Tag Archives: schools

School money stolen for drinking, gambling

A former Knox County Schools supervisor accused of using his district-issued credit card to place online gambling bets pleaded guilty Wednesday to felony theft of more than $10,000, according to the News Sentinel.

Roger Underwood, 61, has agreed to a three-year sentence, but the details will be determined by Criminal Court Judge Scott Green on Sept. 29.

The state plans to object to judicial diversion, said Sean McDermott, a Knox County assistant district attorney general.

Underwood has agreed to repay the $11,989 he stole by that hearing, McDermott said.

The former accounts payable supervisor, who had an annual salary of $96,074, was fired in October after admitting to using his school credit card for personal purchases. Investigators found he placed bets ranging from $99 to $299 on the card, losing as much as $1,800 in one day gambling online.

A report from the Tennessee Comptroller of the Treasury also questioned $731 in charges during a retirement reception at a Mississippi casino, where Underwood also ordered martinis, peach schnapps and a $200 tray of hors d’oeuvres and gave a $115 tip.

He also received reimbursements for school-related trips he never took, officials said.

“Because Underwood was responsible for reviewing school credit card charges, including his own, officials were unaware of these inappropriate charges,” the comptroller’s report states.

First statewide TN student mock election set

News release from secretary of state’s office
Nashville, Tennessee – (August 24, 2016) – Tennessee’s first ever statewide Student Mock Election is off to an amazing start. As of today, more than 170 schools across the state are registered to participate, meaning an estimated 76,000 students will do something most kids can’t: vote for president of the United States.

Now the Secretary of State’s office is also rolling out an essay contest to encourage students to be actively engaged citizens. Essays topics will be about voting and length requirements vary by grade level. Schools may submit two essays at each grade level. Winners from each level will receive a TNStars 529 College Savings Program scholarship worth $100, $250 or $500 in addition to a trip to the State Capitol. Continue reading

ACLU settles lawsuit over student’s shirt slogan

News release from ACLU of Tennessee
NASHVILLE — In a victory for free speech, the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee announced a settlement in a federal lawsuit filed on behalf of Richland High School graduate Rebecca Young, who was censored by her school system for wearing a shirt to school supporting equality for lesbian and gay people. The Giles County school system has modified its discriminatory dress code policy that banned pro-LGBT speech.

“This is a victory not just for one student’s right to free speech, but for all students in the Giles County school system,” said Thomas H. Castelli, ACLU-TN legal director. “Our settlement reinforces that students do not shed their constitutional rights at the schoolhouse gates. We are pleased that Giles County students will no longer face unjust censorship if they choose to express support for the LGBT community while at school.”

The lawsuit, Rebecca Young v. Giles County Board of Education, et al., stemmed from an incident on August 5, 2015, when Young wore a shirt to school that read, “Some People Are Gay, Get Over It.” At the end of the school day, the principal publicly reprimanded Young for wearing the shirt, telling her that she could not wear that shirt or any other shirt referencing lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender rights to school because it supposedly made her a target and provoked other students. Young had worn the shirt the entire day without incident. Continue reading

Nashville suing state for more school funding, too

The Metro Nashville Public Schools board voted Tuesday evening to sue the state for a greater share of education funding, reports The Tennessean. Members said Tennessee is not providing enough money to help teach English to children for whom it is a second language.

The board approved the lawsuit, with six members in favor and two — Elissa Kim and Mary Pierce — abstaining. Board member Jo Ann Brannon was unable to attend the meeting.

The subject of suing the state for education funds has been a topic for the past year, and the issue came to a head after Metro Law Director Jon Cooper sent a letter June 1 asking the state why Nashville received less money for its English language learners, or ELL, this year.

In a June 3 response, Maryanne Durski, the Tennessee Department of Education’s local finance office director, notified Cooper that the funding allocation through the fiscal year general appropriations act provided adequate funds.

Board Vice Chairwoman Anna Shepherd said the letter was the last straw for her.

“This is state law, and they are just being flippant about it,” she said. “And I don’t think this is a flippant topic.”

