ELIZABETHTON — The school zone on Tenn. Highway 400 in front of Range Elementary School is now also a protest zone as parents, alumni and friends of the Carter County are standing by the road to protest the recommendation to close the school and transfer its students to Central Elementary School next year.
On Thursday afternoon Lisa Bare, Paula Smith, Ron Christian, Della Moon, Gabrielle Tomlinson and Beecher O’Quinn carried signs urging motorists to honk their horns as they drove by to show support for the school. Most of the motorists were happy to make noise and cheer.
The protesters gave several reasons for their opposition to the proposed closing. Four were former students who had fond memories of their years in the school and want a new generation to have the same experience. “We have three and four generations of families who went here,” Smith said. “My kids love going to school here.”
Christian said his child was failing before he began going to school at Range. “He has gone from making F’s to being on the honor roll,” Christian said.
Bare said the protesters are going to be out from 7 a.m. to noon and 2 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. The protesters will also march through Elizabethton on March 25, the day the Carter County School Board will hold a workshop session to discuss the closure. She said a couple of supporters have been chosen to speak at the workshop.
Christian said part of the effectiveness of Range is that it is a small school and the children receive extra attention they wouldn’t get in a large school.
The recommendation to close the school is being made as part of an effort to balance the school budget next fiscal year. “It’s not about money,” Christian said. “We can spend $26 million for a jail, but we can’t spend money on a school.”
O’Quinn is a graduate of the school and a defender. He also knows a lot about the history of the school.
“We have 170 years of history,” O’Quinn said. “It started in 1843 when a sheep shed was converted into a one-room school. The second Range School was built in 1901. The third one was a five-room brick building in 1913.”
The fourth and current building was built in 1963, O’Quinn said.
O’Quinn said he supports the school for more than its history. “It’s a good school, with good teachers who will work with the children. They see them as children and not dollar signs.”
O’Quinn said he is trying to win support from the parents of eight other schools in the county that are listed for possible closure on the Long Range Facilities Plan.