Education in Crisis

“I don’t feel I’m getting the guidance from the State that I should be getting as a teacher.”
 
Jay Clark for TN House D8 and Blount County teachers talk about the need for clear guidance and consistency from the State during COVID19 on Scrappy Time.
 

What About Us and Government Transparency?

Elizabeth Madiera, House Candidate for District 63, discusses the murkiness surrounding the passage of the voucher bill under her opponent Glen Casada’s “leadership”. It’s unpopular, unconstitutional, under investigation by the FBI, and unseated him as leader of the house. We need the General Assembly to be out of the Republican supermajority, better balanced, and more transparent to achieve better legislation.

FULL PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts here, and wherever else you like to listen here.

UT-Knoxville Student: “If Anyone Dies, Blood Is On Her Hands.”

“I have read people say, kind of cynical people I think, young people won’t do it, College students won’t do it. They will not stop partying.”

On the 21st of August the UT Knoxville YouTube channel uploaded a video of Chancellor Plowman addressing her student body. This video is meant to reassure students that she believes in us, and that she thinks that we can make this work.

What she does not acknowledge is the fact that these ‘cynical people’ are the student body she’s trying to ‘inspire’.

To be fair, I see where she’s coming from. There is not one person in this generation that I know who is not sick of older generations thinking we are too lazy or entitled to care for others. If you want to pander, this is a good way to do it, especially for ‘cynical’ people.

What this message fails to realize is that those cynics are not the ones who need to be inspired to follow the guidelines. The students who need to be inspired are the ones who do not care, as the consequences don’t have real impact for them.

I am one of those ‘cynical’ people who does not think that is going to work. I would love to be proved wrong, but I cannot afford to be optimistic when it could have dire consequences for those I care about.

What I do not think the chancellor is taking into account is the very real lived experiences of the students she is supposed to serve.

I am currently lucky enough to have all online classes, however one of my roommates isn’t so lucky. The problem is, I am now exposed to the campus environment even if I don’t set foot on campus at all this semester. I also have to work, and so does my roommate, which means we are both at a bigger risk of being infected.

We have been told that there will be consequences for students who do not adhere to guidelines, and that these students could get expelled. This would be great, if this was not a virus with a two week incubation period. By the time these students are facing consequences students who are immunocompromised will also be facing consequences of the now-expelled-student. If it were me, and my life was now on the line, I would not be happy with that student simply being expelled.

I am so scared to go home, my brother has asthma, my dad just beat cancer, and my mom was a smoker for so many years. If I brought COVID-19 home, and someone in my family passed away because someone who had the virus decided to come out and not isolate, Chancellor Plowman expelling them would mean nothing to me.

That doesn’t bring my family back.

Risking students’ lives, their families lives, and other citizens of Knoxville, so the university can play football and make money from that is horribly unethical. This chancellor has lost a lot of my respect even bringing us back to campus. If she keeps us here, she will not be redeemable.

If anyone at UT dies, their blood is on her hands.

Rainey Dinsmore is a student at UT-Knoxville

Distressed Rural Counties with Carol Abney

Carol Abney, candidate for TN House District 38, knows about distressed counties and closed rural hospitals. Fentress and 3 other TN counties were removed from the bottom 10% of economic performers across the country but 2 more in this district remain on the list.  A licensed CPA, Carol discusses the tax burdens, limited resources, inaccessible medical care, and lack of job opportunities that keep rural residents distressed.  The TN Rural Initiative provides” window dressing” when real financial support from the state government is needed.

FULL PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts here, and wherever else you like to listen here.

SCRAPPY TIME – Education

This week on Scrappy Time, Jay Clark asks Blount County Teacher Rebecca Dickenson how we can help support teachers this school year when COVID-19 made an already difficult job dangerous to their lives.

INTRODUCING “What About Us?” by Sandra Rice

The first episode of “What About Us?” as part of The Tennessee Holler Podcast Network is LIVE!

What About Us? is a discussion about policies that impact rural Tennesseans. We dive into a variety of topics like healthcare, small businesses, employment, education and the environment. Tennessee is 93% rural with over 1.5 million residents, but resources and attention are often directed to urban areas. The rural way of life is valuable and we want to preserve it. We hope you’ll join us, and that you’ll keep thinking about us out here in rural Tennessee.

