We are deeply disturbed and saddened by yesterday’s horrific shootings, on the heels of the kidnapping and murder of Eliza Fletcher, among so many other instances of violent crime in our community. Our hearts are with the people who were shot and killed yesterday, and with their families and loved ones. We grieve with the survivors, knowing how hard it will be to heal from this trauma of gun violence. We are also grateful for all of the emergency responders who risked their lives to keep the rest of us safe. 

All of us have the right to feel safe and secure, to know that we can walk around outside in our hometown without fear of violence. When we work together with the goal of authentic safety, accountability, and healing, we can create an environment where violence prevention is prioritized, so that this level of emergency response is no longer necessary. While well-intentioned, the default reaction of calling for more police and more punitive prison sentences has failed to make our communities safer. We cannot keep using the same responses to violent crime and expect different results. 

In order to reach true public safety, we need to create systems of care that ensure everyone has their basic needs met – access to housing, healthy food, education, transportation, healthcare, and mental healthcare. These solutions won’t happen overnight, so in the near term, we must invest in mental health support systems for youth and adults that will prevent horrific crimes like this from happening. These systems of care include early therapeutic interventions, crisis interventions that support healing, and diversion programs to keep people in their communities and accountable to healing. 

Our city and our communities are strong and resilient. We’re keeping all of Memphis in our hearts, and we hope everyone is able to take some time and breathe, hug someone you love, and rest today. Take care of yourselves, together we’ll rise up to create a brighter future for us all. 

No matter our color, background, or zip code, voters should pick their leaders, not the other way around. We marked this Martin Luther King Day by partnering with Civic TN to gather signatures for a petition that tells our legislators that we need a fair redistricting process that keeps communities together and strengthens our voting power.

Every decade, we the people are supposed to get the chance to draw new district lines that will move us closer to “one person, one vote” and give our communities equal access to the decision-making processes that determine resources for schools, hospitals, roads, and other essential services that our government is supposed to fund. 

But that’s not what happens. 

More than 50 years after Dr. King started calling for fair redistricting, we are still fighting the same fight. Right now, a small handful of Tennessee’s politicians are taking it into their own hands to redraw districts across the state behind closed doors. Without public input and accountability, these politicians are free to draw districts that serve their own needs, often splitting up communities of color and weakening their voting power. A fair redistricting process is directly connected to voting rights, racial justice, and economic justice, and we must speak up as loudly and as often as possible to change this undemocratic process.

The districts that get drawn this year will shape our lives and communities for the next decade, and these unconstitutional maps will be up for a vote in both the State House and Senate as soon as Thursday, January 20. We need as many of you as possible to tell our lawmakers that nobody knows our communities better than the people that live in them, and we the people need to have a say in how our districts are drawn. Please continue the work to honor Dr. King by taking action with this petition and contacting your legislators to call for a fair and transparent redistricting process!

In these final days of 2021, we want to thank so many of you – our members, leaders, volunteers, staff, partners, and broader community. We appreciate all the time and energy you generously gave to advocate in support of young people of Memphis and Shelby County and their families and communities.

In spite of the ongoing pandemic over the past year, we took some huge action steps in building coalitions towards educational equity, youth justice reform, breaking the school-to-prison pipeline, improving early literacy, increasing graduation success rates, and securing more equitable funding for education and other essential social services. We are excited to continue our partnership with you in 2022, and we would love to hear from you about how you want to engage with Stand for Children in the new year by filling out this survey! https://bit.ly/standTN21

Distinguished Members of the Shelby County Commission,

The Moral Budget Coalition thanks you for the ongoing conversation around participatory budgeting, and are thankful to Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris for including several essential investments identified by the Moral Budget Coalition, including Youth & Adult Mental Health, Targeted Direct Outreach to Connect Residents with Programs, the Homeless Flexibility Fund, and Broadband Access & Planning for At‐Home Learners in Underserved Communities, in the Administration’s proposed American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budget.

Investing ARPA dollars in these areas will directly impact our most vulnerable neighborhoods, families,  workers, and students to live a more equitable quality of life. We will continue to advocate for other vital community needs that are not yet addressed by these county investments.

