As 2018 progressed, Metro Nashville School Board meetings transitioned from being about the children, to being about sex scandals and politics. There’s been a concerted effort by a number of school board members for new leadership, as Director Shawn Joseph continues to lead the district to an ever-growing number of sexual harassment scandals, cover-ups, and lawsuits.
Now that we prepare for the first school board meeting of 2019, scheduled for tonight at 5 p.m., the protests are expected to escalate. In December there were loud calls for Joseph’s resignation during the meetings. Two ‘sides’ have formed, and if you enter the meeting room, you immediately realize you need to make a choice, you’re either for Joseph, or you’re against him. There’s not much room to be in the middle, as both sides will entice you to be ‘for’ them, even if you’re only there for the children.
School Board member Jill Speering has been a vocal critic of Director Shawn Joseph’s leadership, and she has some allies on the board, even if they’re not as outspoken. She has become the defacto leader of the movement against Joseph. A few days ago, Speering sent out a text to Metro Teachers, asking them to come fill the seats during the public comment portion of tonight’s meeting – she even suggest that they could wear masks if they didn’t want to be identified by the board, and in particular, Shawn Joseph, who has a reputation for retaliation against those that speak against him and his policies.
The text from Speering reads, in part, “The motto is we need new leadership. Can you bring 5 parents or teachers? We need 200 participants. If teachers are fearful to reveal their identity, please wear a mask. This will make national news! Please do not share on social media”.
In response, the supporters of Shawn Joseph were quick to take Speering up on this challenge. In the days since her text, there has been a very strong push on certain local radio stations, including from a local juvenile court judge, encouraging black listeners to ‘show up’ and ‘show support’ for Joseph at Tuesday’s school board meeting – even though they have no affiliation with the school system, or children in it. The goal of the friends of Joseph is said to be to fill the seats of the room, so that the teachers and other that support Speering simply won’t be seen in the room.
Joseph has a history of attempting to fill seats of school board meetings himself, sending out flyers on multiple occasions, asking his fraternity brothers, and others, to show up and ‘support him’, as seen in the flyer below. It’s still unclear why ‘show up and support Joseph’ flyers and radio pushes are needed, as there’s no active effort to remove him, and he’s already the Director of Schools with a lucrative contract that doesn’t appear to be in danger.
Joseph’s fraternity brothers have been accused of confronting those against him in the parking lot, and attempting to intimidate them, including reporters, into staying away, and not reporting on the controversy.
Tuesday’s meeting is the first of the new year, and comes after 3 other meetings earlier in the day that will likely be just as heated – though not all of them are open to the public, including the 1:30 p.m. executive session, during which the board members in attendance are expected to be briefed on the sexual harassment lawsuits the district is facing.
Tuesday’s school board meeting will begin at 5:00 p.m. at the Bransford Avenue headquarters, and is open to the public.