FULL PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts here, and wherever else you like to listen here.

Carol Swain Insanity

This past Sunday morning, The Holler’s Kanew joined FOX 17’s “Nashville in Focus” political panel along with the infamous Carol Swain. Swain is known for spewing top-notch GOP propaganda, and her talking points on this panel were no different. From downplaying the COVID19 pandemic to claiming that teachers shouldn’t be paid as much to teach remotely, Swain is in rare form on this panel.

Swain on Masks:

Swain on schools re-opening during COVID19:

Watch the full panel here.

STANDING TALL PODCAST – Community Schools

Gloria Johnson’s STANDING TALL podcast dropped a new episode today!

In this episode, Representative Johnson talks with Dr. Bob Kronick from the University of Tennessee and University Assisted Community Schools about how the community school model got started in Knoxville and how these schools could make a huge difference in underserved communities around our state.

Learn more about University Assisted Community Schools and donate.

FULL PODCAST available on Apple Podcasts, and wherever else you like to listen.

INTERVIEW: D.A. BRYANT DUNAWAY (On the Overton County Teacher Sexual Harassment Allegations)

FOR MORE INDEPENDENT, TRUTHFUL REPORTING LIKE THIS FOLLOW THE COOKEVILLE HOLLER HERE.

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AND SUBSCRIBE TO GET OUR EMAILS HERE.

If you follow our Facebook & Twitter pages you’ve probably seen us Hollerin’ about the situation in Overton County, where despite decades of allegations of sexual harassment of students, a teacher named Mark Lee is still allowed to be a teacher – even after a 90-day suspension (which already ended).

The Overton County School Board has been very slow to respond to the situation, and Livingston Academy, where Lee taught, was slow to bring in the authorities.

District Attorney Bryant Dunaway investigated, but wrote a letter to the TBI saying he couldn’t recommend any criminal charges because most of the allegations were about things Lee said, rather than what he did to the girls physically – although one of the brave girls who spoke out says he did rub his head on her stomach in the back of class one day while telling the rest of the class to look forward.

He also says the statute of limitations had run out because of how slow the school itself and the school board were in reporting it.

It’s worth noting that of the 3 girls who came forward, only one reported it during the time that Mark Lee’s cousin has been the principal.

Yes, you heard that right. Oh, and did we mention that director of schools, who has the power to fire him, is married to a former student of his?

Multiple allegations reaching back decades. Yet they let Mark Lee keep teaching, and were planning to send him to an elementary school until y’all hollered loud enough to help stop that.

But, he’s still a teacher. For now.

The case is closed, but the mothers and daughters are speaking up, the community is starting to push back, so we decided to reach out to District Attorney Bryant Dunaway to ask him about the way he handled the situation, and what can be done.

Below is that conversation.

If you agree Lee should be fired at the very least, contact the Overton County School Board HERE: 931-823-1287

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HOLLER:  We wanted to ask a few questions about the situation with The teacher Mark Lee. Can you tell us a little bit about what your process was in terms of looking into the allegations?

DUNAWAY:  Well that’s been publicly known already – I had the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation conduct an investigation. That was the process. With that in mind, I only deal with criminal matters… to see if any crime had been committed. So I asked that the investigation be done and it was.

HOLLER:  So did they interview the girls?

DUNAWAY:  They did talk with the girls, yes.

HOLLER:  And what was their finding? Did they make any sort of judgment on the believability of the allegations or accusations? 

DUNAWAY:  I can send you a copy of the letter… (he sent to TBI)

HOLLER:  We saw the letter.

DUNAWAY:  That’s really the conclusion there, the answers to those questions are in there.

HOLLER:  I guess what I’m trying to get at is he’s still teaching and people understandably have concerns.

DUNAWAY:  I tried to articulate in my letter (to the TBI) – see, I’m a criminal prosecutor. I looked at the situation to see if a crime had been committed or if there was a crime that could be prosecuted. It wouldn’t be proper for me to speak whether he’s violated any school policy or should be a teacher. I mean, I wouldn’t want my daughter in his classroom, that’s for sure. But the school board – it’s up to them to take disciplinary action or to decide whether to keep him employed or not. Really, the purpose of the TBI investigation was to determine whether there was a prosecutable crime, and that’s a very different inquiry than other types of things. 