The needs of our community are vast, and we hope that if there are amendments made to this proposed budget, they are made to allot additional funding to investments aligned with a moral budget. In particular, we have worked to highlight the need for commitments to fund public transit, affordable housing, education, and relief for our service industry workforce. Looking forward, we know the process and schedule for next years budget will be decided upon soon, and we have been working with members of the commission and the Mayor’s office to codify a participatory budgeting process for FY2023 that would involve the community and government in an intentional collaboration to create a budget that is truly reflective of our community’s values and needs.

The allocation of ARPA dollars is an opportunity to invest in people. We urge you to support critical ARPA investments that directly support working people and those most vulnerable in our community.

Thank you,

The Memphis/Shelby County Coalition for a Moral Budget

Stand for Children Tennessee, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing For Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, The Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, Whole Child Strategies 

Here is your monthly friendly reminder to join us for our virtual joint Momentum Memphis Education Task-Force meeting on Monday, October 4, at 6:00 pm via Zoom.  Hear task-force leaders give updates on our advocacy campaigns, meet our community change partners, and learn how you can get involved in our efforts to make education equity a reality for all students in Memphis and Shelby County. Please use this link to RSVP.

You’re also invited to hear Memphis Director Cardell Orrin speak at the Hooks Institute Prohibited Concepts in Instruction in Public Schools Created by Tennessee Law on Tuesday, October 5, at 6:00 pmIf you didn’t know, Gov. Bill Lee passed a law banning 14 concepts in instruction that appear to significantly limit how educators can teach students accurate, fact-based, American History in the classroom. Memphis Director Cardell Orrin and other panelists will be discussing these changes and more via the Hook’s Institute Facebook page. Please use this link to RSVP.

Our change partners Bridge Builders Change: Counselors, Not Cops, and the Shelby County Youth Council need your help in asking Shelby County Schools Board to end the district’s contract (MOU) with Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. The termination of this contract would ensure that our young people are spared unnecessary contact with the justice system. In addition, removing Sheriffs from our schools and replacing them with service providers such as school counselors, social workers, and other services that our students need would create a supportive, caring, and positive learning environment in the classrooms and hallways during school hours.

Dear Commissioner Schwinn,

We, the undersigned, as members of the Tennessee Alliance for Equity in Education, believe that Tennessee must act with urgency to protect our children and their ability to attend school safely and in person. Our collective mission is to ensure that Tennessee’s students thrive and succeed in every corner of the state and one of the key priorities in our shared policy agenda is to “address the impact of COVID-19 on student learning and well-being.” We believe that we share that priority with the Tennessee Department of Education (the Department) as well.

The COVID-19 crisis has disrupted education for all Tennessee students, but it has hit our most vulnerable populations the hardest, including students from low-income backgrounds, students of color, students learning English, and students with disabilities.1 There is clear evidence that the impact of the pandemic on children has been and will continue to be substantial, and the effects are likely to be detrimental to students’ long-term academic success unless they are offered both effective and targeted strategies.

We believe students are best served by in-person learning. However, this pandemic is surging to new heights, with the Tennessee Department of Health reporting that children represent nearly 40% of all positive cases in our state, and Tennessee has recently led the nation in pediatric COVID cases per 100,000.2  Far too many students and teachers across the state are missing school this fall, with more than 25 districts having closed due to the rising case numbers. Given the current state-mandated limits on virtual learning, when entire school districts close without additional options for learning, they are forced to halt instruction entirely for all students, including the most vulnerable.

Schools in Tennessee learned valuable lessons about teaching students remotely when we made the pivot to virtual learning last year as well as procedures for mitigating the spread of the virus. We now have many more tools and strategies at our disposal, which must be fully allowed and utilized. Parents across the state, including parents we represent, are fearful of sending their children to school under the current protocols, and are frustrated by the lack of learning when schools are closed.

We appreciate the steps you have taken to address some of the challenges districts, schools, students, and families are currently facing. However, to further mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on student health and learning, we urge you to do the following

  • Provide additional guidance on the Department’s temporary virtual school waiver application process, including:
    • Offering clarity on eligibility criteria and transparency on review and approval procedures
    • Providing timely responses so districts may plan in order to avoid a penalty or the loss of stockpiled days
    • Clarifying that districts can request a pivot to remote learning for individuals schools, including up to the total number of schools in their district in order to stop or slow the spread of the virus or in response to inadequate staffing
  • Offer guidance to district leaders and educators, including:
    • For districts that have already closed without a waiver, providing clarity on the 180-day instructional threshold given the impact on school closures and stockpiled days, and
    • District flexibility on the use or waiver of sick and personal leave requirements for COVID-19 related staff absences, including quarantine
  • Heed the expertise of healthcare professionals and provide the means for schools to use all of the tools at their disposal, which include guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and the recent recommendations to Governor Lee by the Tennessee Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, including:
    • Encouraging vaccines and making them readily available for Tennesseans ages 12 and up
    • Masking inside schools
    • Providing accessible testing for COVID-19
    • Contact tracing and quarantining
    • Proper ventilation and social distancing

