. § 552(a) note (Disclosure of Social Security Number)).
- Are there exceptions for complying with immunization requirement?
TCA 49-5-5001(a) authorizes the Commissioner of Health to determine which immunizations are required for school attendance. The list of required vaccinations is available here.
Information on where to receive vaccines is available on the Department of Health's website.
- Can a district refuse to enroll or withdraw a student who is 18 years old or older?
No. Decisions to deny enrollment or withdraw teenage students may never be made based solely on the student’s age. A student who turns 18 during the school year may drop out of school without consent of the school district or the student’s parents. This is because Tennessee’s compulsory attendance laws apply to children between 6 and 17 years old, both inclusive. T.C.A. 49-6-3005(a). However, this does not mean that schools are no longer open to18 year old students.
Local boards of education are “authorized and required to provide from the enrollment in a public school of each child who is eligible for enrollment within the schools of the local school system.” T.C.A. 49-6-3102(a)(1). In one circumstance, the local board of education may refuse to an enroll eighteen year old student: if the local board determines that the continued attendance of a student who has reached 17 years old is detrimental “to good order and discipline and to the instruction of other students.” T.C.A. 49-6-3005(a)(5). However, “in all such cases, the board shall first obtain the recommendation in writing from the director of schools of the system and the principal of the school to which such child or children belong.” T.C.A. 49-6-3005(b).
Local boards of education have discretion over student assignment decisions. T.C.A. 49-6-3102. For example, the local board may have a policy that all 18 year old students attend an adult high school. If that is the case, the policy must be applied equally to all 18 year old students.
Furthermore, students and their parents/guardians have authority to challenge a local board of education’s student assignment decision. Student assignment decisions may be appealed, first to the local board of education, and then to the chancery court of the country where the local board is located. T.C.A. 49-6-3201 through 3206.
Attendance and Truancy
- How do I find out if my child is truant?
Local boards of education enforce the compulsory attendance laws. Principals are required to report to the director of schools whenever a student is absent for five days without adequate excuse. Each time a student accumulates five unexcused absences, a school official must give the student’s parent/guardian written notice of the unexcused absences. TCA 49-6-3007(e)(2).
- When can a student quit school?
Tennessee requires children ages 6-17 (inclusive) to attend school. 18 year olds are not required to attend school. Certain children ages 6-17 may be temporarily excused from attendance if they meet the exceptions outlined in TCA 49-6-3005. However, the local board of education "shall be the sole judge in all such cases."
- Are students enrolled in GED programs excused from compulsory attendance?
Yes. The attendance rules of TCA 49-6-3001 do not apply to "any child who . . . is enrolled and making satisfactory progress in a course leading to a general educational development certificate (GED) from a state-approved institution or organization, or who has obtained such certificate." (TCA 49-6-3001(c)(2)(B)). The Department of Labor & Workforce Development manages GED programs at the state level.
Federal law allows students 16 years or older to enroll in GED programs. If the student is enrolled and making satisfactory progress, state law excuses him or her from compulsory attendance at a public or non-public school. Generally, a student must be at least 18 years old before taking the GED test. Upon the recommendation of the local school superintendent, a 17 year old student may take the GED test. SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.06(6)(c)
- Are there any state requirements regarding attendance policies?
State law grants local boards of education the authority to establish attendance policies. Under TCA 49-6-3002(a), those policies must be developed with the following guidelines:
(1) Attendance policies shall be firm but fair so that each student has a reasonable opportunity to meet the minimum requirements;
(2) Effective accounting and reporting procedures shall be developed to keep parents or guardians informed of a student's absence from class;
(3) Policies shall accommodate extenuating circumstances created by emergencies over which the student has no control;
(4) Appeal procedures shall be included to assure the student's right of due process; and
(5) Alternative programs shall be established to provide educational options for any student who severely fails to meet minimum attendance requirements.
- What documentation do I need to obtain my driver's license?
