Years ago, I aligned myself with a group of people who opposed the implementation of a balanced calendar in the Williamson County Schools.
At the time, there appeared to be a growing groundswell of support for a school calendar in which school would begin in July with intermittent two or three-week breaks in fall, winter and spring, and a shorter summer break.
For a number of reasons upon which I will not now elaborate, I opposed this type of calendar. I found like-minded county citizens who felt the same way. We researched the topic, gathering information from other schools across the state and country who had such a calendar.
We wrote letters and made calls to our school board representatives and school administration. I wrote a couple of letters to the now defunct Williamson A.M. expressing my opinion and hoping to raise awareness. We also had productive discussions with folks who were in favor of such a calendar.
Before the matter was resolved, I had to withdraw from involvement due to the sudden death of my father in Arkansas and having to deal with his estate. But the debate continued and ultimately, the school board voted to continue with the “traditional” calendar in place.
There was some talk at the time of petitioning the Tennessee legislature to propose a state law that would govern the start date for all schools in Tennessee. That never got anywhere, and even among my friends who opposed the balanced calendar, there was the feeling we would rather keep it local.
Some years later, there was a proposal to extend Mallory Lane from Cool Springs to a connector road with Interstate 65, through what was called the “Flagpole Property.” This road would have run behind the neighborhood in which I live, and I was opposed to it.
Like the matter with the schools, I joined with my neighbors and other Brentwood citizens who were against the road. Because it would have required approval from the Brentwood City Commission, we worked directly with them and let them know our feelings, as did those who favored the road being developed.
In addition, we met with the developer who very much wanted to build the road. There were two churches that strongly favored it, as it would have simplified access to their properties. There were conversations with their representatives.
In the end, the city commission declined to act but, rather, put it to a referendum so Brentwood voters could decide. It was voted down.
I reference these two occasions not to underscore that I was on the winning side (I have been on the losing end many times), but to emphasize how things can work on the local level. In both cases, passions ran high on each side, but every discussion and every exchange, as I recall, was civil.
And in both cases, a higher government entity did not become involved. As I said, with the school issue, consideration was given to seeking state legislative action, but that did not occur. I think that was a good thing.
I also cite these examples to convey the concern I have when state or federal entities do become involved in local matters. Although, as the saying goes, “all politics are local,” issues become really political really fast when they are escalated to the state or the Feds.
You might recall, earlier in the pandemic, Governor Lee declined to implement a statewide mandate regarding mask-wearing. Time and again, he emphasized the importance of local governments making their own decisions and he made similar comments about school districts.
Although I have all along been pro-mask and would not have objected to a temporary statewide mandate similar to that of neighboring states, I saw the governor’s point about local bodies and letting them handle matters such as this.
But there is some inconsistency, and I’m afraid this is where politics comes in.
Last year, the legislature passed an ambiguous law regarding the way racial issues are taught in Tennessee schools, a law which the governor supported and signed.
The law was proposed and passed in response to concern about critical race theory, or CRT, which is a complicated legal theory that has historically been discussed in colleges and law schools. There is no evidence of it being taught in Tennessee schools.
I might add, among CRT opponents and proponents, it is difficult to find someone who can adequately define it.
But Tennessee legislators, with the support of the governor, chose to join with their brethren in other strongly red states to pass a law that would allegedly address this allegedly harmful legal theory.
The law says nothing about CRT but has cryptic statements about addressing race and history. If I were a teacher, I would read this and be scared to death of running afoul of this law and losing my job.
Moreover, I must wonder if teachers are glossing over important historical moments for fear of being accused of breaking this law. In my view, that would be sad.
And it seems to me those with concerns about this could have addressed it locally. From what I can tell, the current schools administration will bend over backwards to respond to inquiries and concerns.
There is a good recent example from last year. A parents group called Moms for Liberty asked the Williamson County school system to review books it felt should be removed from the curriculum due to inappropriate content.
A five-member committee was formed which reviewed a total of 31 books over nearly six months. The committee made the decision to remove one book, issuing a 114-page report explaining their findings.
Moms for Liberty soon published a statement expressing dissatisfaction with the committee’s work, and they have appealed to the Tennessee Department of Education. That is their right to do so, and the process will continue.
There are possible bills being proposed during the current legislative session that address school curriculum and school library books. This is on the heels of the McMinn County school board banning the graphic novel “Maus,” an act that has resulted in national attention and cries of censorship.
It is a highly charged and emotional issue with passions high on both sides. Everyone has the right to make their opinions known and, if they see fit, make use of appeals processes that take things to a higher level.
I for one, however, still have much faith in our local governing bodies and administrators. And I think it is wise, as one considers escalating to higher entities, to be careful what one wishes for.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at [email protected].