As education organizations representing all three of Tennessee’s grand divisions, we share a deep commitment to student learning and wellbeing and are ready and willing to offer our partnership to you in devising solutions for the benefit of children and schools. We urge you to work hand in hand with districts and school leaders, offering clear guidance so that students can learn safely and in person. Our state’s families and educators are counting on strong, strategic leadership, and we believe that our state can and must do more to protect them and provide consistent instruction during this challenging time.

https://www.tn.gov/content/dam/tn/education/tcap/spring-2021/TN-AcademicPerformance2020-2021.pdf

https://data.tn.gov/t/Public/views/CasesAmong518YearOlds/TableofSchool-AgedCOVIDCases?:showAppBanner=false&:display_count=n&:showVizHome=n&:origin=viz_share_link&:toolbar=no&:embed=yes

Respectfully, 

TN Alliance for Equity in Education

Dear SCS Board Members,

Firstly, we want to recognize that the 2020-21 school year was unprecedented and we appreciate all of the hard work that the SCS Board and administration have done to adapt to the challenges of the pandemic to support our students, teachers, and schools. As the SCS Board considers how to spend ESSER dollars, we hope to be partners with you in continuing our conversations and collaboration on how we can make targeted investments in the most meaningful ways for the future prosperity of Shelby County.

We are a group of community members from MICAH, Stand for Children, ALLMemphis, Whole Child Strategies, United Parents and Students, The Memphis Lift, 90ONE (Organizing Network for Equity), and Bridge BuildersChange. We all deeply care about education equity. Over the past year, our organizations have been researching what is happening in specific areas of focus and define opportunities for improving educational opportunities for students in Shelby County. We have talked with and received feedback from SCS administrators, Board Members, County Commissioners, the County Mayor, parents, students, and community stakeholders.

As recent test data has confirmed, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in Shelby County and highlighted the urgent education investment needs for our families and communities. With continuing learning loss and hardships from this past year, we know that funding our students first is more important than ever this budget cycle. That’s why during the recent budget cycle we advocated for increased funds for education and youth with campaigns for the Youth Education Success (YES) Fund and the Moral Budget. We have yet to convince our city and county governments of the increased need for investing in K-12 education success, but we pledge to keep working towards this goal in addition to state BEP advocacy.

While we were not yet successful with additional local funding, we continue to believe that the investments we recommend can have a substantial impact. With a focus on critical milestones of childhood development, our organizations have developed this list of evidence-based recommendations with proven results that will develop opportunities for increasing support and success for all students. Some of these will not be new to many of you, as we have tried to be consistent in identifying worthy solutions and to be as targeted as possible.

As SCS considers investments that the district wants to make using the opportunity from the increased ESSERdollars, we hope that you will review these priorities. We believe that all of the recommendations below align directly with your existing budget goals, SCS Destination 2025, and the Reimagining 901 plan. We look forward to working with you to ensure that SCS and its partners can deliver impactful funding with fidelity.

Improve Early Literacy Instruction and Support

Full-Time Literacy Coaches

Only one in five students in Memphis read on grade level, approximately three in four SCS third-graders are reading below grade level. Currently, there are only part-time literacy laureates in schools, which means these individuals cannot commit their full time to the rigorous needs of effective coaching. In our partnership with Dr.Nell Duke who supports us in developing early literacy policy and practice recommendations, she has emphasized the research that says literacy coaches could provide a tremendous benefit to teachers and students. Research shows the more time teachers spend directly with full-time coaches creates positive change in rapport, practice, and student achievement outcomes. Hiring dedicated full-time literacy coaches across all elementary schools would make a sustained impact by allowing more students to meet the 3rd Grade Commitment, improving Memphis literacy rates, and increasing community economic opportunities.