Driver's license applicants under the age of eighteen (18) must present a high school diploma, high school certificate of graduation, or documentation that the applicant is:
(1) Enrolled and making satisfactory progress in a course leading to a general educational development certificate (GED) from a state-approved institution or organization, or has obtained such certificate;
(2) Enrolled and making satisfactory progress in a secondary school of this state or any other state; or
(3) Excused from such requirement due to circumstances beyond the applicant's control.
A Certificate of Compulsory School Attendance should be completed by the applicant's school. This form and more detailed instructions are available from the Tennessee Department of Safety.
- What names are used on student records?
Tennessee law requires schools to identify a student (regardless of age) by the names on the students' birth certificates. TCA 49-6-5106 provides that "such student shall be known by such lawful name in all facets of school records, report cards, student testing and any school activities." Schools may change names on student records due to marriage or following a court order, but only after receipt of a marriage certificate or court order.
- Are school records confidential?
Student records, including grades, are considered confidential information under state (TCA § 10-7-504(a)(4)(A)) and federal law (20 USCS 1232g). They may not be released without the consent of parents/guardians of minor students.
The Tennessee Code defines student records as: "Information . . . relating to academic performance, financial status of a student or the student's parent or guardian, medical or psychological treatment or testing . . . ." T.C.A. 10-7-504(a)(4)(A).
Information not considered part of student records includes: "Statistical information not identified with a particular student . . . ; and information relating only to an individual student's name, age, address, dates of attendance, grade levels completed, class placement and academic degrees awarded . . . ." T.C.A. 10-7-504(a)(4)(A).
- What school records may a non-custodial parent access?
Both state and federal law give non-custodial parents access to children's educational records, including "a copy of the child's report card, notice of school attendance, names of teachers, class schedules, standardized test scores and any other records customarily available to parents." T.C.A. 49-6-902(a). Non-custodial parents should request copies of these records in writing. If a non-custodial parent is denied access to the records, the parent may complain to the Office of Family Compliance in the U.S. Dept. of Education, which enforces parental rights under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).
- How do I get a copy of my diploma?
Copies of diplomas may be obtained from the Tennessee Dept. of Education. Please call 615-532-4867, or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Grades and Graduation Options
- How are high school grades determined under the Uniform Grading Policy?
TCA 49-6-407 requires all local education agencies to use the Uniform Grading System developed by the state board of education for students in grades 9-12. The system creates one grading standard for determining eligibility for college scholarships administered by the state of Tennessee. For purposes of state scholarship eligibility determinations, the Uniform Grading System does not allow additional quality points above 4.0 for honors courses, AP, IP, and National Industry Certification courses. SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.05(3)(e).
For purposes of calculating a student’s semester average, the Uniform Grading System permits additional quality points for certain courses. Under the system, a local education agency may allow for the addition of 3 points for honors courses and technical courses that offer national industry certification. SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.05(3)(e). A local education agency may allow for the addition of 5 points for Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate courses that have national end-of-course examinations. SBE Rule 0520-01-03-.05(3)(e).
You can read the entire Uniform Grading System here.
- Who gets to participate in graduation ceremonies?
Local education agencies determine who may participate in graduation ceremonies. The state does not dictate who may participate in graduation exercises. State Board rules determine requirements for receipt of regular diplomas, certificates of attendance, and special ed. diplomas, but local education agencies determine participation in graduation exercises.
- What are the requirements for conducting a homeschool?
Home school requirements are outlined in TCA § 49-6-3050. The Department of Education maintains a website with more detailed homeschooling information.
- Is homeschool attendance reported?
For the attendance reporting requirements, please see the Department of Education's website on non-public schools.
Charter School Questions
- What are public charter schools?
Public charter schools are public schools operated pursuant to a performance-based agreement between the school’s sponsor and the local education agency or achievement school district. T.C.A. 49-13-104. Public charter schools are funded on a per-pupil basis like all other public schools in the district. The Tennessee legislature passed the Tennessee Public Charter School Act to meet the following objectives found in TCA § 49-13-102:
- Improve learning for all students and close the achievement gap between high and low students;
- Provide options for parents to meet educational needs of students in high priority schools;
- Encourage the use of different and innovative teaching methods, and provide greater decision making authority to schools and teachers in exchange for greater responsibility for student performance;
- Measure performance of pupils and faculty, and ensure that children have the opportunity to reach proficiency on state academic assessments;
- Create new professional opportunities for teachers; and
- Afford parents substantial meaningful opportunities to participate in the education of their children.
