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)

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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. It’s honestly not surprising to me that, according to this article looking at the target market of hemp products, Millenials like myself are spending more money on CBD solutions to help us manage our mental health during these uncertain times. Like the rest of the world, I 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.

Mitchell’s Bill To Kill Lee’s Vouchers Dies

WATCH: “Delete the voucher program… it’s ILLEGAL… we’re wasting the courts’ time with something we know is wrong.”

Bo Mitchell’s bill to kill Gov. Lee’s “UNCONSTITUTIONAL” private school vouchers fails for lack of a second.
(Thanks to: Byrd, Moody, Dunn, White, Deberry, Cochran)

ANOTHER “L” FOR LEE: GOV’S #1 PRIORITY (VOUCHERS) DECLARED “UNCONSTITUTIONAL”

If you’ve been following us for any amount of time hopefully you have some context on this, but just in case, here’s a quick rundown of how we got to this point…

Governor Lee made public school-harming private school vouchers his #1 priority coming into office.

Not fixing our public schools, which get an “F” for funding. Not fixing health care, which has us at #1 in Medical bankruptcies & rural hospital closures per capita, which could easily be addressed by expanding medicaid and accepting the $1 BILLION of OUR OWN TAX DOLLARS earmarked for us every year.

Nope. Vouchers.

Lee wants to see MILLIONS of public school funds steered to private (often religious/Christian) schools. To get it passed, he had the help of Trump Secretary of Education Betsy Devos, who is on record saying her agenda is to “Advance God’s Kingdom” by raiding the public school war chest in America, and disgraced former speaker Glen Casada, who held the tie vote open for 35 minutes until he finally coerced Rep. Jason Zachary of Knoxville into flipping his vote and selling out Tennessee’s public schools.

To be clear, NONE of the rural reps wanted vouchers for their own districts. They only wanted to impose them on Nashville and Memphis and their more diverse student bodies… even though many admitted they wouldn’t want that done to their districts.

The rollout was equally problematic. The Tennessee Dept. of Education handed out an expensive no-bid contract for more than the amount that was allocated to the program, and Lee intentionally sped up the rollout an extra year for no apparent reason other than impatience. Many Republican representatives began to regret their votes for the bill, including TN GOP House Caucus leader Jeremy Faison. 

There were also rumors of an FBI investigation, the offering of military promotions, the list goes on… which brings us to last night, when the program was finally declared “unconstitutional” by a court after Shelby & Davidson counties sued.

Another L for Lee.

It isn’t over. There will be challenges. But Lee’s losing streak in the courts continues, a natural extension of a radical right agenda in a GOP supermajority state where the only backstop the constitution has is the judicial branch. Thankfully, for now, it seems to be holding up.

HERE WERE SOME REACTIONS:

 

Of course, not everyone is thrilled. Senator Brian Kelsey makes it clear there will be appeals.

Republicans Block Hodges’ Virus Worker Relief For the Underemployed

Watch the GOP Block a Jason Hodges Amendment for Tennessee’s underemployed that would cost half ($20 MILLION) of what Bill Lee’s vouchers are costing ($41 MILLION), which remain in the budget.

Rep. Mark White, Who Ripped Lee’s Charter Nominee for OUTING KIDS, Did the SAME To His Opponent

House Education Committee chair Rep. Mark White (R-Memphis) is among the Republicans who have spoken out against Mary Pierce, one of the nine people Governor Bill Lee nominated for his new charter school board commission, because she used the children of Reps Mike Stewart & Bo Mitchell against them – naming the schools their children go to in an attempt to discount their opposition to Governor Bill Lee’s public school-harming SCHOOL VOUCHERS.

Problem is, Rep. White once did the VERY SAME THING to his opponent Jerri Green, currently running against him in HD-83.

Governor Bill Lee has nominated 9 people to be members of a new state charter school commission that has the power to overrule local school boards and ram charter schools down the throats of rural communities that may not want them for fear that they will drain resources from already severely underfunded public schools, which is what has happened in California and many places like it.