Multi-Tiered System of SupportsIn addition to full-time literacy coaches, we’ve also come across research from Dr. Carol Connor that is being utilized through tools from Learning Ovations by partners in other cities (such as Read Charlotte in NC). We found an opportunity that could lay out a continuum of support from school to community to home. With their short, targeted assessments, focus on indicating the needs for students in adult-managed and child-managed code and content, and clear reports, we have felt like this is a foundation of support worth exploring. We believe that the Learning Ovations A2i tool is something that SCS should explore for providing support to teachers and assistants in classrooms (quality research-based screener, grouping, individualized instruction recommendations) and that their community literacy support system could extend understanding and support for students from the school into the community. Stand for Children and Literacy Mid-South are currently leading a pilot program of Learning Ovationtools in our community with Reading Checkup and A2i After School in several of Literacy Mid-South’sOut-of-School Time network partners.

Response to Instruction and Intervention (RTI²) Curriculum and Staff

RTI² is state-mandated for public schools, but funds to implement the law are scarce. If teachers receive evidence-backed RTI² curriculum to utilize during their intervention time, data shows improved student proficiency and growth. In the highest needs schools, it is common for 80% or more of students to be in Tier III, meaning they are one, two, or more grades behind. Providing fiscal resources for RTI² would further address this overwhelming gap by enabling schools to scale up their RTI² capacity and programming to best meet the diverse needs of students in Shelby County schools. We recommend identifying research-based, data-driven intervention programming, such as ALLMemphis (Access Language & Literacy), to utilize in schools with students who have the greatest need. Local programs like ALLMemphis provide a high-quality curriculum while also investing in teacher capacity through intensive coaching, mentorship, and training on the science of reading and multi-sensory phonics instructional methods.

Increasing Mental Health Resources, Social Work, and Nurses

Hiring Nurses and Social Workers Across All SchoolsShelby County’s average ratio is 414 students to one social worker, compared to the recommended 250 to one(School Social Work of America). Shelby County’s average ratio is 1,207 students to one nurse compared to the recommended ratio of 750 to one (American Nurses Association). However, with the chronic health conditions existing in Memphis – such as diabetes, obesity, and high asthma rates – one nurse per school is recommended to have the most impact. Increasing accessibility to nurses addresses community health issues, reduces chronic absenteeism, and helps children be fully present to learn. Both locally and in the Tennessee state legislature, there is bipartisan support for additional nurses in schools as well as social workers and other support staff. The ongoing cost of these additional staff is what has prohibited reducing the ratios. As a result, there are concerted efforts to develop plans that would increase services for both the health and mental health of students in a cost-efficient way. Strategies include using telehealth services as well as more strategic coordination between school-based health clinics and federally qualified health centers(FQHC’s). We all know that our students need improved access to health and mental services, and we all need to work together to find these resources for students.

Trauma Responsive Reset Rooms

As SCS continues to work toward becoming a trauma-responsive district, we recognize the importance of the existing 30 SCS schools that have reset rooms currently, considering that the number of suspensions declined to15% of the student population from the 19% in the previous year. Considering the high rates of Adverse ChildhoodExperiences in Shelby County, having an alternative to in-school suspension is crucial to providing spaces for intentional de-escalation that doesn’t penalize students but rather, allows them to meaningfully reflect, develop coping skills, and practice social-emotional learning. Full implementation of reset rooms would not only increase outcomes in education but prioritize student well-being and mental health to prepare them with lifelong skills to be productive citizens

Promote High School, College, and Career Success

Freshman Success Teams (Freshman Success Network)

Stand for Children launched the Center for High School Success (CHSS) to support our work in developing supports for high schools around increasing the number of students who finish the 9th-grade on-track to graduate. This work leveraged and expanded the research and high school support work from the Network for College Success(NCS) at the University of Chicago. Their research showed that 9th graders on-track to graduate are 3-4 times more likely to graduate than off-track peers. We hope that SCS would consider requiring a summer 9th-grade bridge program to support the transition of students in this make-or-break year for their graduation success.

Currently, there are 20 high schools in Shelby County, including both traditional schools and charter schools, with dedicated freshman success coaches. Currently, all of the SCS iZone and Continuous Improvement Zone (former one schools) high schools are a part of the network. Our CHSS coaches support the Freshman Success Teams at each school in their efforts to increase the number of freshmen on track to graduate by focusing on continuous improvement, intentional on-track/off-track data tracking for 9th graders, and developing effective teams in schools. At the current high schools with CHSS coaches, data shows that on-track graduation rates consistently surpassed the district average with an overall increase of 16 percentage points for the ninth-grade on-track rate. We appreciate the SCS administration and Board approving the continuation of this work and the expansion to10th grade to address the impact of COVID on last year’s 9th graders.