For more information on public charter schools in Tennessee, please visit the Department of Education's page on charter schools.
- Who may attend public charter schools in Tennessee?
Any parent or guardian may choose to send his or her child to a public charter school. T.C.A. 49-13-113(a). Prospective students must submit an application, and a public charter school will enroll an applicant who submits a timely application so long as the number of applications doesn’t exceed the school’s capacity. T.C.A. 49-13-113(b)(1). If applications exceed the public charter school’s capacity, certain preferences apply. T.C.A. 49-13-113(b)(2).
- May a non-custodial parent/guardian make educational decisions on behalf of a minor child?
When hardship prevents the parent/parents from caring for a minor child, there are two options: (1) the parent/parents may assign temporary care-giving authority to another Tennessee resident without court approval; or (2) the parent/parents may assign another person power of attorney for care of the minor child. T.C.A. 34-6-302(a)(1) and 34-6-302(b). Granting another person power of attorney for care of a minor child is a formalized process described in T.C.A. 34-6-303. In option (1), the agreement must be executed on a form provided by the department of children’s services. T.C.A. 24-3-302(a)(1).In option (2), the parent/parents may authorize the caregiver to enroll the child in school and extracurricular activities. However, prior to enrollment, the local education agency may request documentation of the child’s residence with the caregiver or of the parent’s/parents’ hardship. T.C.A. 34-6-304(a)-(b).
- What school records may a non-custodial parent access?
- Accordion 2 Content
- What school fees may a school charge?
School fees are governed by state law and rule, and local board of education policy state law, state board of education rule, and local board of education policy. No student can be charged a fee to attend a public school or use school equipment. T.C.A. 49-2-110(c). All school fees must be authorized by the local board of education. T.C.A. 49-2-110(c).
Certain fees may be requested, but not required, from students regardless of financial status, including: fees for activities that occur during regular school hours; fees for activities outside regular hours if required for credit or a grade; fees for activities and supplies required to participate in all courses offered for credit or grade; and refundable security deposits collected for use of school property. SBE Rule 0520-01-03.03(14)(a).
More information can also be found in the attached memo.
- Where can I find more information about student discipline issues?
Tennessee law gives local boards of education authority to establish and enforce student disciplinary policies. T.C.A. 49-2-203(a). However, the Tennessee Code addresses some discipline issues, including suspension, expulsion, and enforcement on compulsory attendance rules. For information on suspensions and expulsions, see T.C.A. 49-6-3401 through 49-6-3405. Note that certain offenses, such as bringing a firearm or controlled substance to school, will automatically result in an expulsion of at least one year, though the director of schools may modify the punishment’s duration. T.C.A. 49-6-3401(g). For information on enforcement of compulsory attendance rules, see T.C.A. 49-6-3007).
Teachers, Administrators, and Board Members
- Who has authority over teachers, administrators and board members?
Local boards of education have complete authority over personnel issues involving school and district employees. T.C.A. 49-2-203(a). Local board members are elected officials, and local boards of education have authority to employ a director of schools (also referred to as a superintendent). T.C.A. 49-2-201 and 49-2-301(a). Duties of the director of schools include generally supervising all schools and “employing, transferring, suspending, non-renewing, or dismissing all personnel, licensed or otherwise.” T.C.A. 49-2-301(b)(1).
- What are the ethics standards for Tennessee teachers and administrators?
Teachers are bound by the Teacher Code of Ethics which includes responsibilities and professional standards for educators. T.C.A. 49-5-1003 and 49-5-1004. Ethical violations may lead to employment actions against teachers or administrators. Certain violations may prompt the state board of education to suspend or revoke a teacher’s or administrator’s license.
State board of education Rule 0520-2-4-.01(9) outlines the grounds for which teachers or administrators may have their teaching or administrative licenses suspended or revoked. More information about the process for licensure actions is available here.