HOLLER:  Is there anything that can be done to open it back up?

DUNAWAY:  Well it’s been investigated, why would it be opened back up? 

HOLLER:  If there were new accusations.

DUNAWAY:  I said that in my letter too, if there is new evidence or new information I always consider that. Of course I look at things through the lens of – is there a crime, or whether there’s a crime that’s been committed and is it able to be prosecuted. Whether or not he is a teacher or should be a teacher, you know there’s a lot of things about that whole situation that I’m disappointed with. It’s disappointing to me that the school administration as well as the local attorneys who brought this to light admitted they knew about these allegations since 2017 and didn’t report it to law enforcement or my office. It would have been nice to have had a timely report.

HOLLER:  So that was the principal or that was the school board?

DUNAWAY:  That was the school administration. I didn’t speak to the school board. But no complaints have been made to the school since 2017. The attorney says that he was receiving complaints as early as 2017, and nothing was reported to law enforcement or to my office.

HOLLER:  Do you think that could have anything to do with the fact that the principal is his cousin?

DUNAWAY:  I can’t speak to that, I can only speculate. He hasn’t always been the principal. He wasn’t the principal in 2017 when the initial reports from the one young lady were made. There was a different principal then.

HOLLER:  Is there any criminal recourse they could take to keep him out of the education system?

DUNAWAY:  Not criminally. I did do an investigation like I already said. I had to evaluate and see if a crime had been committed, and as I said in my letter. Based upon the evidence the primary complaint of all the girls was that he used inappropriate language toward them. There was only one allegation made that there was any physical touching at all, and that was claiming that he rubbed his head on her stomach over a desk and that’s it. There’s no allegation made by anybody of sexual contact or anything like that it’s all. He makes inappropriate comments, so that in and of itself is not a crime. It’s inappropriate, it shouldn’t be done. You see what I’m saying? In my personal opinion he shouldn’t be a teacher. But is that a crime? No. As I said in my letter, that the closest thing you could come to would maybe be harassment, which is a misdemeanor,  misdemeanor assault. Which you know, because of the delayed reporting, the statute of limitations has run on those.

HOLLER:  So the statute of limitations has run out on those crimes? That seems like a short period of time.

DUNAWAY:  It’s a year. One year on a misdemeanor. And so the complaints from 2017 have clearly run, and the 2019 ones were done early in the school year if I remember right.

HOLLER:  Even on a minor?

DUNAWAY:  Yes. There’s not much proof, the only proof you have of the head touching the stomach is the young lady’s statement. Do I believe her? Yes. He denies it, there are no witnesses to it. So the proof is not the strongest in the world, but that’s the best you got. Now everybody is up in arms about it, and I don’t blame them. It is very inappropriate talk with students like that.

HOLLER:  Which was corroborated by a lot of different people.

DUNAWAY:  Which I believe happened too, 100%. But it’s not a crime. It’s terrible, it’s inappropriate, but it’s not a crime that I can prosecute. Just making verbal sexual related jokes and off-color jokes like that. So that’s the situation. And I’m only speaking to the criminal aspect of it. Whether he’s inappropriate or not, the school board has got to make a decision on that.

HOLLER:  Hopefully they’re realizing they have to do more than they’ve done. A few days ago they were going to assign him to an elementary school but they’re reconsidering that from what we understand.

DUNAWAY:  So one of the things that you saw in my letter is that we uncovered and took a statement from a now adult who said she was a student back in 2003. Her complaint was that he made the same type of inappropriate comments. Still no allegation to physical or sexual contact, but just making inappropriate innuendos.

HOLLER:  Well it seems like everybody would feel a little bit better if they knew that he wasn’t going to be in the classroom anymore.

DUNAWAY:  I agree there, I don’t disagree with that at all.

HOLLER:  Appreciate you talking to us.

DUNAWAY:  Anytime, you’re welcome.

OP-ED: ‘TIL DEATH DO US PART – Being a Teacher in 2020

‘TIL DEATH DO US PART

Being a Teacher in 2020

By Tiffany Crow 

A Shelby County Schools teacher, parent, and a COVID survivor.

She wrote this letter to share her experience.

