Family upset after Lenoir City Schools reject requests for foreign exchange student

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LENOIR CITY, Tenn. (WVLT) -- Two foreign exchange students hoping to spend time in an East Tennessee school were turned down by the Lenoir City School Board.

And the family hoping to host those students says they don't think the Board's reason is fair.

Patty Leach says her family hosted two foreign exchange students last year.

"They were wonderful. We had a great time, we learned about their cultures, they learned about ours," she said.

So when this year rolled around, they couldn't wait to host another kid.

"They want those kids who will be future leaders in their own countries to come to our country and see how we do things. Because America's great. It's awesome," she said.

But a few weeks ago, the Lenoir City School superintendent rejected the student they submitted, citing her struggles with math classes.

Then the family tried to register a second student.

"When we submitted a 'straight-A' student, that should have been accepted, we were denied also. We just got an email that said we are not accepting foreign exchange students at this time."

Patty Leach and a group of supporters made their case to the school board Thursday morning. But superintendent Jeanne Barker says the school just doesn't have the space for one more student -- at any grade level.

"We define capacity as being within two of the state maximum classroom size. That will allow us to be able to serve any new students that move into our district," she said.

Leach argues that definition should apply to her.

"I'm a resident of this city. My taxes pay for this school. This student is a resident for the year that she will be here, or he will be here," she said.

Last year the Leach family hosted two foreign exchange students.
One student was accepted into Lenoir City High School. But the Board rejected the second student. They had to send him 40 miles away to Loudon County High School.

Leach wants the board to put a permanent program in place that will save at least one spot each year for a foreign exchange student.

"We are, each year, looking at our numbers. Lenoir City is a growing community. We don't have a crystal ball. We don't know what the future will hold," Barker said.

"I don't think one student is gonna break the bank. I really don't," Leach said.

Barker says she will continue to look at each student submitted on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the student's academics and whether the district has enough resources available to accommodate the student.

She doesn't plan on putting a permanent program in place.

Leach says she's going to continue petitioning at school board meetings to bring awareness to the program.

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