🏫 School Board Enthusiasts 🏫 The UnifiEd Student Voice Team's School Board Blog
Cigna Property (Jerald): Among the topics discussed at this month's School Board Meeting, I was intrigued to hear about our board's motion to purchase and renovate the nearby Cigna building across from East Brainerd...
Elementary. Similar to the repurposing of the Hillcrest Elementary library—which was recently renovated into a Teacher Supply Hub, I'm glad to see that actions are being taken to restore the conditions of our county's school buildings and ensure that they are all up-to-date.
Personally, I think maintaining a school environment is much more important than some might think. I attended Chattanooga School for the Liberal Arts throughout my years in grade school, also known as CSLA. When I first started my schooling at CSLA in kindergarten, the building was already 19 years old. Although there were several instances throughout my years of being there that some areas and rooms were either refurbished or replaced, the building itself always seemed to remain in poor condition. On some days when changing classrooms, due to non-functioning air conditioners, the temperatures between rooms were so drastically different that students often had bad headaches and felt too uncomfortable to even focus in the classroom. The few bathrooms we had inside the building were often being repaired for months, which only led to more repairs due to the stalls being overused and worn down. The walls in hallways and stairwells were outdated and peeling, leaving outside visitors and families with unpleasant impressions of our school building. Sometimes walls were covered up with artwork and projects students had fabricated to hide blemishes. But it only grew worse from there. Even now that I don’t regularly visit the school anymore, my sibling still tells me stories of the poor conditions accompanying the building—from indoor pests such as rats and roaches to several accounts of detrimental building mistakes.
These poor conditions are somewhat water under the bridge after CSLA’s long-lasting quarrel in hopes of receiving a new school building has ended. Little is said about how harmful such conditions could be to a student’s educational environment. A student’s learning, health, or even enthusiasm to attend school can be potentially affected due to inadequate conditions. For example, if a student is sitting in a sweltering classroom while intaking information in their teacher’s lecture, feelings of discomfort exist in the present, but they may also associate it with the classroom or even with the subject at hand. Someone can only imagine how this might affect the student and their thoughts when they are forced to enter the same environment once again the following day. Overall, I loved my grade-school experience despite the building conditions that I was in, as the faculty, activities, and learned curriculum made up for this deficit. Thankfully CSLA was finally approved to get a new building. Since its existence, the 31-year-old school building was simply overrun by the loads of students who attended there. Nonetheless, I’m glad these disparities were brought to the surface, and I hope that this work continues as I know that other schools face the same or even worse conditions that I had experienced while at my old K-8 school.
Book Review Committee Report & Delegations Regarding Books (Sophia): This School Board Meeting was an interesting yet unsurprising conclusion to the three Book Review Committee Meetings held over the past few months. I only watched through the first meeting, but I do not doubt in my mind that the following two were just as full of chaos, arguments, and Mrs. Thurman’s shenanigans. In the Board Agenda Session, Mrs. Thurman remarked that “some people just wanted to … talk the entire time until they got their way,” which is a funny statement considering that was her behavior as a member of this committee. Over the three meetings, they ultimately decided only to review one of the two board policies on instructional materials in schools. The two policies in question are 4.402, covering the selection of instructional material other than textbooks, and 4.403, which is the request for reconsideration of these materials. Even though those three meetings encompassed around six total hours, they managed to only revise policy 4.402 into one that had “inconsistent” and “misleading” language, as Karitsa Jones and Tucker McClendon described it.
All this work on policy review may have been in vain, as Marco Perez pointed out that the Tennessee State Legislature is reviewing an amendment to current obscenity laws. The School Board needs to make sure that whatever policy they vote on will comply with the state. Tennessee SB 1944, which has been deferred to Summer Study (the current session ends on May 7th), would prevent public schools and Local Education Agencies from exempting themselves from current obscenity laws and would prohibit them from possessing materials that are seen as obscene or harmful to minors. This subjective wording leads me to question what is seen as “obscene.” Hamilton County School Board Attorney Scott Bennett pointed out that the standard for obscenity varies significantly between people. They won’t agree on one definition and the limit for obscenity in literature.
