The Tennessean Claims ‘Racist Incidents Are Occurring in Williamson Schools’

The Tennessean published a story Friday which claimed “racist incidents are occurring in Williamson Schools.”

The story made specific reference to only one such incident, however, and apparently relied on the word of just two parents to verify that it occurred.

Those parents — Revida Rahman and Inetta Gaines— are both members of the district’s cultural competency council, which “was formed last year by WCS superintendent Mike Looney after parents expressed concerns about field trips to plantations,” according to The Tennessean, which also reported that the incident occured in January at Sunset Middle School in Brentwood when some students at the school allegedly “linked arms in between classes, forming a human chain, and then barred non-white students from passing.”

“The students likened it to President Donald Trump’s proposed border wall,” the paper reported, adding:

Rahman and Gaines, both African-American, verified that the wall incident happened at Sunset Middle, along with a number of regularly occurring inappropriate incidents: use of the N-word on school buses, history lessons that glorify slavery and insensitive field trips on the state’s history with slavery.

Gaines, however, according to the Brentwood Homepage, has no children attending Sunset Middle.

“I don’t have a student at Sunset Middle, but I have friends that have students there,” Gaines told The Brentwood Homepage.

The Tennessean quoted Gaines complaining of “racial insensitivity” in the district now and 20 years ago while on a field trip with her son that she said glorified a Confederate soldier.

The cultural competency council Gaines reportedly serves on, “meets with School Superintendent Mike Looney to discuss, among other things, diversity training for faculty and the disproportionate rate of discipline for black students.”

The cultural competency council was formed in January 2018, and some time subsequent to that Williamson County hired a full time diversity officer,  sources tell The Tennessee Star.

According to Looney, “In August, the district began a yearlong training session on cultural competency, which included professional development for teachers,” The Tennessean reported.

According to the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) website, “In-service days shall be used according to a plan recommended by the local superintendent of schools in accordance with the provisions of this section and other applicable statutes, and adopted by the local board of education. A copy of this plan shall be filed with the State Commissioner of Education on or before June 1 the preceding school year and approved by him.” (emphasis added)

A spokesperson for the TDOE, however, told The Star earlier this week that it had not reviewed or approved the Williamson County Schools Cultural Competency series of videos used for in-service training by Williamson County Schools, beginning in August, during this 2018-2019 academic year.

“Tennessee is a state that believes in local authority, so the content of inservice trainings is decided upon at the local level. For more information you should contact Williamson County Schools,” TDOE spokesperson Chandler Hopper told The Star.

As The Star reported on Tuesday, “Williamson County School System officials recently made teachers watch a video that tried to instruct them not on ways to teach students reading, writing, and arithmetic — but it instead tried to indoctrinate teachers on how to teach students about ‘white privilege.’ ”

The Star obtained the video, Williamson County Schools Cultural Competency Series, Module 3, after it filed an open records request with Williamson County Schools to obtain a copy of an in-service training video shown to teachers at Thompsons Station Elementary School on February 18. The video, along with Modules 1 and 2 in the same series, was designed, produced, and paid for by Williamson County Schools.

Among the key points included in the in-service video for Williamson County teachers were the following:

  • At the beginning, an unidentified female narrator encourages teachers to “recognize the construct of privilege and its implications.” (emphasis added)
  • “Our second goal is for you to have built confidence in your ability to engage in courageous conversations about privilege,” the narrator said.
  • “If we as educators do not build our capacity to discuss challenging topics with our colleagues then how can we teach those skills to our students?”
  • A few minutes in, a female appears and seems to go on a guilt trip about her supposed white privilege. She spoke of receiving things others have not and how she has a responsibility to share her privilege with other people.
  • “I’ve been ignoring how much privilege I do have. I’ve had a lot of privilege I didn’t have to ask for, or earn, or obtain,” the woman says.
  • “Things have been made easier for me than they have been for other people. It is my job to (a) notice that and (b) acknowledge that I was a beneficiary of that, and then (c) be a part of the solution,” she continued.
  • Later, the narrator told viewers “that white individuals do enjoy unearned advantages that society does not necessarily offer to individuals of color.”
  • “The concept of intersectionality recognizes that skin color privilege is one of the many different types of privilege that can impact the way people move through the world,” the narrator continued.
  • Oppressive institutions, such as racism, classism, sexism, and homophobia are often interconnected in the varying degrees with which people hold privilege and power,” the narrator said
  • “There are certain things that are like built in because, like, that’s how our country was founded in the sense, umm, you know it’s like this majority culture, like this, particularly white male culture has been in power for so long.”
  • “So when I consider privilege it’s just, like I said, the fact that there’s no . . . your whiteness, for example, hasn’t been a structure that has held you back .”

You can watch the complete 26 minute video here:

The Tennessean story did not quote any Williamson County School officials corroborating that the alleged Sunset Middle School “linked arms” incident took place as the parents who went on the record with the paper described it.

In that regard, The Tennessean only said “the district would not provide information to The Tennessean on the (Sunset Middle School) incident or how it was handled.”

As for the district as a whole, The Tennessean reported that parents said “insensitive and racist incidents are a regular occurrence, and they are asking the district to do more to make it inclusive for all students.”

If the paper spoke with any other parents about the other alleged racial incidents then those accounts were apparently obtained off-the-record.

As The Star reported, two Sunset Middle School teachers resigned on Tuesday after they had earlier in the month handed out an assignment asking students to imagine they were slave owners and to identify the expectations they would have, as slave owners, for their slaves. Superintendent Looney held a meeting with what The Tennessean called “the inclusion committee” on Tuesday night at which that assignment was discussed. The meeting was closed to the media. Shortly after that meeting ended, Williamson County Schools announced that both teachers who had handed out the slavery assignment had resigned.

On Friday afternoon, the story took a strange twist.

The Star stopped by the offices of Williamson County Schools in Franklin to pick up two CDs it had requested in an open records request: Module 1 of the Williamson County Schools Cultural Competency Series and Module 2 of the Williamson County Schools Cultural Competency Series.

Among the documents given to The Star along with the two CDs was a document that The Star had not requested in its open records request. That document, which appears to be a printout of an email sent to Williamson County Schools director of communications Carol Birdsong from the reporter at The Tennessean who wrote Friday’s story, appears here below:

Subsequent to reviewing the document, The Star confirmed with Williamson County Schools director of communications Carol Birdsong that the handwriting at the bottom of the document, which states “Yes. It happened. Tim addressed,” was hers.





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Chris Butler is an investigative journalist at The Tennessee Star. Follow Chris on Facebook. Email tips to [email protected]














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