Williamson County Parent Group Speaks Out on Book Bans

Williamson County parent group OneWillCo spoke out this week on the issue of book banning and giving authority the State Textbook Commission to ban books in public school libraries.

Here’s more from a press release:

In light of the state-wide polling that shows that Tennesseans are opposed to book bans, the co-founders of One WillCo, Revida Rahman and Jennifer Cortez, speak up about their ongoing work in Williamson County Schools. One WillCo works to support equity, representation, and safety in schools for students of all races and backgrounds.

“Just like the majority of Tennesseans, at One WillCo we believe that whatever our color or background, we want our children to have an education that tells the truth about our shared history,” said Revida Rahman, one of the founders of One WillCo. “Unfortunately, we are at a point where there is a loud minority of people who are trying to silence voices and ban books that tell the truth in an age-appropriate way. When I see leaders trying to censor the truth of our history, passing laws to ban learning from the mistakes of our past and to erase leaders–even those like Martin Luther King, Jr.–who stood up to racism and changed our country for the better, I am discouraged. But seeing the results of this polling and knowing the majority of Tennesseans agree with us that book bans are not the way to move forward, we are energized to continue to join together, speak up at school board meetings, and do the hard work of ensuring that every student, no matter their race, is able to feel safe in school and receive a high quality education that allows them to feel seen, heard, and represented.”

“From our work in Williamson County we know that the vast majority of parents and educators agree that our students need to learn the truth about our history so we can learn from the past and create a better future together,” said Jennifer Cortez, one of the founders of One WillCo. “And thanks to this polling, we know that the majority of Tennesseans across the state agree with us. Students miss out when we attempt to whitewash our history, or worse yet, to perpetuate myths about what has happened in our country surrounding race. Even many of our lawmakers lack a basic understanding of much of our nation’s history surrounding race; we were never taught it. Today’s students, and students of future generations deserve to know the whole story of our nation’s history, even the parts we wish we could erase. Only an honest education will prepare our children for the future, equip them with the knowledge they deserve, and help them better understand the lives, cultures and experiences of different people. Not only does this provide our children with a high quality education, it also creates an environment where students of all races feel represented and safe.” 

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What Does Moms for Liberty Want?

Williamson County School Board member Eric Welch provided an analysis of the agenda of Moms for Liberty on a Twitter thread recently. Then, he outlined the reality of the curriculum selection/textbook adoption process in Williamson County and highlighted an alternative text proposed by Moms for Liberty – all in a public meeting of the school board.

Here’s video of Welch discussing the manufactured controversy driven by parents who often don’t even have kids in public schools:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1496506170449833989?s=20&t=Mz2PnHsiv99ELr9YlSR5mg


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Cardoza-Moore in the House?

It seems that Laurie Cardoza-Moore is interested in becoming a member of the Tennessee House of Representatives.

Here’s more on Moore:

Her business model?

Well, her 2017 IRS 990 form offers some insight.

That year, Moore’s group – Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN) raised just over $1 million.

What’d she do with the cash?

Well, she paid herself $130,000. Then, she paid her husband’s business $67,000. There was a business “office expense” for occupancy at just over $49,000. She runs PJTN from her home, so that means she’s paying her mortgage with the cash. That’s $200,000 in payments to Moore and her husband, and another 50,000 a year to cover their mortgage. Then, there’s another $26,000 paid to Moore as an “occupancy expense.” Oh, and there’s $41,000 on “meals and entertainment.” Finally, her two kids received a total of around $2000 from the organization for “contract labor” that year.

Peddling ignorance is quite profitable, it seems. After all, that’s just one year of her “thriving” business.

And there’s also this:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today renewed its call for Tennessee to drop consideration of anti-Muslim activist and possible 9/11 truther Laurie Cardoza-Moore to that state’s Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission. Cardoza-Moore leads the Franklin, Tenn., group Proclaiming Justice to the Nations (PJTN).

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A Call for Local Control

The Williamson County school board voted unanimously to oppose Gov. Lee’s plan to allow charter schools to bypass local school boards and appeal directly to Lee’s state charter commission.

That Lee continues to aggressively push a privatization agenda should come as no surprise:

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A Child of Fear

Students in Williamson County spoke out against censorship at a recent school board meeting. The move is likely preemptive as groups like Moms for Liberty seek to have books removed from school libraries and/or curriculum.

Here’s footage from the board meeting:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1496199268306194437?s=20&t=pzXV-dIN-lindI63kiIkeA

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1000 Cuts

A Williamson County teacher explains what it is like to be a teacher in Tennessee right now:

https://twitter.com/TheTNHoller/status/1494768171294863362?s=20&t=HdIBTWSPVC6Z8btGFt1UlA

Of course, the legislature is responding in the only way they know how:

This type of attack has been going on for more than a decade now:

Make no mistake. These cuts are intentional. The forces of privatization are using all the tools to erode the teaching profession and set public schools up to fail. The nail in the coffin will likely be a new state funding formula that paves a path for a voucher scheme.

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The Smackdown with Eric Welch

Wherein a Williamson County School Board member takes Moms for McCarthyism to school:

Keep reading – it’s pretty great!

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Williamson County Schools Approves Mid-Year Pay Increase

Last night, the Williamson County School Board unanimously approved a mid-year pay raise for teachers and staff. If approved by the County Commission, teachers will receive a 3% raise and hourly staff will see a $1/hour pay increase, effective January 31st. The unusual move of raising pay for teachers and staff mid-year is happening because of severe teacher and staff shortages. The district currently has 71 teaching openings.

