A Metro Nashville school board meeting heated up Tuesday night, as members of the board and audience members and community debated the leadership of schools director Shawn Joseph. The brouhaha follows over a year of criticism, including complaints over his hiring practices and handling of sexual harassment lawsuits against MNPS.
School board member Christiane Buggs began Tuesday night’s meeting with a passion, saying she had to address the elephant in the room: the fact that fellow board member Jill Speering had called for a protest against director Shawn Joseph.
She criticized Speering's decision to tell teachers they could wear masks if they wanted to remain anonymous.
"I’m not sure if Ms. Speering made the connection between the masked protest she encouraged today and those of yesteryears hailed by the Ku Klux Klan, but I did," Buggs said.
Buggs suggested the criticism over Joseph’s leadership is influenced by racial bias. She asked board members to put aside their differences, so they could pay attention to helping MNPS students.
Several audience members also spoke up during the public comment period, like parent Kelly Watlington, whose sentiments were met with booing from others in the audience.
"Dr. Joseph’s leadership style has been to divide and conquer. This room is proof of that alone. His lack of decent leadership qualities has brought all of us where we are now," said Watlington.
At the same time, a number of community members defended Joseph, including juvenile court Judge Sheila Calloway, who praised him for his focus on fair disciplinary practices in schools.
"Thank you Dr. Joseph, thank you for the programs and your support for all of students, not just a few," said Calloway. "Changing the climate from punitative to restorative and rehabilatative has been a task. ... Thank you for your leadership in stopping the suspensions and the arrests in elementary schools."