Tamika Burks, right, fills out forms as her daughter, Gezelle Champion, center, and her stepdaughter, Jada Champion, read in the lobby of H.H. Battle Elementary during Registration day for Hamilton County public schools Monday. Burks came to register 6-year-old Gezelle, and her 9-year-old son, Aurello Ramsey Jr., not pictured, for the elementary school.
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times for Hamilton County school district parents registering their kids for school Monday morning — depending on whether the parents could prove where their children lived.
"It was easy," Kendra McDonald said after signing up two of her three kids at Battle Academy, a prekindergarten through fifth-grade magnet school at South Market and East Main streets.
They were among thousands of kids and parents signing up for school, finding who their new teachers are, seeing friends they hadn't seen all summer.
Kids played basketball and soccer at 11 a.m. outside Battle Academy, which has a waiting list of students who want to get into the 12-year-old school that has a rooftop garden, robotics coursework and an annual three-day field trip to Jekyll Island for fifth-graders.
Instead of making teachers handle the paperwork, that was done at a separate table.
"They're making it easier this year," said Valerie Smith, a fifth-grade teacher who's been at Battle since the day it opened. "It's getting everybody out and in faster."
On Signal Mountain, the streets around Thrasher Elementary were choked with cars as parents and students checked class lists posted outside -- some snapping pictures of the lists with their smartphones -- then streamed into the building to register.
All were getting ready for Thursday, the first full day of public school in Hamilton County.
Parents weren't as happy at school district headquarters on Hickory Valley Road. Around 40 people were sitting in the board meeting room at 12:30 p.m. -- and at least that many stood in a line out the door -- for two things: affidavits, which are sworn, notarized statements of their residence; and hardship exemptions, which allow students to switch from their zoned school because of things such as transportation problems.
Among those in line were Deb Combs and her father, Don Royer, who hoped to prove that Combs' 10-year-old daughter belonged in Ganns Middle Valley Elementary School.
"We just moved here in May," Combs said. "We moved in together, so I could take care of my parents. I'm unemployed, and I left a bad situation in North Carolina."
Combs said she was led to believe that all her father had to do was sign an affidavit to get the girl into school. But when Combs got to the front of the line, she found out school officials still wanted to see two proofs of residency.
"I can pull it up on my phone," Combs suggested of her bank statement that she said bore her father's address.
A sheriff's deputy asked a Times Free Press reporter to leave the board meeting building before Combs' situation was resolved.
The building should be packed all week long with parents seeking affidavits or hardship exemptions, said Lee McDade, the school district's deputy superintendent of administrative services.
"It's over 100 [people] every day," he estimated. "It'll be that way all week."
Parents who needed affidavits and hardship exemptions could have come to the school district office between May 15 and June 15 to take care of things, McDade said.
"We've been here all summer, and they show up today," McDade said.
Contact staff writer Tim Omarzu at email@example.com or twitter.com/TimOmarzu or 423-757-6651.
Tim Omarzu covers education for the Times Free Press. Omarzu is a longtime journalist who has worked as a reporter and editor at daily and weekly newspapers in Michigan, Nevada and California.