Tennessee Lawmaker Slams Districts For Naming Underperforming Student Groups | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Lawmaker Slams Districts For Naming Underperforming Student Groups

Sep 10, 2019

A letter sent to parents by some Tennessee school districts puts a target on students of color, a state legislator claims.

Rep. Antonio Parkinson, D-Memphis, says the content and language of the document sent over the summer to inform parents their children's school is underperforming could cause bullying, because it names student groups that are falling behind.

The letters were sent to meet a federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act. It requires districts to notify parents in low-performing schools why they are receiving state intervention. But, a template sent to districts by the Tennessee Department of Education, suggests adding which student groups need help — something that Parkinson says is problematic.

"Especially given the climate that we are in, in regards to race relations our state and in our country," Parkinson says. "Anything can trigger additional separation and I think that this letter, the way that it was written and the way that they’ve gone out, plays right into that scenario.”

According to Chalkbeat, which first reported the story, Knox County sent letters to parents in 14 schools. At one majority white school, the district specifically said the performance of black students is what landed the school on the priority list.

Jennifer Johnson, a spokeswoman with the Tennessee Department of Education, says the letter should’ve explained that the student groups have been underserved, and not that they should be blamed. She said it’s the first time such a letter was issued.

The state has removed the template and is advising districts not to name specific student groups.