Several days prior to releasing the story that Metro Nashville Public Schools’ (MNPS) social studies teacher in-service featured Rashed Fakhruddin from the Islamic Center of Nashville, Olivia Brown, the Director of Communications for MNPS was offered an opportunity to explain to The Tennessee Star, whether other speakers were invited or did speak to the teachers about other religions, but the question remains unanswered even though MNPS admits to having the information.
Fakhruddin’s now deleted Facebook message about his talk at the in-service was posted for at least one week before The Star asked Ms. Brown who spoke at the social studies in-service. Her response was a generalized description of speakers and no mention of religious speakers:
The Star: What was the agenda for the social studies in-service, who were the speakers and was it open only to teachers? Which grades?
Brown: Social Studies professional development was provided primarily to teachers in middle and high school as the majority of elementary teachers were participating in training for literacy and math. The first day started with a keynote addressing the purpose for social studies and how to address social studies practices. This was followed by a number of breakout session that teachers were able to choose from based on the grade and or content standards they were responsible for. There were 15 or more choices per breakout session. The sessions were conducted by MNPS teachers, as well as social studies educators from local and state museums, text book vendors, who were able to share resources and ideas as they connected to the state standards. On the final half day, teachers met with other teachers of the same grade and/or course they teach to collaborate and plan.
The Star contacted Ms. Brown again alerting her to Mr. Fakhruddin’s post which may have been deleted after this email to Ms. Brown:
The Star: You may or may not already be aware that Mr. Fakhruddin had posted online that he had spoken at one of the social studies breakout sessions during the MNPS in-service and he made it clear that he spoke about his religion.
Can you please provide answers to the following:
-what were the different break-out sessions (ie, titles, subject matter)
-speakers at each of these sessions
-who invited Mr. Fakhruddin to present to the teachers
-names of the other invited speakers on other religions
Brown: To answer your follow-up question from last week and those below, Todd Wigginton, director of instruction who supports social studies for the district, arranged for the speakers for the choice sessions, which included Islamic Center of Nashville, along with representatives from the Tennessee Holocaust Commission and a number of other social studies educators from local and state museums and other educational organizations. As world religions are part of the state standards, we are collaborating with number of groups for an event in October that will include Christian churches, a Hindu temple, and the Jewish Community Center.
We have a new Public Information Officer in our department who just began with the district last week. I’ve copied Michelle on this response and to also provide you with her email address for your contacts.
I hope this information provides you with what you need.
The Star then contacted Michelle Michaud, the new MNPS Public Information Officer to get specific answers to the remaining questions:
The Star: In my initial and subsequent emails to Ms.Brown I asked specifically about the agenda of the social studies in-service and for a list of the speakers. I received a fairly generic and non-specific response.
Then when I discovered that Mr. Fakhruddin spoke at one of the break out sessions, I asked whether representatives from other religious groups had been invited to speak and whether they did.
Can you please tell me the specific break out session at which Mr. Fakhruddin spoke and the reason he was invited and whether there were any other speakers in that specific session?
To which grade level teachers – grade level specifically, was he presenting? He indicated in his now deleted post that he presented in the context of the standards so it is important to know specifically which grade level standards he was addressing.
Can you confirm whether or not any other representatives from any other religious groups were invited to speak at the in-service?
The post which it appears Mr. Fakhruddin has now deleted but was captured in a screen shot, says that he ended his talk with the question of whether Islam is compatible with the West – a highly charged political question.
Does MNPS support bringing those politics into the classroom? If so, would that be balanced with a speaker or information that questions that premise?
Were the representatives from the TN Holocaust Commission religious leaders invited to speak about religion or the historical event of the Holocaust?
Michaud quickly responded that she had handed off the questions to her assistant and would try to be forthcoming with answers. In fact, she let The Star know the very next day on August 15th, that she indeed had some information to share, but as of now, has declined to release MNPS’ response to The Star’s questions.