CHATTANOOGA (Times Free Press) - From the time the first tent was pitched outside Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences in 1986, people wondered about the sanity of parents willing to wait weeks in line to get their children into the county's two largest magnet schools.

Over the years, the school system dabbled with a lottery system for enrollment into CSAS and Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts, but for most of the schools' history securing a seat for a kindergartner meant one thing: sheer willpower. Parents would camp outside the school for weeks to guarantee their child a place.

School administrators never really liked the system of first-come, first-served. Camping weeks for a seat in a school seemed excessive, and at times unfair, they said. What about the parents who couldn't mobilize neighbors and extended family or pay people to hold the spot outside the school and check in every six hours for roll call?

But parents signed petitions and pushed to keep it, especially the ones who fought through rain and sleepless nights on an air mattress and got their kid on that list. The tradition proved mettle, they said, and showed who deserved a top-notch public education and who didn't.

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