Following several months of conversations, Williamson County Schools officials are looking to develop a comprehensive plan to address racism in schools.
During the WCS board of education meeting Jan. 19, a number of community members spoke about a lack of training and resources to address racial tension at schools as well as a need for the district to address incidents more directly.
Tizgel High, a Brentwood resident and parent of two WCS students, also called on the district to take action against underlying racism still present within schools, citing an assignment that drew national attention in 2019 in which students were asked to act as slaveholders. High said since that time, the district has not done enough to address racism and inequity in schools.
"I'm really disappointed. I was positive that the national news headlines about a Sunset Middle School teacher giving her students an assignment that required them to act as slaveholders and assign jobs to their slaves—that this body and the leadership would move to action. I was certain of it," High said. "I was really wrong, and I'm really sad to say that I was."
More parents called for the district to create a diversity and inclusion parental advisory committee to help the district select a diversity consultant.
This is not the first district discussion around racism in schools; last June, parents called for more diversity initiatives within the district. Shortly after, the district responded to a racial slur being written on the marquee on an elementary school in the district.
Kate Cotton, a teacher in the district, spoke during the meeting about a past incident of racism within the district and the tension among students that followed. She called on the district to provide more training to teachers on how to handle the conversations that follow these incidents and provide more support to students.
"I stayed calm and believed I had enough experience as a teacher in tricky situations to be able to handle the situation, but when I got in the room, I realized I was actually completely unprepared," Cotton said. "I would like to have a better set of skills in place should I be the teacher handling any racial incident that might occur in the future, and extemporaneously, I'd like to say that this is a big problem—it's a bigger problem than Williamson County. If somebody had a perfect solution, we probably would have implemented it by now. But I do think that we can be a leader in this, and we can create these committees and put the effort in. It will pay dividends in a lot of ways."
WCS Superintendent Jason Golden said over the past year, the district has been working to listen to feedback from stakeholders and parents about diversity.
"I've also spent a lot of time talking with teachers and a lot of time talking with students and listening to them over these issues, and I've gotten a lot of feedback over time," he said.
Golden said the district has already put a new process in place to require teachers to report any incidents of racism, including those on social media, so the district can respond. Golden said that previously, many incidents went unreported.
Golden said district staff has also realized the need for a more comprehensive plan as well as for professional help. WCS is currently vetting some outside groups to help develop a plan, he said.
"We've got to do more, and the 'more' is getting that help," Golden said.
A proposal to develop a plan is expected to be received by the district in the next one to two months, he said. Golden said the district may consider a parental committee in the future, but for now, the focus will be on securing a professionally constructed comprehensive plan.
"I want to emphasize to you as well as [to] our board that this focus is not just one thing. It is on making sure our students are being served appropriately, and it's going to take all of us together," Golden said.