College and Career Coaches

Counseling students on their postsecondary journey is complex, multi-faced, and requires much more of a time investment than one counselor per school. Many students look to their schools for the resources they need to make a postsecondary plan. These students deserve counselors who can advise them on their opportunities and ensure they are set up for success as they enter college or the workforce. Hiring additional college and career coaches to support post-secondary planning will enable more students to pursue college degrees or career training.

English Language Learners and Students with Disabilities 

As a partner of the Solidarity Project (90ONE – Organizing Network for Equity, The Memphis Lift, and Tennessee can), we support their recent advocacy to prioritize the needs of students with disabilities and English as a Second Language (ESL) students and their families as the district returns to in-person schooling through providing specific tiered classroom supports. For students with disabilities, their recommendations include smaller caseloads per education teacher and hiring additional licensed interventionists. For ESL students, their recommendations include increasing wraparound services and hiring additional bilingual support staff and ESL teachers.

My Child’s Learning Path

As a partner of the Memphis Lift, we support their recent advocacy and plan for SCS to implement an individualized student learning plan called My Child’s Learning Path. To increase transparency between parents, teachers, and schools, we believe this comprehensive tool would be invaluable to facilitate meaningful communication and understanding. With the ability to review a student’s attendance, reading, and math skills instead of just receiving grades or test results, having My Child’s Learning Path would be a significant step toward deepening parent engagement and accessibility.

Safe and Supportive Schools

As a partner with Bridge Builders Change, we support the youth-led advocacy towards removing law enforcement from schools and reallocating funds to increasing mental health resources and professionals (ie counselors, social workers, and behavioral specialists) available to students and decreasing the likelihood that young people will become entangled in the criminal justice system by ending the MOU between SCS and the Shelby County Sheriff’sOffice to provide officers in our schools. These commitments to safe and supportive schools prioritize the mental health of our young people while breaking the school-to-prison pipeline.

Mental health is a huge factor in determining outcomes for academic and occupational success. In the US, there are 14 million students in schools with police officers but no counselors, nurses, psychologists, or social workers. Shelby County, only 279 professional counselors are serving 100,000 students.

ESSER Dollars Process

We believe that SCS should work hard to ensure the community is notified, educated, and engaged around how the ESSER dollars will be spent. Particularly in this continued uncertain time and stress with a global pandemic, we have an opportunity to emphasize the importance of public transparency and communication. Planning and spending of ESSER Dollars and American Rescue Act Plan funds, along with any subsequent COVID relief dollars, provides another opportunity for engagement with the community. This funding transparency is vital because intentional community participation and feedback are required under the ESSER Dollars and American Rescue ActPlan.

Our coalition of advocates meets monthly to move forward issues that will support the future success of our students and educational equity. We appreciate the opportunity to engage with the SCS Board and administration. We are available to provide further information and receive questions and comments.

Thank you for your ongoing leadership and partnership, MICAH Education Task Force, Stand for Children – Tennessee, ALLMemphis, Whole Child Strategies, UnitedParents and Students, The Memphis LIFT, Bridge Builders Change: CNC Cohort, 90ONE

Dear Commissioner Schwinn, 

 Thank you for the opportunity to offer public comment regarding the current draft rule proposed by the Tennessee Department of Education as it relates to the implementation of Section 51 of Chapter 493 of the Tennessee Public Acts of 2021. 

We write to you as a collective of educators, parents, scholars, and community members who are deeply committed to schools that value the array of diverse students, teachers, and communities in the state of Tennessee. We believe that current inequitable systems that routinely disadvantage individuals based on race, gender, class, and other salient identities must be confronted and challenged in our schools. 

We are concerned about the harmful effects of this current legislation, particularly practices and policies that will overwhelmingly erase the experiences of communities of color that have a unique and relevant history to the United States. 

As it stands, the current draft rule proposes significant financial penalties for school districts. Additionally, the draft rule has unclear investigative and enforcement processes that have alarming potential to displace teachers of color and hinder teacher abilities to introduce students to important academic concepts (reflected in state standards) in meaningful ways that encourage critical thinking skills. 

Presently, students are emerging from a year of online learning and recovering from the social and emotional effects of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the apparent realities of Black lives lost to state-sanctioned violence this past year. This current climate requires us to support our students in ways that affirm their lives, histories, and experiences. 