Tennessee has an “F” in school funding under this Republican supermajority, so the fears of rural school boards would be understandable, but the commission is on the verge of becoming a reality anyway thanks to Governor Lee and his Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn.

2 of Lee’s charter commission nominees, Alan Levine and Mary Pierce have met resistance from opponents.

The pushback to Levine came from Rep. Gloria Johnson, who rightly pointed out that Alan Levine was the mouthpiece for the company HMA, lying on 60 Minutes before they were forced to pay $260 MILLION IN FINES FOR MEDICARE FRAUD, had filed bogus charges against protestors in Kingsport who protested his company for over 200 days, and is the CEO of Ballad Health, which was exposed in the NY Times for SUING THOUSANDS OF PATIENTS WHO COULDN’T AFFORD TO PAY THEIR BILLS.

What a guy.

The resistance to Mary Pierce on the other hand came from Democrats and Republicans alike who took exception to her dragging the children of Reps Mitchell & Stewart into the conversation about school vouchers, going so far as to naming the schools their kids attend.

Rep. Mark White, the chair of the Education Committee, had this to say:

“You should never talk about someone else’s children.”

One problem — White did the EXACT same thing to Jerri Green, his opponent in HD-83, calling out where her children go to school to discount her opposition to Lee’s public school harming school vouchers program, which have been the source of much controversy due to the “bribes and threats” used by Lee to get them passed – including a military promotion – and used a $4 Million slush fund that seems to have appeared to grease the skids, and a problematic “sketchy” rollout around an overly expensive no-bid contract that “robbed” from teacher bonus pay  which has even Republican leaders regretting their vote.

Here’s White outing Green’s kids EXACLY the same way Pierce did, in the Daily Memphian:

Hypocrisy much, Rep. White?

It’s worth noting that the school White mentions IS a public school – not a magnet or private school – it just has a special contract with the University of Memphis to help train teachers.

“It was our neighborhood school,” says Green.

If you feel like letting White know how you feel about his blatant hypocrisy, holler at him HERE.

And to learn more about Green’s campaign to unseat him, find more info HERE.

 

VIDEO: Gov. Bill Lee’s “FRAUD” Charter Board Appointment Alan Levine BLOCKED

Rep. Gloria Johnson protests Charter School Commission nominee Alan Levine – subject of a 60 Minutes expose on MEDICARE FRAUD after which his company paid $260 MILLION in fines, and CEO of Ballad Health, recently ripped in the NY Times FOR SUING THOUSANDS OF POOR PATIENTS. 

Ballad was protested for 200 days in Kingsport for a reason. Do better, Governor.

Senator Bowling Doubles Down Against Early Childhood Ed, Denies Telling Moms To Stay Home

We caught up with Senator Janice Bowling about her controversial comments about early childhood education and implying moms should stay home like she did – which she denies saying and says we twisted.

You be the judge!

 

RURAL CHARTERS COMING SOON? (TN Ed Report)

THIS POST WAS ORIGINALLY SEEN ON THE TENNESSEE EDUCATION REPORT… For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport

On Feb. 5, Gov. Bill Lee’s education chief presented the department’s “Best for All” plan to layout the administration’s goals for future of education in Tennessee.

During the 27-slide presentation, commissioner Penny Schwinn briefly described a new initiative to increase the number of charter schools operating in rural school districts.

Schwinn told the audience of mostly legislators and staff that a $24 million line item for “Charter Schools Facilities Funding” in the governor’s budget included a $10 million, one-time grant for high school charter facilities called “Innovative High School Models.”

Schwinn said:

“…and Innovative High School Models. The thing that I want to touch on there is the governor proposed $12 million recurring, $12 million one time for charter school facilities funds.

One of the things that we’re proposing with the one-time funds is $10 million that would go to help build public charter schools with districts — in partnership with districts — to create more opportunities for students in rural communities.

One would suspect that rural districts would be very interested to know the Commissioner’s plans for expanding charter schools into their territory. Perhaps the new school privatization commission will be the vehicle to make this happen?

Slide Showing Funds for Rural Charters

For more on education politics and policy in Tennessee, follow @TNEdReport