Tennessee Star Report: Williamson County Schools Counsel Dares Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn to Enforce State Law on ‘White Privilege’ Training


On Tuesday’s Tennessee Star Report with Steve Gill and Michael Patrick Leahy, broadcast weekdays from 5 am to 8 am on 98.3 FM and 1510 WLAC in Nashville, Gill and Leahy discussed Williamson County Schools’ challenge to the Tennessee Department of Education to enforce state law as it applies to the Williamson County Schools Cultural Competency video series that features the controversial and divisive “white privilege” theory.

(Audio clip of WCS Board Member Candy Emerson) We can’t just sit on the sidelines. We all need to make our feelings and our thoughts known. I think one of the things that I wanted to say is as a board member that I was very blindsided by module 3. I first of all that I had no knowledge at all of the modules, the videos, being produced. We were not, or I was not, privy to them being done and put in the schools. So when I started getting phone calls from my folks in district eight my parents, and teachers, and citizens, I was totally caught off guard.

Gill: Now keep in mind, while Williamson County is struggling with this whole white privilege we’re all racists video that the superintendent of schools Mike Looney and his team produced supposedly to save money and yet their budget called for about six hundred thousand dollars. God help us if it would have been a Hollywood production at twenty five million dollar video. If they hadn’t done it internally.

Leahy: And apparently no board member knew about until we found the video, got it to public records, published it and then they saw it and that was just earlier this month.

Gill: And they’re still trying to sort through who approved it, who paid for it and apparently some of these people were being paid ten thousands of dollars internally to produce this video that while Mike Looney is saying I taking responsibility but there no accountability because the school board is not holding him responsible.

Leahy: Not at all.

Gill: Now to their credit Davidsons County you know, on the verge of firing the absolutely inept and incompetent and possibly corrupt school superintendent who has been dishing out funds to his favorites. You have them looking at their on the verge of removing him he is basically saying I will leave but I want a year to transition out apparently, he needs to try to put some more money in the pockets of his cronies and the school board in Davidson County which is as Will Pinkston has described the inept and incompetent is trying to remove the inept and incompetent school superintendent that they hired.

Leahy: But they apparently have a pulse and are paying attention to what is going on and Will Pinkston who is a far left radical can see apparently that there is no a lot of support to keep Shawn Joseph on board and that is why he is resigned in a huff.

Gill: And you look at just that chaos, who is looking out for the kids? And I’d say the same thing in Williamson County. While you’ve got Mike Looney looking at building his empire and pushing this agenda that everybody in Williamson County is racist and he actually has a cause people who helped put this together were tweeting together to keep this secret because they don’t want people to know what they are doing.

Leahy: And that is a lot of it. They want to keep it away from the school board members and we will get into the legal status of it here in a second. Here is the clip two from Williamson County school board member Candy Emerson at the Williamson County schools board meeting last night.

(Clip 2 of Emerson) I have had a lot of calls and concerns that it could have been avoided if the board had been appropriately informed about the making of these videos an opportunity to see them. A little bit of input into maybe some of the conversation of things.

Gill: That is Candy Emerson a Williamson County school board member and man she is out by her lonesome because the Wlliamson County School Board members pretty much worship at the altar of Mike Looney who was there employee who yet treat him like their boss. Twelve members of the school board and I like you listened to the video, YouTube video, go to our story at the Tennessee Star today about Mike Looney and saying he is taking responsibility not accountability like you mentioned Steve for this culturally competency series which by the way we will get to it in a second. They claim was in compliance with state law but we’ll show you was not in compliance with state law.

Gill: And it’s not just in violation of the department of education rules. It’s in violation of the State Board of Education rules.

Leahy: The guidelines there that all these professional learning development activities must be aligned with student curriculum clearly not aligned with student curriculum. We asked the State Board of Education, another story at the Tennessee Star. Where does white privilege show up in the social studies standards? Their answer. It doesn’t.

Gill: And yet their teaching the teachers with their in-service outside the standards, outside the curriculum of the school board and their supposed to be teaching aligned with those standards and that curriculum. You know the other thing that interests me as we kind of look at this story continue to unfold. There are one hundred and forty school districts around the state. How many others are engaged in this sort of junk. And what pressure is being put on those school districts. Those school superintendents to come forth to their board and be honest about what they’re doing. We know it’s happening in other places. WE know that Knox County for example allocated one hundred and seventy thousand dollars to their cultural competency teaching. We know Wilson County and others have apparently have been engaging in some form of this. When are legislators going to step up and demand accountability and demand that their oversight into the department of education, call Penny Schwinn forward. Why aren’t you enforcing the rules? Why aren’t you enforcing the law> Now I know she’s new on the job. But when you start a job, you’re on the job.

