By David Seal [Special to The Tennessee Conservative] –
Jefferson County citizens are both relieved and encouraged to learn that the school board is no longer publishing a monthly tracking report listing the names of record requestors, the date of the request, and a description of the documents requested.
In their January 13, 2022, meeting, the school board chair, frustrated with frequent requests for documents, instructed the central office staff and director of schools to produce a written report that detailed all records requests for the month prior to all school board meetings.
“They [school board] made a public spectacle out of entering the tracking report in their meeting packets and posting our names on the district website. It had a chilling effect on my own motivation to ask for the documents that I needed. It was like ‘Big Brother’ looking over my shoulder. I am glad that is over so I can continue my civic activities” – Dawn Mayer, Parent
In a news interview with the Jefferson County Standard-Banner newspaper on February 3, 2022, the school board chair expressed her frustrations with frequent requests for documents, stating that requests were becoming “burdensome” to school staff, at one point asking, “what is the purpose of questioning everything?”
The practice of citizen tracking ended in September 2022 when two new conservative republicans were seated on the school board after defeating the board chair and vice-chair in the August General Election. Both new members had pledged to encourage citizen and parent participation, increase transparency, and provide full accountability to taxpayers. Their election to the board as republicans was made possible when the Jefferson County Republican Party leadership called a school board primary election. Partisan school board races were authorized by the legislature in a special session in late 2021.
A grassroots organization of citizens called Empowered Jefferson frequently seeks records from local government agencies, including schools, so their team can evaluate the operation of county departments and exercise rights under the Tennessee Constitution to “instruct” and “petition” elected representatives concerning public policy.
“We are extremely pleased that our membership is no longer under the specter of being tracked and put out for public consumption on the school district website every time we request a document. Our goal is to be a community partner and exercise our right to shape policy.” – Michelle Light, Chair, Empowered Jefferson
Light recommends that citizens across Tennessee check the website of their local school district to see if the tracking of citizens who request records is being employed.
About the Author: David Seal is a retired Jefferson County educator, recognized artist, local businessman,
917 Society Volunteer, and current Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party.
He has also served Jefferson County as a County Commissioner and is a lobbyist for the
people on issues such as eminent domain, property rights, education, and broadband
accessibility on the state level.