Williamson County School System Director Apologizes for ‘Gross Error in Judgement’ on Slavery Assignment

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As part of an assignment, eighth-grade social studies teachers at Brentwood’s Sunset Middle School asked students to pretend their family owns slaves.

Students then had to create a list of expectations for the family’s slaves.

The assignment didn’t sit well with Williamson County Schools Superintendent Mike Looney, who has publicly apologized for what he said was a “gross error in judgement from WCS personnel.”

[Editors note: “Judgement” is not generally accepted as the proper spelling of ‘judgment” in American English, although it is considered acceptable in British English, primarily in legal documents.]

“We have been providing professional training to our staff members on cultural awareness this year, but I admit that we have more work to do in this area,” Looney said in an email sent out to school parents Thursday.

“Please know, we are absolutely committed to ensuring all of our students feel welcome, wanted and worthwhile.”

Looney also tweeted a copy of his letter.

School officials pulled the assignment, and they will not take grades on it, Looney went on to say.

In the same email, school Principal Tim Brown said he was “very remorseful that this situation occurred.”

“I recognize this assignment was inappropriate, and steps are being taken to rectify this situation,” Brown said.

Also as a part of that email, social studies teachers Susan Hooper and Kim Best said they never intended to hurt any of their students.

“The assignment was insensitive, and it did not promote Sunset Middle’s goal of an inclusive environment,” Hooper and Best wrote.

“Please accept our sincere apologies.”

School system spokeswoman Carol Birdsong did not immediately return The Tennessee Star’s follow up email asking whether the assignment was part of an already established curriculum or whether the teachers designed it themselves.

The Star also wanted to know the teachers’ rationale for passing out this assignment.

According to the school’s website, Sunset Middle houses grades sixth through eighth. The school’s mission, the website went on to say, “is to challenge students to be enthusiastic learners, creative thinkers, and responsible citizens capable of contributing to a democratic society.”

The school opened during the 2006-07 school year, and school system officials designed it to meet the needs of the rapidly growing communities of Brentwood and Nolensville, the school’s website said.

Two weeks ago, The Star received second hand reports alleging that Williamson County Public Schools was requiring teachers to complete in-service training to learn how to teach students about “white privilege.”

One source told The Star that Williamson County Public Schools teachers who participated in that in-service training were required to provide answers for this question:

What actions can teachers take to work against systems and structures that promote the prominence of white cultural norms?

A spokesperson for Williamson County Public Schools told The Star at the time they were unaware of any such in-service teacher training.

The Star has filed a Freedom of Information request to determine if any “white privilege” training has been required of Williamson County Public Schools teachers, but has not yet received a response.

 

 

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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to chrisbutlerjournalist@gmail.com.
Photo “Homework Assignment” by Danny Boy. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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2 Thoughts to “Williamson County School System Director Apologizes for ‘Gross Error in Judgement’ on Slavery Assignment”

  1. […] As reported, the two teachers are Kim Best and Susan Hooper, and they teach at Sunset Middle School in Brentwood. […]

  2. […] this, a week after The Star reported that two Sunset Middle School teachers in Brentwood asked their eighth-grade students to pretend […]

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