Leahy: Yeah.

Gill: And she needs to get on the job. Now I know the governor’s office and the governor’s team, they’re all focused on this legislative push to get a charter re-authorization bill passed and to push their ESA education saving account plan. You got to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time. And Penny Schwinn isn’t over there lobbying legislators on this stuff. She ought to be focused on why aren’t school districts and school superintendents following the law.

Leahy: They’re not following the law.

Gill: And why are the people in my departments forcing them to follow the law. They need to be cleaning house like crazy over by the Department of Education.

Leahy: Here’s more from Candy Emerson clip three if you could play it board member of the Williamson County schools at the board meeting last night.

(Clip 3 of Emerson) The board can’t be supportive Dr. Looney if we are not informed. And that for me was one of the most difficult things this week. Feeling like this kind of came out of the blue and I think that this is also an opportunity for us to look as a board to some things that we may need to change in terms of things that we’re going to want from you to make sure we’re informed, that we’re engaged. Some of us, I taught for over twenty-five years and some of the language in that third, just the title alone, if I had seen the title alone I would have told you that that is not a good way to start. White privilege was just that, it was not, it was offensive and it set people off. 

Leahy: That’s Candy Emerson on the board who makes a point. This is by the way the reason that the Tennessee General Assembly passed a law in nineteen ninety two and the governor McWherter signed it that said in-service training plans must be approved by the local board of education. Candy Emerson did not approve that in-service training plan back in.

Gill: It wasn’t even submitted then.

Leahy: It wasn’t even submitted for approval. She didn’t even learn about it until we got an open records request and published the video legally earlier this month. So clearly a problem. Now what’s interesting about this is the justification that the general council for Williamson County schools put forward. Jason Golden.

Gill: Where did Jason Golden get his law degree?

Leahy: I don’t know.

Gill: Did he use one of those little match books, fill this out and we’ll send you a law degree.

Leahy: I don’t know.

Gill: Because his analysis of the law indicates probably never read a law.

Leahy: Well not only that. We’ll play his clip, but basically it’s a throw down. Basically they say, “Well we violated the law, but we didn’t really, we’ve got this definition that says, we don’t think we violated the law.” But then he threw it down to the Department of Education and said, “Well come get us and prove we didn’t.”

Gill: Yeah, Penny Schwinn we dare you to do something.

Leahy: That’s exactly what he did. So here’s a clip from Williamson County schools general counsel, Jason Golden, last night at the board meeting.

(Clip 4 of WCS General Counsel Jason Golden)  Dr. Looney, you had actually addressed it a second ago. And we had a couple of questions for board members, Dana Osbrooks and I over the past few days, most specifically regarding TCA 496-3004 which is the school calendar law which also includes a requirement for approval of what we call professional development and what the laws actually calls in-service days. Number one it requires five days in-service using that language plus an approval of the plan. By virtue of your vote in May of two thousand and eighteen we concluded that you are compliant without law on that plan. As Dr. Looney stated its largely what has been shown to you and providedly related to budget and we had not heard anything from the state that counters our conclusions. 

Gill: So they decide that a plan is this calendar that was approved. We’re going to do this in-service days on these specific days. We’re going to do spring break on this time. We’re going to do these other. I mean it was a calendar. And now they’re trying to say oh it was a plan and we dare the state board of education and the state department of education to say otherwise.

Leahy: Yep and you know I think we’re going to ask the Commission Schwinn if she’s going to say otherwise.

Gill: I would hope that we have at least one legislator that might submit a request for an opinion from the Attorney General as to whether or not a calendar constitutes a plan under the clear meaning and intent of the law. One legislator could just send a letter to Attorney General Herb Slattery and say, “Is this a plan?”

Leahy: Or a calendar and therefore in violation of the law.

Gill: Yeah the problem is, what punishments are there other than a little more scrutiny and disallowing the in-service days forcing them to do it over again. A little more embarrassment might force a couple of school board members out of their job in the next election.

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You can listen to the show segment here:


Background Photo “Jason Golden” by Williamson County Television. 








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