Bennett also pointed out that it’s difficult to prove that a book is obscene legally. Most authors won’t take the time to write a sexual, violent, or “crude” scene without it adding some kind of value to the work as a whole, whether it be serious, literary, artistic, or political value, or SLAP, as Bennett named it. And if an author wrote those kinds of truly inappropriate books (50 Shades of Gray, I’m looking at you), they certainly would not be placed in school libraries. In all my years of reading, I have never read a book supplied by my school that included “coarse content” that didn’t serve some kind of greater purpose. In addition to this, none of the adults fueling the unnecessary outrage about literary content are well versed in book reports. They have likely not even read the books that remain at the center of the discussion. Without greater literary knowledge or analytical skills, they have no credible position in criticizing these books, and they are doing so blindly.
One good thing to come out of this discussion around book review and banning is that the public is certainly more aware of current policies on instructional materials. The first delegate, a Moms for Liberty group member, said that she wasn’t aware of a review process currently in place. She followed up with several other things criticizing those policies and even admitted that she never thought to vet her child's books because librarians should have done it instead. This just sounds like an indirect way of admitting that you aren’t entirely aware of your child’s reading materials. In 5th grade, I started reading many young adult fantasy novels (like Divergent, The Mortal Instruments, Percy Jackson, and The Hunger Games, to name a few), and my mom was always aware of the books that I carried with me and the content that they contained. This being said, I was a mature child, and I was ready for that kind of material. It was up to my mom to personally review those books that I brought home from school and understand my maturity level to ensure I was ready for that kind of content, just as it is every other parent's job for their child.
The next speaker was a member of Mom’s for Social Justice and was an interesting contrast to the prior speaker. This woman passionately spoke about the importance of intellectual freedom and made several excellent points about context, “greater dramatic narrative[s],” and librarian’s professionalism. Her points effectively deconstructed the previous speaker's argument. Following her was a Reverend, who began his speech with a shocking introduction about how Oedipus should be banned immediately for the role that he embodies. I was baffled when I watched this because I genuinely could not tell if he was being serious. I eventually realized that he made this ridiculous point to highlight the absurdity of the situation revolving around the books. He brought attention to the necessity of engaging students in challenging discussions and exposing them to mature content. Especially considering internet accessibility, it is foolish to assume that students won’t be exposed to those challenging topics elsewhere, and parents can’t shield them from this forever.
Delegations Regarding Bullying and Mental Health (Liliana):
There needs to be a better and more efficient way to stop bullying in Hamilton County Schools. An extreme amount of bullying is happening in schools, and most of the time, the county is not doing anything about it.Victims experience a toll on their social, physical, emotional, and/or academic well-being.
Bullying happens around us one way or another. There are multiple types of bullying, like verbal, social, physical, and cyberbullying, and some go unnoticed by parents, teachers, administrators, and principals. In movies and tv shows, when the setting is a high school, the primary or side character usually experiences some type of bullying. While in school, I have experienced bullying, whether it be gossiping, calling names, pushing, or fighting. It has been normalized to experience bullying in school, especially since I’ve transitioned into high school.
Deanna Hegedus addressed the school board about bullying happening to her child. ”I found out he can't use the bathroom at RBMS...I have spoken with three different school officials based on these encounters. I have the distinct impression that they feel their primary role is to refuse to disavow and minimize reports of bullying.” As a former RBMS student, I would get bullied and experienced nothing being done about it whenever I tried to go to the staff. I would be called a “snitch” by the bullies, or get told “we are looking into it” from staff, but never hear back. It feels like the staff thinks that if the student does nothing or says nothing to the bully, the bullying will eventually stop. But in reality, most of the time, it just continues, sometimes even worse. I have recently learned about Anonymous Quick Tips and how you could anonymously report bullying instead of going to staff. It is a better way to report bullying happening in your school, but this is not advertised as much as it should be.
Teachers, administration, and other staff need to be held accountable for their actions, such as not addressing bullying instead of finding an excuse not to look into it. Both staff and students should be held accountable. Elizabeth Parris, another delegate at the School Board Meeting, said this after telling the story of what happened to her son. “You say you commit to a future where all students thrive; who's going to stop protecting bullies and start protecting children….like my son.“ How can you expect children to thrive in an environment where they don't feel safe?
Ways that are helpful to stop bullying are to report bullying after you see it happening, visit the Anonymous Quick Tips website, or report it to a teacher or administrator. Since many students do not know the Anonymous Quick Tips site, the website could always be advertised by, for example, putting flyers up in the school’s guidance counselor's room or office or even having flyers in teachers' rooms. A way that staff can help stop bullying, more importantly, teachers, could be taught the multiple types of bullying and how to notice them. So in classes, they detect whether bullying is happening or not.