Photo: Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn speaks at Tennessee Funding Review Public Town Hall – Northwest Core on November 22nd ; Photo Credit: TNDeptofEducation / YouTube
The Tennessee Conservative [By Jason Vaughn] –
Tennessee continues to fight against teaching of concepts regarding race and gender in public schools, increasing the financial penalties that school systems will face if they are found in violation of the legislation passed this spring.
An additional change gives individuals more time to file a complaint against teachers for violating the rules, but legislators decided to continue to allow only students, parents, or staff in a particular district to file a complaint against that school system.
Education Commissioner Penny Schwinn recently signed the new set of emergency rules, set to temporarily monitor and ward off teaching of prohibited subject matter, including critical race theory, a curriculum that involves the idea that many laws and policies perpetuate racism.
While critical race theory is taught mostly in higher education, the law guards K-12 students from being subjected to divisive teachings. There are 14 concepts prohibited under the law, including the idea that the United States is inherently sexist or racist in its functioning and the notion that an individual can be privileged or oppressive just because of their race or gender.
After Governor Lee signed the law, Commissioner Schwinn assured school systems that she would provide guidance. She issued the emergency rules, effective November 8, and they will remain in effect until May 7. At that time, the department plans to issue a finalized set of rules, developed after enforcing the law for this school year.
Schwinn initially proposed guidelines in July but has made changes based on suggestions from a number of different groups.
“Most revisions were made in response to feedback received during the public comment period, but some revisions were made to clarify misunderstandings or confusion of wording in the original draft,” said Brian Blackley, department spokesman.
Some believe the penalties are excessive; school systems will be fined 2% of their annual state funds for a first offense, with that penalty increasing to up to 10% after the fifth offense. This was changed from a lower flat fee that started at $1 million.
Representative Scott Cepicky of Maury County was vocal in the need to hit larger districts financially in a way that would hurt them more than the smaller flat fee.
While some wanted the guidelines changed to allow anyone to make a complaint against a district, the state ended up staying with the restriction to allow only students, parents, and employees to do so. This was an attempt to avoid “outside forces” who do not have children in a district to file unfounded complaints that would simply waste time for those enforcing the guidelines.
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The time allowed to file a complaint was lengthened from 30 days to 45 days. After a complaint is made, administrators have 60 days to determine the validity of the complaint and to take steps to rectify it. The state gave that investigative responsibility to school systems because they “are best positioned to choose which textbooks and instructional materials meet the needs of their students, educators, and community.”
If an appeal is necessary, the state department will step in and handle that. If a school system knowingly violates the law, the state will take over all investigation and enforcement of penalties.
Many individuals on both sides of the debate argue that the prohibited topics are vague, but the guidelines do not address those ambiguities.
About the Author: Jason Vaughn, Media Coordinator for The Tennessee Conservative ~ Jason previously worked for a legacy publishing company based in Crossville, TN in a variety of roles through his career. Most recently, he served as Deputy Directory for their flagship publication. Prior, he was a freelance journalist writing articles that appeared in the Herald Citizen, the Crossville Chronicle and The Oracle among others. He graduated from Tennessee Technological University with a Bachelor’s in English-Journalism, with minors in Broadcast Journalism and History. Contact Jason at news@TennesseeConservativeNews.com