One day a Williamson County School Board member says she was caught off guard to learn school teachers had to watch videos preaching “white privilege” and America’s supposed dysfunctional history.
On another day, another school board member, when pressed for answers about these videos, referred all questions to Superintendent Mike Looney, who thought up the idea in the first place.
Later that week, at a gathering in Franklin, Looney told parents they were never supposed to see these videos and even publicly scolded a County Commissioner for asking questions about this curriculum.
Many parents have told The Tennessee Star they don’t believe Looney has shown enough transparency with board members, the public, or the media.
Many parents wonder if transparency is the order of the day when it comes to how the Williamson County School System does business — and they say the problem starts at the top, with Looney.
At last week’s Williamson County School board meeting, Looney told board members that, yes, they approved the in-service training program for academic year 2018-2019 when they approved the top line budget.
But board member Candy Emerson said she had no idea she voted for such a thing as in-service teacher training that featured “white privilege” when she voted yes to approve the top line budget for academic year 2018-2019.
As best The Star can determine, not a single member of the 12 member WCS board had any idea that the in-service teacher training included in the top line budget they approved for academic year 2018-2019 included “white privilege.”
The Star published the first three modules of this WCS Cultural Competency teacher training last month, the third of which emphasized that teachers should monitor their “white privilege.”
It was apparently not until the publication of these modules in The Star last month–March 2019, ten months after the board approved the budget in May 2018–that anyone on the board knew anything about “white privilege” training.
“I think one of the things that I want to say, being a board member, I was very blindsided by Module 3 [of the Williamson County Cultural Competency video series which features the concept of ‘white privilege’],” Emerson said.
“First of all I had no knowledge, at all, of the modules, the videos, being produced. 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 8, my parents and teachers and citizens, I was totally caught off guard. It could have been avoided if the board had been appropriately informed about the making of these videos, an opportunity to see them.”
Emerson told Looney that she and other board members cannot support him if he doesn’t inform them about what he’s doing.
“If I had seen the title alone in that third module [on ‘white privilege’] I would have told you that is not a good way to start. ‘White privilege,’ it was offensive, and it set people off,” Emerson said.
As The Star reported last week, Franklin resident Christine Deekens asked her school board representative Rick Wimberly about the videos at an in-person meeting, but he did not address her concerns.
Deekens said Wimberly’s responses were “outright copouts,” and he even suggested taking her concerns to Looney instead.
Looney serves under the authority of the school board members, and not the other way around.
Deekens sent a follow-up email to Wimberly and said the following:
“It seems to me that Dr. Looney has been given cart blanche to do whatever he deems is best without the board’s knowledge, or approval, or oversight. That’s a lot of power given to one person without any checks and balances. Quite frankly, this alarms me. And Rick, with all due respect, it just doesn’t make sense since as you well know Dr. Looney works for the board, not vice versa.”
Among other things, Deekens said Wimberly knew nothing about the development of the Cultural Competency Council, and when and how often they met.
Wimberly apparently forwarded Deekens’ email to Looney.
According to the email, Deekens asked Looney to give answers to Wimberly, and not her.
At a public meeting a few days later, Looney said Williamson County parents and members of the public were never supposed to see the Cultural Competency videos in the first place. Only teachers, Looney went on to say, were supposed to see them. Taxpayers paid for those videos, and The Star obtained them through an open records request.
“The video was not meant for you, and you should not have seen the video, in my opinion,” Looney told parents and other members of the public.
At that same meeting, County Commissioner Barb Sturgeon told Looney she disapproved of the videos.
“I don’t think anyone should be forced to be shamed because they did better than other kids, for whatever reason. It’s just a negative approach,” Sturgeon said, referring to Module No. 3’s “Privilege Walk,” where some people had to step forward or backward based on their race, sex, or sexual orientation.
“I want to know who thought that was an appropriate thing to put in the video?” Sturgeon asked.
To that, Looney said he didn’t see the video before it got published.
Sturgeon then told Looney she wished he had responded to an email she sent him about the videos a few weeks ago.
To that Looney said this:
“Yeah, I thought it (the email) was antagonistic, so I chose not to respond.”
Sturgeon said the email she sent was not antagonistic.
Also as reported, people involved in the Williamson County School System’s Cultural Competency Committee and people who support those efforts sent emails about the need for social justice and how to handle teachers who resist change.
Emails also reveal Cultural Competency Committee members did not want publicity or for members of the media to attend their meetings.
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