It took us a little bit to collect our thoughts after Monday night's School Board meeting. You may be seeing news coverage of what's happening at the meetings in Loudon County, Virginia, and we have a feeling some local residents may be envious of all the attention there and trying to build up to something similar here in a bid for their own 15 minutes of national infamy.
There were 3 main topics/hot points going into Monday's meeting:
Public comment, mainly about Wit & Wisdom curriculum
Superintendent Jason Golden's contract extension vote
Dan Cash's "you hate white men" email to a parent over the weekend
About 40 people were given a minute each - more were in line to sign up but they shut it down, same as last month, due to time constraints. (Board policy only allows for 30 minutes of public comment but the Chair has the right to extend it, which has been happening within reason.)
30 of the 40 appeared to be organized or closely aligned with the Moms for Liberty group with anti-mask, anti-diversity, booooo Wit & Wisdom, and anti-Jason Golden signs and messaging.
As a reminder, the national Moms for Liberty organization is making a full court press here in Williamson County against....elementary school books, which they allege are teaching Critical Race Theory You can watch segments on their own YouTube channel for a full deep dive on their Critical Race Theory 101 event that was held a few weeks ago if you have a few hours to kill.
The group's members and their social media supporters are constantly decrying the supposed indoctrination that's taking place through the new reading curriculum being used in WCS. Yet curiously, most of the 30 public commenters they had speak out against the Wit & Wisdom curriculum at Monday night's meeting focused on age appropriateness of the content, not CRT - they even had props and signs to accompany and illustrate many of the examples. Here are our notes from their speakers, forgive the shorthand:
the book focusing on feelings talks about bad feelings. Kids don't need to focus on anger. Feelings are OK but most of these focus on negatives.
Ruby Bridges - plays audio of an adult Ruby Bridges saying it was hard to explain to a child what happens to her, so if it's hard for even her, how can other young kids understand?
Amos & Boris. Poor Whale is preparing to die.
The Buffalo Are Back. White men suck and kill Native Americans and Buffalo
Shark attacks. The dude’s leg is ripped away.
3rd-grade book Starry Messenger. Something about Galileo. Is mad that Galileo went against the church.
Gifts from the Gods. Furies and murderers and stuff.
George vs. George rape quote & eating their victims - very dramatic reading.
You get the picture. But in case not, here are some screenshots of the highly disturbing imagery from their CRT 101 presentation on YouTube:
But wait, we haven't yet mentioned the seahorses because honestly it deserves its own section.
Moms for Liberty has a real issue with a 1st grade book on seahorses, which they call "a soft introduction to Sex Ed" and "switched gender roles".
We're not making this up or even slightly exaggerating or taking this out of context. Please watch this part for yourself because it is a very worrisome book.
Here's the thing: We're moms, too. And some of the curriculum concerns Moms for Liberty has raised also gave us a millisecond of pause - like stillbirth, for example. We find ourselves nodding at that and saying, ok sure, that should be looked at. We're really pleased to see the district has listened to these concerns and are actively addressing them, as they have very patiently stated over and over again during the multiple hours of presentations they've given in response.
But we are not professional educators. We don't have teaching degrees, or experience in an elementary classroom. Did a single 1st grade teacher look at this seahorse book and go WHOA THIS IS TOO MUCH? THIS IS SEAHORSE PORN. THIS IS MADNESS!
When a private school parent (who called public school teachers "little brainwashing a$$holes") goes on a very partisan political commentary show and says that WCS hiring a diversity consultant is what crossed the line for her, forgive us if we don't think this is about seahorses or feelings or even cannibalism. Or if they really know what Critical Race Theory even means. Because none of this - literally zero - has even a whiff of systemic racism theory, which again for those in the back, is not something that is seeping into elementary school reading unless 6 year olds are dual-enrolled in law school.
There are a lot of wires getting crossed here in the delivery of their message, but the end goal appears to be a political spotlight and/or chaos in the public school system. We guess private school kids grow up not knowing that male seahorses give birth, but sure hope there's never a field trip to an aquarium. Skip the clownfish exhibit if there is, though....that'll really screw the kids up.
One last note on the public comment section of the meeting: It was really something to witness in person how little regard or respect this group had for the rules of order in an official government meeting. Almost every single one of the 10 or so "non Moms for Liberty" speakers got interrupted and heckled during their turn at the microphone when speaking in support of Jason Golden, the DEI work, etc., with Board Chair Nancy Garrett doing all in her power with her gavel and admonishments to the crowd to be quiet and let everyone speak without interruption. You can watch the meeting livestream for yourself and see it all play out. The two of us have been in a lot of School Board meetings over the years and never witnessed such disrespectful behavior from the crowd, even during the ultimate hot button discussions on school rezonings.
Might we recommend an age-appropriate book on managing feelings?
Jason Golden's contract extension:
Tennessee state law permits public school superintendent contracts to be a maximum of 4 years in length. So the initial contract is written for 4 years, and then in many districts, Boards vote to keep extending it so it stays at/near that maximum length. Jason Golden's initial 4-year contract was inked in 2019, was voted to be extended for another year last June, and was once again up for a vote for the newest 1-year extension permitted by state law to run through 2025.
In WCS, this extension vote is an Annual Agenda item for the Board and has been for many years. Every August, the WCSB votes to formalize the year's agenda, which dictates when each known/recurring item will be coming to the Board. So on August 17, 2020, the Board passed the 2020-21 agenda, with May being the Superintendent's evaluation and June being the contract extension vote....just like usual. So this is nothing new, and usually more of a technicality than any big discussion topic. It's considered a vote of confidence in current leadership, and a vote not to extend can be a signal to senior staff - not just the superintendent - to start looking for jobs elsewhere.
There's been a great deal of local media coverage on the discussion and vote so we'll leave this to the professionals:
But for posterity: Jay Galbreath and Dan Cash voted not to extend Golden's contract, and Candy Emerson was clearly distraught over her decision and decided to abstain. The extension passed with 8 yes votes. Brad Fiscus was absent due to a family vacation.
A lot of people got up and left at that point, with some yelling at the Board on their way out. #angryfeelings
Dan Cash's email woes:
Last Friday night, Dan Cash replied to a parent in his district who had emailed him about his comments during Thursday night's work session.
These words were actually typed by a sitting School Board member - who also hit send on said email in what had to be a momentary lapse in judgement:
"Thank you for sharing what you really have in your heart. You hate white men and white little boys and Christians. I hope I didn't miss anything."
More details can be found here in the Tennessean and Fox17 news coverage.
Little was said about this incident during Monday night's meeting, but Chair Nancy Garrett did use her time to read the Board's Code of Ethics out loud as a reminder to all members.
Dan Cash's seat, along with all other even-numbered districts, will be on the August 2022 School Board election ballot as non-partisan races.
Well, folks....think that about covers it! The Board doesn't meet in July and will be back in action in August. More big news from us to come soon so stay tuned!