Board member Will Pinkston, who has advocated to sue the state for the past year, said Nashville schools have the highest ELL population in the state and the district has a unique opportunity to teach those students.

“The idea that these schools — which literally sit in the shadow of the state Capitol — are getting intentionally short-shrifted by the state is frankly maddening,” he said. “Local taxpayers are doing our part, and the state Department of Education sends us a blow-off letter.”

…With the district suing the state for education funding, it joins Shelby County Schools and seven Hamilton County-area districts in their pursuit of more Basic Education Program funds.

State paying for college counselors at 30 TN high schools

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Gov. Bill Haslam has announced the launch of a $2.4 million program that will provide college counselors to 30 public high schools across the state.

The aim of Advise TN is to realize the state’s goal to increase the number of Tennesseans with a postsecondary degree to 55 percent by 2025, the governor’s office said in a statement last Thursday.

“Research tells us that having a school-wide culture … of students knowing that college isn’t only an option for them but it’s an expectation — is one of the best indicators of whether students will pursue higher education,” Haslam said in the statement. “This program will provide schools across the state with one more adult in students’ lives, focused on helping them navigate the transition from high school to college.”

Counselors will be hired and trained in the summer and will work with about 10,000 juniors and seniors statewide. They will help students prepare for the ACT, work on college applications and take advantage of the Free Application for Federal Student Aid program offered by the U.S. Department of Education.

To be eligible, high schools must have average college-going rates that fall below the state average. Public high schools must apply to participate and will be selected by the Tennessee Higher Education Committee based on their commitment to creating a college-going culture.

Advise TN was included in Haslam’s 2016-17 budget with funding of $2.5 million. High schools selected to participate in Advise TN are expected to develop plans to continue the program after state funding has ended.

ACLU files civil rights complaint against transgender bathroom policy

News release from American Civil Liberties Union-Tennessee
NASHVILLE — The American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee today filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights stating that Sumner County Schools’ policy prohibiting transgender students from using restrooms that correspond with their gender identity violates the requirements of federal anti-discrimination law and the United States Constitution. The complaint was filed on behalf of a transgender high school freshman and her parents.

“No student should have to endure the stigma and marginalization of being segregated from the rest of the student body,” said ACLU-TN cooperating attorney Abby R. Rubenfeld of the Rubenfeld Law Office, PC. “These kinds of blanket bans prevent transgender students from being treated fairly and equally at school. This policy is not only misguided, it’s a direct violation of Title IX and the Fourteenth Amendment.”

The complaint was filed on behalf of the Sumner County public high school student and her parents using pseudonyms, in order to avoid further stigmatization and bullying of the student because of the school district policy. The complaint seeks the Department of Education’s assistance in enforcing federal law regarding the treatment of transgender students in public schools. Continue reading

Legislator protests ‘social justice’ theme in 4th grade textbook

State Rep. Martin Daniel has complained to education officials and Gov. Bill Haslam about a fourth-grade reading exercise that incorporates themes from the civil rights movement into English and language arts activities, reports Georgiana Vines.

Daniel, a Republican representing the 18th District in the West and North Knoxville areas, said the exercise deals with “social injustice” and asks whether this is appropriate for children at a young age.

The exercise describes a student whose textbook is “worn and missing a dozen pages.” The student is in a black community where schools receive old, damaged books while those in white areas get new textbooks. Through a court case, the school board agrees to revise the system for providing materials to schools.

In the exercise, the fourth-grade student is asked to explain the cause (why something happens) and effect (what happens).

Daniel has a fourth-grade daughter at Sequoyah Elementary School who brought the exercise home. He said he was “shocked” at the content. Otherwise he is “very happy” with the school, he said.

He discussed his concern with Knox County Schools Superintendent Jim McIntyre, who wrote to Daniel to say the unit was part of a series, “Reading Street,” adopted by the Tennessee Board of Education upon recommendation of the State Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission and of the Knox County school board “through a vigorous process that includes teacher recommendations and opportunities for public review and input.”