            As schools across the nation prepare for the upcoming school year (whether it be in person, hybrid, or completely virtual) teachers and families are writhing in agony with a sense of impending doom. One minute, we hear from superintendents and elected officials that we will be following data and “science” in efforts to plan for the upcoming year, and the next, we are being threatened with reduced funding and told that we will be going back to school buildings, in person, regardless of climbing case numbers, increasing death rates, and individuals being left with lifelong residual health issues from a virus that we still know so little about.

The decision facing parents is certainly a difficult one, but I must ask you… What about the TEACHERS?

What about the teachers who have historically spent all of their own extra time and money to make up for deficits in funding and staffing capacity?

What about the teacher who has cancer, and will now be asked to enter into the world’s largest experimental petri-dish of infection?

What about the teacher who has a child at home awaiting an organ transplant, in a one income household?

What about all of the teachers who will get sick and experience lifelong health complications, financial ruin due to excessive absence, or death?

Have we really convinced ourselves that these people don’t matter?

What about teachers like myself, a Covid-19 “survivor?”

Did I survive Covid-19? Yes, I did survive, but I, a previously healthy 27 year old, am now faced with what could be lifelong and possibly debilitating health issues. I have been “well” for quite some time now, yet I am not “well.” Plagued with daily fatigue, muscle weakness, rashes, heart rate fluctuations, chronic head and neck pain, insomnia, PTSD, digestive issues, and cognitive/memory issues. I am still unsure just how extensive or lasting these issues will be, but now that I am two months out from having a “mild” case of Covid-19, I am STILL facing these health complications.

For me, medical bills are piling up in a year with no teacher raises, no improvement in benefits, and no known salary schedule. It seems the only thing that has increased is the risk and demand for teachers.

Teachers across the nation are preparing for the worst. We are finalizing wills, upping our disability insurance, and maxing out on life insurance benefits. Many teachers are already purchasing PPE, cleaning products, plexiglass dividers, and other band-aid solutions to the astronomical catastrophe that awaits upon school re-entry.

Is virtual instruction anyone’s first choice, during normal circumstances? Most of us would say “NO!” I, too, believe there is no replacement for in person schooling, but I disagree with people who say virtual instruction cannot be valuable. I taught virtual summer school, and found it to be quite similar in strength and weakness to in person schooling. The advantages were great, however. My students were able to become true 21st century learners, and I was able to become a true 21st century teacher. I learned valuable tools that will work with virtual instruction, but will also be highly effective and enriching when we do return to “normal.” I was able to build community with students and parents, and my students were able to develop a sense of intrinsic motivation that I had not seen at large during the regular school year.

What began as a stressful virtual experience, ended with both student and teacher growth. I urge people to understand that planned virtual instruction is completely different from the patchwork crisis schooling that was offered last spring.

While I understand the need for schools to be open for working families, I respectfully ask that you remember that schools were never meant to serve as free childcare. Teachers are not trained or educated to serve as babysitters. We are also not trained or educated to serve as healthcare professionals or nurses. The bulk of our training and coursework centers around providing a service.

Although teachers and schools, for decades, have offered a variety of services outside of the realm of the service we actually offer (education), we have finally met our match with the coronavirus pandemic. This is a problem that may be beyond our efforts to “fix,” as teachers have done for so long. I certainly do not have the answers to solve the ills of a capitalist-obsessed society, but I want to be clear that the service we provide CAN and SHOULD be offered remotely until it is safe to physically enter school buildings.

The current state of our existence is filled with unrest, anxiety, sadness, and pain. I, too, wish that we could press a magic button and return to “normal,” but the reality is that we can’t, not for some time, anyway. What and who are we willing to risk in an effort to re-enter schools in person? How many deaths are acceptable? How many people, like me, who will live with health issues for the foreseeable future is acceptable? Does your fear of an educational setback outweigh my fear for my life?

For once, teachers are voicing hesitation, frustration, and fear, instead of just coming up with a self-sacrificing solution to the problem, and society is appalled. For once, we are begging to be able to put our own family and health first, and the backlash has been intense. Our passion is being weaponized, we are being accused of not caring about children, or not being flexible enough, or even being lazy and unwilling to work. How soon we forget the “backbone” of our society, along with all of the good work we have done. Teachers are strong, resilient, and creative, but this is one situation I don’t think we can “Donors Choose” our way out of.