Williamson County Schools recently decided to do away with a series of training videos meant to help teachers better approach sensitive subjects like race.
The move came after pressure from the Williamson County Republican Party, which objected to a section on privilege. It also followed allegations of racially motivated bullying and complaints about insensitive homework assignments, leading two teachers to resign.
Amelia Knisely, who covers Williamson County education for The Tennessean, has closely followed these stories. She sat down with WPLN's Jason Moon Wilkins to parse through the recent developments.
Listen to the interview above, or read interview highlights below.
What originally prompted the district to create these videos?
AK: "About a year ago, in 2018, a group of concerned parents came to Dr. Looney, the superintendent of Williamson County Schools, and just brought a myriad of concerns — many of which were race-related. Really, it was prompted by some issues they had with yearly field trips to plantations. On those field trips, comments were made by tour guides that the parents found were offensive and in many cases glorifying slavery. So these parents went to Dr. Looney. … He decided to spend this school year that we're in right now focusing on making the district more inclusive. He has said that the videos were his idea."
Why did the county's Republican Party object to the video?
AK: "The [online conservative news outlet] Tennessee Star filed an open records request with the district about the videos. That was how the Williamson County Republican Party picked up on them and that language of 'indoctrinating students' and teachers, which is what the Republican Party accused the district of doing, kind of came out of those Tennessee Star stories."
It seems like these homework assignments, like the one asking students to weigh the pros and cons of slavery, were not necessarily new or even isolated incidents. What else have you heard from parents?
AK: "I think parents continue to be very concerned about the field trips [to plantations]. You know I had one parent who had a child in the district many years ago. ... She went on a field trip and heard very insensitive comments about slavery. She now has a grandchild in the district who went on the same field trip this past year and heard the exact same comments from the same tour guide. Also, parents have reported just some insensitive language used on school buses and in classrooms."
So what is the district doing to change these videos? And what comes next?
AK: "The district will not be showing these videos again, according to Dr. Looney. They were part of a professional development series for this school year, and it remains to be seen what they'll do next school year. The district is also going to roll out a new social studies curriculum in August, and Dr. Looney has said that ahead of that curriculum coming out, they are going to provide extensive training to their teachers on how to teach issues like slavery and race."