We ask you to consider the following recommendations as alternatives to the current proposal so that our Tennessee schools are not subjected to penalties that will further impact the funding and resources available to our most vulnerable schools. Below, we have included recommendations that could achieve a more equitable and fair process for teachers. 

We have also drafted these recommendations with historical knowledge in mind as we consider how laws and policies like that of Section 51 of Chapter 493 have had lasting harmful effects when implemented without community oversight and perspectives.

Recommendations

1. 0520-xx-xx-.02 DEFINITIONS

Original text (3) “Curriculum and instructional program” means a set of core instructional materials including activities and textbooks designed to help students reach the learning outcomes established in state academic standards. 

  • Recommendation: We ask that “curriculum and instructional program” materials include learning materials approved and/or recommended by content professional organizations such as the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE), National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM), National Science Teachers Association (NSTA), and National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS). 

Original text (5) “Department review team” means a committee of Department employees appointed by the Commissioner to review and investigate, as necessary, appeals filed with the Department pursuant to these Rules with knowledge and expertise regarding curriculum, instructional standards, and school and LEA operations and administration. 

  • Recommendation: We ask that the “Department review team” appointed by the Commissioner to review and investigate all appeals filed includes at least (2) parents from the classroom of the teacher whom the complaint is filed against, educational stakeholders who have expertise regarding curriculum, instructional standards and experience/background in areas of belonging and inclusion for all students. In addition, we ask that the “Department review team” committee reflect diverse educational stakeholders (not limited to parents, community, leaders, and students) from across each of the three Grand Divisions of Tennessee (West, Middle, and East Tennessee). 

Original text (6) “Impartial” means free from favor or bias toward one (1) viewpoint over another. 

  • Recommendation: We ask that the “Department review team” appointed by the Commissioner consider that “impartiality” suggests dishonest and untruthful teaching of history. With this in mind, we suggest that the department review team use research-informed definitions for terms like “impartiality,” “bias”  and “oppression” when developing review materials for potential complaints, in order to ensure a factual understanding. 

Original text (13) “State funds” means Basic Education Program funds. 

  • Recommendation: Given the section on early resolution of complaints, as well as appeals to the department, it seems that LEAs and public charters should be able to resolve issues without having to face infractions such as having funding withheld. Historically, withholding funding (as was the case with the No Child Left Behind Act) has not served as an impetus for schools to follow certain policies. 

We ask the Commissioner to consider an alternative first response to withholding state funds from schools which will ultimately have a negative impact on student learning and access to high quality instruction, teachers, and resources. 

Original text (14) “Supplemental instructional materials” means materials used in conjunction with the core instructional materials of a course. Supplemental instructional materials extend and support instruction and include, but are not limited to, books, periodicals, visual aids, video, sound recordings, computer software, or other digital content.

  • Recommendation: We recommend that “supplemental instructional materials” are allowed to extend and support teacher instruction and student learning. Further, we recommend that “supplemental instructional materials” are reviewed and approved by respective school leadership teams to minimize the amount of potential teachers in violation of the prohibited concepts.  

2. 0520-xx-xx-.03 PROHIBITED CONCEPTS

Original text: (1) The following concepts are prohibited concepts that shall not be included or promoted in a course of instruction, curriculum, instructional program, or in supplemental instructional materials: 

f. An individual should feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or another form of psychological distress solely because of the individual’s race or sex; 

  • Recommendation: We recommend that the “Department review team” consider the realities that all teaching has the potential for affective impact — one cannot control nor influence student response to any curricular content, whether perceived as controversial or not.  Learning theory and student development research supports this. We recommend that this language and concept is reconsidered to include all groups that might experience discomfort in the classroom and/or psychological distress due to instruction. If not, it should be omitted altogether. 

0520-xx-xx-.04 LEA AND PUBLIC CHARTER SCHOOL REQUIREMENTS.

From our review, this section lacks a great deal of clarity and guidance for educational leaders, instructional coaches, and teachers. 

Recommendation: Section .04 (b) references a complaint form, a form for which an exemplar has not been provided herein for public comment. The contents of this form will represent a significant portion of the reporting and investigative process, and would provide districts with additional guardrails with which to guide staff and district leaders. Its omission here will lead to continued confusion at the district level. We urge the Department to 1) ensure a complete list of the prohibited concepts and relevant definitions be included on the form and 2) incorporate feedback from LEAs, public charter schools, and other stakeholders on the contents of the complaint form prior to implementation of the finalized rule.

