NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — The ongoing dysfunction between Metro school board members was even more obvious at a recent meeting, igniting concerns the focus has shifted from students and teachers.
"I've never seen fire stoked like they were last night, there's nobody without blame," parent and blogger TC Weber said.
Supporters of Metro Nashville Public Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph packed the room following a text message sent by longtime board member Jill Speering a week earlier. She called on teachers and parents who oppose Dr. Joseph to attend the meeting, and suggested teachers could wear masks if they are afraid of retaliation.
In response, vice chair Christiane Buggs addressed it with a statement that connected her actions to the Ku Klux Klan.
"I'm not sure if Mrs. Speering made the connection between the masked protest encouraged here today and those of yesteryear held by the Ku Klux Klan but I did. I'm not sure if she made the corolation and simply chose to dismiss it or if she made the decision to send the messages of how offensive it might be without ever crossing her mind. Either way both are frustrating and shed light on what many of us in the African American community deal with daily - racially motivated micro-aggressions that intimidate separated ans systemically oppress us," Buggs said in the meeting.
District 8 board member Gini Pupo-Walker told NewsChannel 5 that she was disappointed to learn about the text.
"I was trying to get both sides to de-escalate a little bit," Pupo-Walker said. "I think she legitimately thought teachers would appreciate to have the opportunity to not be seen and I don't believe she knew it had racial overtones or history."
Following Buggs' statements, board members Fran Bush and Amy Frogge walked out. Bush said she was appalled by the statement and insists criticisms about Dr. Joseph was never about race.
However, Buggs stands by her comments the next day. She believes race is a conversation that needs to be had and was offended by the text.
"Nashville isn't used to talking about race, they're uncomfortable. If I need to be dubbed the race baiter to talk about my truth and the displeasure it caused me, so I'll be that," Buggs told NewsChannel 5. "I don't regret it, I have reflected on it more and I don't intend to hurt my colleague's feelings but we need to keep each other accountable."
Buggs says she supports Dr. Joseph and finds that some of the fault isn't on him but on them as policymakers. She says some accusations against Dr. Joseph are not what it seems, which leads her to believe race is a possible factor.
"I hear statements from my colleagues or the community saying things like there are too many African Americans being hired in leadership in MNPS, those things offend me and hurt me for too long and I've tried to give people the benefit of the doubt," Buggs added.
Moving forward is a difficult task but there are options some board members are suggesting.
Buggs and Pupo-Walker are open to the idea of bringing in a mediator, which will require approval and money, similar to what the board at the beginning of Dr. Joseph's tenure.
"Mediation is always an option and something we've talked about to help us and facilitate some conversations," Buggs said.
Pupo-Walker suggested working with the Tennessee School Boards Association to "find a way to get back to the table." She said too many board members leave the table and everyone should be present.
They hope to discuss options in their next retreat.
Parents like Weber believe a solution is a change in leadership at the board and district level.
"In the end our schools and teachers and kids get hurt, and that shouldn't be good with everybody," said Weber.