Williamson County Schools parent groups clash over diversity efforts, COVID-19 issues

Dozens of community members came to the Williamson County Schools Board of Education meeting May 17 to show support for the district's recent efforts to improve diversity training for district staff. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Dozens of community members came to the Williamson County Schools Board of Education meeting May 17 to show support for the district's recent efforts to improve diversity training for district staff. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)

Dozens of community members came to the Williamson County Schools Board of Education meeting May 17 to show support for the district's recent efforts to improve diversity training for district staff. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)

With nearly an hour of public comments during its May 17 meeting, Williamson County Schools' first in-person board of education meeting in more than a year had a packed house.

Nearly three dozen parents and community members signed up to speak about two highly discussed issues in recent months: COVID-19 and the board's response to reported racism in schools.

During the meeting, Nancy Garrett, board chair and District 12 representative, had to call for order several times as the crowd booed and cheered individual speakers.

Diversity efforts


Several parents signed up to speak in support of the district's hiring of Fostering Healthy Solutions, a third-party consultant group which aims to help the district analyze its existing training for staff and teachers around diversity and inclusion. In February, the district signed a $55,000 contract with the company for this purpose.

A new parent group, One WilCo, has been working to show its support for the board's efforts to help provide more training in schools after months of reported incidents of racism. The group gathered with signs of support prior to the meeting at the county's administration building.

"We are wanting to make sure that [the board] understands that we want this to remain a priority for the district," Co-founder Revida Rahman said. "What has gotten me to come is the opposition and to show that there are people here who recognize that these things are happening in the school system and we care about what's going to be done about it, so we're hoping the board continues to support the [diversity, equity and inclusion efforts]."


However, a number of parents questioned the district's intentions, citing recent concerns nationwide about Critical Race Theory. CRT is an academic approach that challenges the law and practices in regard to race and social justice, according to Middle Tennessee State University's Free Speech Center.

Superintendent Jason Golden said the group was never intended to, and will not, change student curriculum. Additionally, he said the work that FHS was hired to do is definitively not promoting CRT curriculum.

"We have heard from our families about both needs and fears about where we're going, and we've spoken of this for many months," he said. "We are driving our work with our community's needs. We don't have a national agenda—we are working to serve our students and help our students be safe, and that takes attention as well, so I appreciate the comments that others have made about that."

Golden added that FHS is holding listen-and-learn sessions over the coming weeks to talk with parents about its work. The next sessions will be held virtually June 4-5.

COVID-19 concerns


Another concern many parents spoke of was the remaining COVID-19 protocols in place. Although the district aims to make face masks optional during summer programs and potentially during the 2021-22 school year, many parents expressed frustration about the requirement not being lifted after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention loosened mask guidelines for vaccinated individuals.

Golden said the board's return to school framework called for masks to be required during the 2021-22 school year in accordance with CDC guidelines, which continue to recommend masks be worn in schools.

"We set the goal of being on campus this year if we could safely do so ... and masks were a part of that. It was part of what we put in [the framework] in July," Golden said.

Parents also questioned the district's position about vaccine requirements after rumors spread that the district would vaccinate children in schools. Golden said this stemmed from a survey sent out to parents earlier in the school year asking about interest in having the vaccine administered on campus for those who wanted it; however, that plan was later discontinued as the vaccine became more widely available to the general public.

"We are not administering a vaccine to any of our students," he said. "We did send a survey out—our health department asked us if we had any interest in providing the vaccine to students, so we surveyed our families, and we got a pretty significant response of yeses in the 1,000's. But we also did an analysis of our community and found that there were 44 different sites for the vaccine to be administered. So we determined there was no need for us to provide the vaccine over the summer to our students."

Golden also said the district has never required that students would have to receive the vaccine in order to attend a WCS school and has not received guidance from the state health department telling them to do so. Golden said receiving a vaccine is optional for both staff and students.

"We have not at any point required anyone to take the vaccine, and we never even implied that we would require someone to take the vaccine," he said. "So I want to make sure that that's clear as well in our community."

See a full video of the district's May 17 meeting here.
By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.


MOST RECENT

Shake Shack opens June 28 in Cool Springs. (Courtesy Shake Shack, Cheyenne Cohen)
Shake Shack announces opening date for Franklin location

The eatery will feature a walk-up window and is expected to release a new summer menu in the coming weeks.

Lineage Bank is now open in Franklin. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Lineage Bank now open in downtown Franklin

The bank opened its location on 5th Avenue June 23.

Flood-prone homes in Brentwood can be elevated according to city codes. (Courtesy city of Brentwood)
Brentwood to host meeting on home elevation June 29

Those affected by the March floods can learn more about elevating their homes during the meeting.

A drug drop-off box has been installed at the Brentwood police headquarters. (Courtesy city of Brentwood)
Brentwood installs new drop-off box at police HQ

In the past three years, the city has collected just under 4,000 pounds of unused drugs.

people with signs at meeting
Williamson County Schools board extends Superintendent Jason Golden's contract

Superintendent Jason Golden's contract now extends through 2025.

The new marker was unveiled in Pinkerton Park in Franklin. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Emancipation marker debuts in Pinkerton Park during Juneteenth celebration

New signage displaying the history around emancipation and the freeing of enslaved people was debuted during the African American Heritage Society of Williamson County's Juneteenth celebration.

Caliente Contouring is now open inside Salon Boutique in Cool Springs. (Courtesy Caliente Contouring)
Caliente Contouring now open in Cool Springs

The studio offers fat reduction and body-contouring services with noninvasive techniques using heating and acupuncture.

Officials and members of Legieza's family attended a ceremony June 18 to name a portion of Franklin Road in his honor. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Brentwood renames portion of Franklin Road in honor of fallen police officer

One year after his death, the city of Brentwood paid tribute to police officer Destin Legieza by renaming a portion of Franklin Road in his honor.

Community members and city officials held a ceremony for the new street names June 18. (Wendy Sturges/Community Impact Newspaper)
Franklin unveils two street names for Black leaders

Signs for ANC Williams Way and Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue have been placed along the former 3rd Avenue extension near Bicentennial Park.

Developers have announced the next phase of mixed-use center McEwen Northside. (Courtesy McEwen Northside, Northwood Ravin)
Developers announce next phase of McEwen Northside; Juneteenth events on tap and more top news from Franklin, Brentwood

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Franklin and Brentwood areas.

Juneteenth marks the day on June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers landed at Galveston and reported that the Civil War was over and slavery had ended. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Juneteenth in Williamson County: Community groups to host events, place historic marker June 19

Juneteenth marks the date in 1865 when the news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached enslaved people in Galveston, Texas.

The Puffy Muffin offers both savory and sweet breakfast options, including French Toast ($12) served with berries and bacon, sausage or ham. (Photos courtesy The Puffy Muffin)
The Puffy Muffin carries 35-year legacy, family recipes in Brentwood

Before The Puffy Muffin found its home inside a large bakery and dining room in Brentwood, it began in the kitchen of Lynda Stone, an avid at-home baker who enjoyed making sourdough bread for friends and family.