Original text: (1) Each LEA or public charter school shall:

c. Prohibit retaliation for filing a complaint or participating in an investigation;

Recommendation: We recommend that the Department outline protections from retaliation for appellants in this section. 

d. Obtain written consent from a parent prior to the participation of a minor student in the investigative process, including consent to be interviewed; 

Recommendation: We ask that the Department consider dismissal of a filed complaint if more than two student testimonies/interviews are unable to be obtained and cannot serve as evidence in the filed complaint. 

520-xx-xx-.05 REPORTING AND INVESTIGATING PROHIBITED CONCEPTS 

Original text: LEAs are best positioned to choose which textbooks and instructional materials meet the needs of their students, educators, and community. Pursuant to Tenn. Code Ann. § 49-6-2207, LEAs are required to utilize local textbook and instructional materials adoption committees to review textbooks proposed for district wide adoption by the school district from the list of textbooks and instructional materials adopted by the Textbook and Instructional Materials Quality Commission and approved by the Tennessee State Board of Education. Local review committees must be set up by grade and subject matter fields and composed of teachers, or supervisors and teachers, and parents with children enrolled in the LEA at the time of appointment to a committee. The local board of education may also appoint experts in the grade level or subject matter field for which textbooks and instructional materials are to be reviewed. General complaints about the subject matter or age appropriateness of textbooks and instructional materials that do not allege that prohibited concepts are being or have been included or promoted in a course of instruction, curriculum, instructional program, or in supplemental instructional materials of an LEA or public charter school, must be filed with the LEA or public charter school pursuant to the LEA or public charter school’s locally adopted policy for addressing such complaints. 

Recommendation: We urge the Department to provide a universal review guide and rubric to LEAs, public charter schools, and the local review committees they are granted authority to appoint in order to drive consistency, uniformity, and promote fairness in this process across the state. In the absence of additional direction and clarity from the Department, these local determinations will be left open to unclear interpretation and deemed arbitrary.

0520-xx-xx-.06 EARLY RESOLUTION OF COMPLAINTS

Original text: (1) LEAs and public charter schools are encouraged to work collaboratively with parents, teachers, and other employees to resolve concerns and complaints as quickly as possible. At any point after a complaint has been filed, but before a final written determination has been issued by the LEA or public charter school, the LEA or public charter school, the complainant, or the individual alleged to have included or promoted the prohibited concept may propose early resolution of the allegations through a resolution agreement. 

Recommendation: We urge the Department to allow autonomy of school leaders/principals, and teachers to determine a collaborative approach in their respective schools to reach early resolution before a complaint is filed and submitted. We request that this is acceptable without a required written resolution agreement as outlined in (2) of Early Resolution of Complaints. 

As a collective, we are ultimately invested in Tennessee schools meeting the needs of diverse students and families without the erasure of entire histories of communities and historical truths that may be deemed uncomfortable. The measures advanced by Section 51 of Public Chapter 493 and this accompanying rule have the potential to foster negative academic outcomes, especially for those students whose histories and realities are made invisible by these proposed concepts.  Further, these measures eradicate a welcoming and affirming environment for students of color while also limiting access, civic participation and successful academic outcomes for all students. 

We believe that our students and families deserve the opportunity to receive a full exploratory educational experience and exposure to a complete history that allows them to discover their own perspectives and prepares them to engage in a diverse and global society. 

However, with the recommendations shared above, we hope that the Department will not only consider but incorporate our suggestions in order to make this process fair, transparent and equitable for all. 

The following parents, educational advocates, education scholars and community members listed have endorsed these recommendations (affiliations are listed for identification purposes only) and have professional and personal ties to education in the state of Tennessee: 

Dr. Courtney Mauldin, Assistant Professor of Teaching and Leadership, Syracuse University 

Cardell Orrin, Executive Director, Stand for Children Tennessee

Dr. Erika Bullock, Professor, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Tamera Malone, Tennessee Educator

Christian Jones, Shelby County High School Student  

Lamar Foster, Graduate Student, Tennessee Resident

Tiffany N. Day, Equity Advocate, Parent of Shelby County High School Parent 

Dr. Cierra Presberry, Curriculum Development Specialist, Michigan State University 

