Religious Liberty Policies

Over the past two years, WCSB member Beth Burgos has pursued several missions – to institute prayer at School Board meetings, to censor textbooks and teacher supplementary materials, to investigate teachers for their free speech outside school hours and off school premises based on a secret recording, and to participate in the statewide campaign alleging that seventh grade social studies students were – or could be – indoctrinated into Islam. Burgos has created a host of “religious liberty” policies including the ultimately dropped and largely plagiarized Williamson County Religious Liberty & Protection Resolution. In August, Burgos introduced four “religious liberty” policies at the policy committee meeting, but they were tabled until the 10/3 meeting. They will be discussed at the 10/13 work session. Burgos’ “religious liberty” policies are simply restatements of state law—but they leave out one fundamental part 4.607 – Homework This is already state law (TCA 49-6-1804) with no specification that it be duplicated in district policy. Burgos added this clause in its entirety to the existing WCS Homework policy. 49-6-1804. Discrimination based on religious content of student’s written or oral assignments or submissions prohibited — Penalty or reward prohibited. “Students may express their written beliefs about religion in homework, artwork, and other written and oral assignments free from discrimination based on the religious content of the student’s submissions. Homework and classroom assignments shall be judged by ordinary academic standards of substance and relevance and against other legitimate academic concerns identified by the LEA. Students may not be penalized or rewarded based on the religious content of the student’s work.” 4.803 – Student Religious Liberties *NEW* This is existing state law (TCA 49-6-2904)...

One of These Things Is Not Like the Other…

Our appeal hearing with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance is set for November 3-4. As you know, Susan Curlee and subsequently the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance (TREF) have been prosecuting a case against the five of us since late 2014. It has been an eye-opening experience: what appears to be (or have been) a very close relationship between Curlee and the Registry, false and harassing charges from Curlee, demonstrably fabricated statements and charges from the state, multiple attempts by Curlee to get the DA to charge us with various crimes, deleted public records, “accidentally deleted” public audio recordings, and deposition testimony regarding the proper preparation of turnips. This case isn’t technical. This case isn’t normal. We are involved parties and you will and should read this—and our subsequent and previous updates—with that in mind. We will cover multiple aspects of the story and provide links to source materials when possible. Despite the Registry’s and Ms. Curlee’s efforts to seal and hide many of the records, most of the documents in this case are public records: the depositions, the motions, the responses, the transcriptions of the hearings themselves. Through the Registry, Curlee and her powerful political allies have been effective in using state tax dollars and the power of the state government to investigate us and harass us, to transmit to the public lies about us, and to damage our reputations (as Curlee gleefully acknowledged the day of the ruling in an email to Jean Barwick, the paid executive director of the Williamson County Republican Party). (Note: When Ms. Barwick familiarly refers to “Patricia,” she is referring to Registry member Patricia Heim,...

Do WCS Teachers Have Free Speech?

Hey there, teachers! We’ve heard some disturbing reports that some teachers believe that WCS teachers and administrators may not share their personal political opinions about local school board candidates. This is just not true—you are not prohibited from law or policy from expressing your personal political opinions (including on social media) on your own time. Under state law, school district staff cannot do political campaign work (volunteering, promoting a candidate, etc.) during the hours of the day when the school district requires the teacher to be performing school duties. You can’t do anything political while you’re on the clock. That’s it. Well, there are a few more things: you can’t display campaign materials (signs, flyers, etc) on school district property. You cannot “attempt to intimidate, coerce, or command” others on how to vote (Duh!). The law doesn’t address email specifically, but you should not use WCS email for anything political. You should speak for yourself and not the district as a whole. But your personal time is your own and you get to say what you want. If you think one candidate is great or terrible, say so on a day/time when you are not...

Registry Update # 2

Speak in 2016 and ye shall be fined! Maybe. So sayeth the TN Registry of Election Finance. As you know, we are in the middle of what has been a lengthy appeal process with the Tennessee Registry of Election Finance. (See Registry Update #1) The appeal has been dragging on for almost a year; we do not know when it will be done. We now know that the ruling against us was highly idiosyncratic in just about every way: the process, the judgment, the definition, the statements of Registry board members and the order itself. (Seriously, if you haven’t read it, read Registry Update #1.) But let’s look ahead. Given that this process is now well into another school board election cycle, what can we do to inform our readers? Based on the ruling of the Registry in our case (and our case alone), we may be fined tens of thousands of dollars for the following in the upcoming election: If one of us sends a personal email to a friend talking about a candidate we like. If one of us pays for a voter list so we can call people and urge them to vote (not for a specific candidate). If we post on Williamson Strong anything that could possibly be perceived as negative or positive about a candidate for election. Given all of this, how can we exercise our first amendment rights and do what we’re here to do—inform you—under this threat? We’re here to keep you informed. If we can’t do that, we should close up shop right now. And that’s what some people want us to do…...

The Climate of Fear, Indeed: Only 16% of WCS employees feel it is safe to speak against the board

  WCS just released the results of an anonymous employee survey. One question asked if employees felt they could publicly disagree with the board without fear of retribution. This question was added at board member Rick Wimberly’s request after he pulled his “speak up” resolution for lack of support in February. The resolution, which is back on the agenda again for this Thursday’s work session, encourages educator input and acknowledges their constitutional rights. More than 2,300 employees, including 1,539 teachers and 476 building level support staff, responded to the survey. It contains a lot of interesting information. (Some is great, some concerning—we’ll cover other topics at a later date.) But one aspect in particular stands out. Employees of the district (most of whom are teachers) are afraid to state their viewpoint if it would conflict with the position of the board. Only 16% said they felt safe to do so without fear of retribution. This is even more striking when you consider employees fear ELECTED OFFICIALS who technically do not have the power to hire/fire staff (except Dr. Looney). We have said for a long time that this is a real problem—it was even before the Hillsboro investigation. But when board members investigated Hillsboro teachers for what they said when they were not at work—and used a secret recording to do it—well, no wonder teachers have drawn the conclusion that stating an opinion against some members of this board could be perilous indeed. We need more educator voices, not fewer. A climate of fear is the last thing we need to make WCS the best it can be. Question...

Happy Say Something Critical about a Politician Day!

We know—many of us use our liberty to do this every day! But do it today. Seriously, get together with your friends, maybe your co-workers. On your own time, talk a little smack about your elected officials. Go local, state, or federal! Republican, Democrat, it all works. Find somebody who represents you and about whom you have some critical things to say. Go for it. Why do we celebrate this right on this day? Because one year ago today (9/29/14), about 13 WCS teachers and administrators met after work in a park to talk about the school board—yes, elected officials. And some teachers actually said some critical things about their elected officials. And because someone secretly recorded it and uploaded it and put it on the radio, those very government officials–6 months later–heard it, didn’t like it, and kicked off an investigation into those very educators. We think a school system and a democracy in which teachers fear being investigated by the government for having a private political conversation is a scary thing. We really do. And so we say–on principle and in solidarity with those teachers who got treated like they did something wrong–THEY DIDN’T. So wave your flag high and give it all you’ve got. Because when we wave the flag and talk about freedom, this is (part of) what we mean.   See also: Fact Check Free Speech for Teachers The Hillsboro Investigation Part 1 The Hillsboro Investigation Part 2 Hillsboro Educators and Dr. Looney Cleared of All Wrongdoing  ...