Williamson Strong live-tweeted the meeting and provided the key stats:

The move in Williamson County comes as districts across the state struggle with teacher retention issues exacerbated by the pandemic.

The move is also happening while Gov. Bill Lee and state policymakers examine Tennessee’s school funding formula. So far, that has not resulted in a serious discussion about dramatically raising teacher pay. In fact, this story highlights the level of priority placed on teacher pay in the state:

The current state minimum salary schedule for teachers sets the minimum salary for a Tennessee teacher at $38,000.

A Tennessee teacher with a bachelor’s degree would need to work for 10 years in order to achieve a mandated minimum salary above $44,000.

Now, however, brand new correctional officers will earn more than teachers with 10 years of experience. Yes, corrections officers deserve a raise.

It will be interesting to see what districts across the state do in 2022-23 and beyond to improve salary and working conditions for teachers and if the state’s new funding formula provides any help in this arena.

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A Plea for Teachers

Williamson County school advocacy group Williamson Strong posted a plea for residents to take action to urge policymakers to improve teacher pay.

Here’s what they posted to Facebook relative to the teacher shortage and staffing crisis:

· URGENT: We’re hearing multiple reports of a massive teacher/staff exodus from WCS.

YOU have the power to fix this. If you can’t be loud for this, don’t complain when your kid’s teacher doesn’t show up on Jan. 5th. What did you do to advocate for them? Starbucks and Target gift cards 1-2 times a year aren’t going to cut it.

Do you know your county commissioners’ names? You should. They approve the budget that pays for your children’s school staff salaries. (PS They also get “free” health insurance for a *very* part-time job, which is rich when our teachers have had their benefits cut short.)

If you’re a WCS parent, you know all about the staffing shortages in our schools this year. Many kids don’t have a science teacher, math, foreign language, special ed, etc. – and they can’t find enough subs to cover every day. Cafeteria workers, bus drivers, SACC workers, the things we’ve all gotten numb to hearing about because we think it’s normal to not have them in place.

It is *not normal* to ask parents to work the school lunch lines serving food.

But it’s about to get worse, starting THIS month. WCS teachers & staff are opting for early retirement or moving to other districts for 3 reasons from what we’re hearing:

1. Better pay. WCS is not competitive with Metro, for starters. Yet many of our young teachers live in Nashville (sure can’t afford to live here on those salaries in this housing market!) with tough commutes (especially with our ridiculously early start times in middle/high school) because they want to teach in WCS, despite the lower pay. Our kids are awesome. Everyone says that.

2. Benefits. Our retirement health benefits are not competitive with surrounding districts, and teachers start to figure that out as they have more experience and start thinking about retirement down the road.

3. The parents can be pretty tough here. We’ll leave it at that, but the insane abuse of the last 1.5+ years directed at teachers, staff, and administrators has many at a breaking point. (Stop being mean to school staff. Seriously. Cut it out.)

WHAT CAN WE ALL DO?

The County Commissioners are beginning their budgeting process right now. And they’re the ones holding the purse strings! They all love to say we can’t afford to increase our school budget, 85%+ of which goes towards salaries – because although we may be one of the wealthiest counties in the entire COUNTRY, we can’t find the money for teachers even at the state average, much less the national one. It’s beyond shameful.

DEMAND that the Commission fix this. They have the power. Literally! They know how to solve this, don’t let them tell you otherwise. You, the voters, are their constituents. You’re their boss.

Tell them to pay our teaches what they deserve, and if not? We’re all going to elect new County Commissioners who care about teachers come August. Every single one of them is up for re-election in 2022, and they’re going to start campaigning any month now.

And School Board members? Tell them the same. They should be kicking and screaming about this issue (instead of howling over curriculum like some of them are doing, month after month.) Priorities are showing. Half of them are up for election in 2022 as well.

Email them all. Today. Every day. Tell your friends to do the same. If you can’t find time to do this, don’t complain when your child’s teacher quits and leaves….when there’s a new face there in January, or they just have rotating subs every day or week.

Don’t complain if you don’t do your part to fix this. YOU are the constituent. YOUR tax dollars pay for teacher salaries. Tell the people who set the budgets how you want those dollars spent.

It’s a crisis. What we’ve been in national headlines for lately? NOT a crisis. Stop being distracted by the noise and let’s collectively start fighting for our educators.

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Declined

Cancel culture advocates Moms for Liberty saw a complaint they filed around curriculum in Williamson County rejected by the Tennessee Department of Education. The complaint did not follow proper procedure and was related to an issue outside the timeframe allowed in legislation that attempts to strictly regulate how issues around race are taught in schools.

The Tennessean has more:

The Tennessee Department of Education recently declined to investigate a complaint filed under a new state law prohibiting the teaching of certain topics regarding race and bias.

The complaint, the first directed to the state under the new law passed this spring, was filed by Robin Steenman, chair of the Moms for Liberty Williamson County chapter, a conservative parent group sweeping the nation.

The group detailed concerns with four specific books on subjects like the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington, the integration of California schools by advocate Sylvia Mendez and her family, and the autobiography of Ruby Bridges, adapted for younger learners.

The TDOE did not rule on the merits of the complaint, however.

“Please note that in declining to investigate these claims, the department has not made a determination regarding the merits of these allegations. We encourage you to work with the Williamson County School District to resolve the issues and concerns related to your complaint and ensure compliance with state law,” the letter said.

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