Dr. Marcelle Haddix, Professor, Syracuse University 

Natalie J. McKinney, Whole Child Strategies

Dr. ReAnna S. Roby, Postdoctoral Scholar, Vanderbilt University

Rev. Cheryl J. Beard, Non-Profit Executive & Youth Advocate

Felicia N. Gunter, Parent of Shelby County K-12 Students

Michael Russom, Chief of Staff, Communities In Schools of Memphis

Rev. Althea Greene, Shelby County Schools Board Member

Cherisse Scott, CEO, SisterReach

Reginald Davis, Director of Beyond the Classroom, Seeding Success

Susanne Jackson, Education Advocate

Tomeka Hart, Former Shelby County Schools Board Member

Amber Hamilton, Executive Director, Memphis Music Initiative

Tim Green, The Dividend

Dr. Beverly Tsacoyianis, Education Advocate

Chelsea Glass, Co-Chair, Collierville Community Justice

The Moral Budget Coalition was formed under the belief that a budget is a moral document that should reflect our values and priorities and demonstrates a desire to progress towards what Dr. King described as the beloved community. In May, our coalition released a bold plan to pass a budget that is truly representative of the needs and priorities of our local community by maintaining the tax rate and generating over $140 million in additional revenue to fund needed initiatives around affordable housing, public transportation, education, supporting workers, civic engagement, and more.

Commissioner Sawyer made a motion to set the tax rate at $3.69 on the dollar to generate revenue to pay for these vital public services, but ultimately this effort failed with only Commissioners Whaley, Milton, Turner, and Sawyer voting to support the motion. There were small allotments for transit funding, and a 1 cent increase to support Youth Mental Health, but not on a level that demonstrates a commitment to addressing inequity and poverty. Similarly, Martavius Jones proposed recertifying the tax rate from $3.00 to $3.19, a motion that fell on deaf ears.

Recently, The Moral Budget Coalition released a revised version of our asks to focus on the influx of federal dollars through the American Rescue Plan Act, and urged the County Commission and Memphis City Council to take advantage of this second opportunity to pass a moral budget, rather than continuing to uphold and strengthen the status quo of disinvestment in our community and investing in policing as the go-to solution to address crime and violence.

That same week, Mayor Strickland released his plan for ARPA investments with $6 million for public safety tech upgrades, $6.5 million for take-home vehicles for officers, over half a million for a new felony assault unit, and $13.5 million for police recruitment, accounting for almost 30% of the total ARPA funds. If the Memphis City Council passes Strickland’s budget as is, what message will that send about our values as a City?

Strickland’s plan includes some of the initiatives our coalition identified, though not at the level we’d hoped. His plan earmarks less than $1.5 million for opportunity youth, and we hope this will include employment opportunities that don’t solely focus on picking up trash. While we were glad to see line items for broadband expansion and education supports; those investments pale in comparison to the over $27 million in additional revenue for policing. 

We also believe an investment in youth education supports should include both district and community input, vetting other qualified organizations that provide educational support based on nationally recognized best practices. We maintain that a better vehicle for these initiatives would be a third-party fund that relies on the insight of experts in the field of education.

The Mayor’s plan provides nothing for affordable housing, public transit, supporting workers, and other needed initiatives. Memphis is stuck in a loop of poverty and crime and there is no proof that we’ll ever police our way out of it. Our communities are safer when the people therein have access to the things they need and are not forced to make choices out of stress and desperation.

That is more true now than ever as we see the pandemic coming back with a vengeance and no clear end in sight. It’s time to break that loop and to do so, we need bold leaders who will stand up for their most vulnerable constituents and invest in solutions that get at the roots of crime and violence, namely poverty, lack of well funded education and opportunities for youth. The Memphis City Council, and likewise the Shelby County Commission should take as much time as needed to make sure that ARPA allocations are based on genuine community input and speak to the needs of those most vulnerable in our community.

Take Action Now to support ARPA funding for a Moral Budget:bit.ly/moralbudgetarpa

Signed,

The Moral Budget Coalition

Stand for Children Tennessee, MICAH (Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope), Memphis AFL-CIO Labor Council, Memphis Tenants Union, Memphis Music Initiative, My Sistah’s House, BLDG Memphis, Homeless Organizing For Power & Equality, Memphis Restaurant Workers United, Memphis For All, The Decarcerate Memphis, Collective Blueprint, Whole Child Strategies