Daniel wrote to the county school board — with copies to Haslam, the chairs of the state House and Senate education committees, the state textbook commission and the state Board of Education — that he is concerned the subject matter “subtly, but unnecessarily, injects a dose of ‘social justice’ into our impressionable youth.”

Note: The Nashville Scene’s Cari Wade Gervin offers critical commentary, more comments from Daniel and a link to the full letter.

Mother of school bus wreck victim ‘at peace’ with enactment of new law

From the News Sentinel:
The school bus crash that took three lives in Knoxville helped bring a new law banning use of electronic devices by school bus drivers.

“It makes me feel … at peace,” said Sharon Glasper of the new law. Her 7-year-old daughter, Seraya, died in the Dec. 2, 2014 Knox County Schools bus crash that killed another student and a teacher’s assistant.

Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law Thursday the bill that increases the fine 20-fold and added jail time for texting while driving a school bus with students on board.

“Texting and driving is a very serious matter,” Glasper said Friday.

James Davenport, 48, of Mascot, was hauling 22 children on a bus from Chilhowee Intermediate School on that day in 2014 that Seraya died. Knoxville police said Davenport, who has since died, was texting while driving.

Davenport’s bus 44 veered across multiple lanes of traffic and slammed into bus 57 that carried 18 Sunnyview Primary School students and a teacher’s aide. The impact ripped open the front of Davenport’s bus and toppled bus 57 onto its side.

Zykia Burns, 6, and teacher’s aide Kimberly Riddle, 46, also died in the crash.

“We put our kids in other people’s hands, riding the school bus,” Glasper said. “You wouldn’t ever imagine that your kid won’t come back.”

Note: The bill is SB1596, sponsored by Sen. Becky Massey and Rep. Eddie Smith, both Knoxville Republicans.

Some reaction to demise of the transgender bathroom bill

News release from Family Action Council of Tennessee
FRANKLIN, Tenn. (April 18, 2016) – The following statement regarding House Bill 2414, the “bathroom bill,” can be attributed to FACT President David Fowler:

“We are thankful that Rep. Susan Lynn and Sen. Mike Bell brought the bill and we appreciate their efforts in past weeks in the face of consistent opposition from the governor’s office and others, but we join the thousands of parents across the state who are profoundly disappointed that at this point in the process Rep. Lynn has decided not to proceed with a bill that would have simply protected the privacy of the children they have entrusted to our public schools.

“We are grateful for the legislators who said they would take the bill from Rep. Lynn this year and continue to push it forward; however, it was not to be. We trust that one of them will do so next year. If so, we stand ready to assist, even as we have tried to do on the legislation this year.

“In the meantime, we would encourage citizens to monitor the policies of their local school systems and demand that their schools defend the privacy of students if threatened with lawsuits, as has already happened with one local school system.”

The Family Action Council of Tennessee (FACT), which Fowler heads, was formed in 2006 by a group of citizens concerned about the growing negative impact of public policies on marriage, families, life, and religious liberty. FACT’s mission is to equip Tennesseans and their elected officials to effectively promote and defend a culture that values God’s design for the family, for the sake of the common good. For more information, visit FACTn.org.
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House sponsor gives up on bathroom bill this year

By Eric Schelzig, Associated Press
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A transgender bathroom bill in the Tennessee legislature failed Monday after the House sponsor said she was withdrawing the legislation while waiting to see how legal challenges play out in other states that have passed similar measures.

The bill’s demise follows intense lobbying from both supporters and opponents of the measure and questions about potential economic fallout if it were to become law.

Rep. Susan Lynn, the Mount Juliet Republican who sponsored the bill in the House, said she needed to tweak the legislation before bringing it back up again next year.

“There’s definitely some issues we need to work out,” Lynn said. “We know as soon as this bill passes, we’re going to be sued. So if we’re going to be heading into a lawsuit, we want to make sure we have the strongest position possible.”

The bill would have required all students in public schools and universities to use bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender at birth.

Supporters said it would have protected the privacy of students. Opponents called it discriminatory.
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