Parents' Choice

A Williamson County parents' rights group has sued the county's school system leadership and Tennessee's education leader over an oft-discussed Williamson County Schools curriculum adopted in 2020. 

The suit comes from Parents' Choice Tennessee, a Franklin-based group that says it focuses on "protecting the parents of Williamson County schoolchildren of all ages from harmful and age-inappropriate content." 

Allegations of WCS' "Wit & Wisdom" educational materials being "a violation of state law" anchor the litany of specific complaints made against the district and state.

Parents' Choice founder Trisha Lucente and her husband James are named as plaintiffs in the suit, with WCS Superintendent Jason Golden, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching Assessment Dave Allen, Commissioner of Education Penny Schwinn and the Williamson County Board of Education named as defendants.

The suit says the Lucentes have a child in the county school system. 

“The [Wit & Wisdom] curriculum was adopted through a process in violation of state law, and over the objections of several parents and educators who raised serious concerns about the graphic, racist and age-inappropriate nature of much of its content,” Trisha Lucente alleged in a release concerning the lawsuit.

The suit was filed in the 21st Judicial District Chancery Court Friday by Brentwood-based lawyer Larry Crain.

“The claims presented in this lawsuit raise serious constitutional concerns regarding the parental liberty rights of parents to direct and control the education and upbringing of their children,” alleged Crain in a release. “The school system has turned a deaf ear to these concerns, and this is what has prompted this action.”

Per Parents' Choice, the lawsuit "alleges that a language arts curriculum known as 'Wit & Wisdom' is replete with age-inappropriate materials which promote a skewed and racist view of history and portrays one race as inherently superior to another, or inherently privileged and oppressive. ... The 'Wit & Wisdom' materials present age-inappropriate material that causes children guilt, anguish and other forms of psychological harm, and discusses the United States as an irredeemably racist country."

Parents' Choice ultimately alleges that "critical race theory" is being implemented through the "Wit & Wisdom" teachings in question, which in turn would violate state law. 

Critical race theory is defined as "a cross-disciplinary intellectual and social movement of civil-rights scholars and activists who seek to examine the intersection of race, society and law in the United States and to challenge mainstream American liberal approaches to racial justice." 

Williamson County Schools has previously denied its "Wit & Wisdom" materials contain these concepts, as has Great Minds, the company that creates the materials used. The Tennessee Department of Education rejected a complaint from conservative group Moms for Liberty in 2021 with similar allegations of "CRT" being taught in WCS via "Wit & Wisdom." 

"Please note that in declining to investigate these claims, the department has not made a determination regarding the merits of these allegations," Schwinn, who was named in the suit, wrote at the time of the dismissal. "We encourage you to work with the WCS District to resolve the issues and concerns related to your complaint and ensure compliance with state law."

The rejected 2021 Moms for Liberty complaint involved some of the materials found in the Parents' Choice suit, including worries about books concerning Civil Rights figures like Ruby Bridges, Martin Luther King Jr. and the Mendez family. 

As mentioned above, the more than 170-page Parents' Choice lawsuit specifically deals with various allegations about the aforementioned "Wit & Wisdom" curriculum being in violation of state law in regard to "CRT." 

These allegations range from concerns about teachings about American history, particularly when dealing with various wars, the Civil Rights movement and the long history of violence between American settlers and Native Americans, to worries about alleged violent and sexual content in books and other educational materials and concerns about a student's emotions being explored in school studies. 

Elements of the school district's work with Fostering Healthy Solutions to address concerns of diversity and cultural sensitivity issues within county schools are also referenced in the suit, but Golden addressed concerns about the group and any trace of "CRT" in their work in 2021. 

“They are not writing curriculum,” Golden said of the founders of FHS, Anita Foster-Horne and her son, Shan Foster. “They made it clear and we made it clear they are not promoting critical race theory.”

You can see the lawsuit in full on the organization's website, including "Wit & Wisdom" examples Parents' Choice claims back the allegations in the lawsuit about state violations.