Off-campus religious ed, mandatory retention spark debate at school board meeting

Published 5:08 pm Friday, September 16, 2022

Carter County School Board members are pushing back against two state mandates.
During a meeting on Thursday, board members questioned a state law that requires school districts to excuse students for off-campus religious instruction. The law, passed in 2020, would allow programs like the Children’s Bible Ministry Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go in Watauga to provide off-campus religious instruction.
However, that same ministry was the cause of a 1988 federal lawsuit that resulted in an injunction against the Carter County schools. And although Camp Ta-Pa-Win-Go director Dave Johnson told the school board that both Elizabethton City Schools and Bristol City Schools will be participating in its new monthly off-campus religious education program, the Carter County board members decided to seek legal advice about any potential conflict with the 1988 injunction.
Director of Schools Brandon Carpenter also encouraged board members to push back against a law requiring retention of third-grade students who do not achieve satisfactory scores on state mandated English and language arts tests.
Calling the law “detrimental,” Carpenter said it penalizes students by placing too much emphasis on a single test, rather than allowing faculty and staff to evaluate a student’s proficiency based on multiple inputs. “You can have a student who 99 percent of the time is away above grade level and have one bad test and they have to be retained,” he said.
The board members unanimously adopted a resolution asking the General Assembly to amend the law to allow local districts to make decisions on retention and promotion for third- and fourth-grade students.

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