NewsNewsChannel 5 InvestigatesRevealed 2022


REVEALED: Hillsdale-affiliated charter schools withdraw requests to open in Tennessee

Posted: 3:04 PM, Sep 29, 2022
Updated: 2024-01-10 11:35:04-05
Classical Education signs.jfif

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — American Classical Education — a group set up to create a network of charter schools affiliated with Hillsdale College across Tennessee — has withdrawn its applications to open schools in Madison, Montgomery and Rutherford counties.

This follows an exclusive NewsChannel 5 investigation that began when Gov. Bill Lee announced a "partnership" with the ultraconservative Michigan college during his State of the State Address in January. The decision marks a major setback to Lee's desire to open 50-100 of the Hillsdale charter schools across Tennessee.

ACE's application had been rejected in all three counties, and they faced the prospect of a contentious appeal next week before the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission, which could have overruled the local school boards.

"We made this decision because of the limited time to resolve the concerns raised by the commission staff and our concerns that the meeting structure and timing on Oct. 5 will not allow commissioners to hear directly from the community members whose interests lie at the heart of the commission’s work," board chair Dolores Gresham wrote in a letter delivered Thursday to the commission.

Page 1 of ACE withdrawal letter to Commission 092922
Contributed to DocumentCloud by Phil Williams (WTVF NewsChannel 5) • View document or read text

Correspondence posted on the commission's website shows the group had asked for a 45-day delay before the vote, but the commission noted that it is required by law to act within 75 days of a charter school application being rejected by the local school board.

Following the intense public controversy, the commission had also decided "to break with precedent and create additional public speaking slots" at next week's hearing, according to another letter from American Classical Education.

"ACE requested a delay to address concerns and clarify confusion and misconceptions raised by commission staff in each of the public hearings earlier this month, but understand that request could not be accommodated," Gresham's letter continued.

"Additionally, we heard from many parents and students who are on fall break during the newly reformatted commission meetings scheduled for Oct. 5. They expressed concern that they would not be able to speak and make their voices heard.

"We share their concern that the voices that really matter - the parents and students in these communities - would not be able to attend."

Lee had praised Hillsdale's "informed patriotism" approach to education.

But a NewsChannel 5 investigation had highlighted issues with Hillsdale's curriculum, including a rewriting of the history of the civil rights movement.

Hidden-camera video also revealed Arnn making derogatory comments about public school teachers coming from "the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges."

More recently, NewsChannel 5 Investigates had uncovered video of a Hillsdale College professor, who teaches part of an online course about the civil rights movement, questioning the achievements of famous Black Americans.

At a news availability following the announcement, Lee sidestepped questions about whether he would continue to support Hillsdale's efforts.

"Classical education is an option that some parents and some students want so I will continue to advocate for options and for choices for parents," the governor said.

Gresham's letter did not preclude the possibility that the Hillsdale-affiliated group might regroup and file new applications.

"ACE appreciates the time and effort spent by the Commission and Commission staff on these appeals and your professionalism throughout this process," she wrote. "We remain committed to empowering parents and students to have access to high-quality public schools of choice."

The following is a statement from American Classical Education board member Dolores Gresham: 

"American Classical Education has decided to withdraw its appeals to the Tennessee Public Charter School Commission. ACE initially asked for a delay to further address concerns and clarify confusion and misconceptions raised by the Commission staff in each of the public hearings earlier this month. We understand that the delay request was not granted. Additionally, when the Commission created additional public comment time for its meetings in October — we heard from many parents and students who will be on fall break during the newly reformatted Commission meetings and would be unable to travel to Nashville. This made us concerned that the Commission would not hear directly from the voices that really matter — the parents and students in these communities.

"We believe, with complete conviction, that there will be many future opportunities in Tennessee as there are in most of America. The nationwide movement away from monopolistic public schools is an expression of the fact that parents have a natural love and, therefore, a natural say over how and what their children are taught in school. This parental love was evident in the efforts of the many parents who have supported our efforts and to whom we remain committed. It remains a much stronger claim than the claim of the bureaucracy that continues to stifle quality public education options for families. After all, parents are the purest form of “local control” when it comes to their child’s education.

"ACE remains committed to empowering parents and students to have access to high-quality public schools of choice. We look forward to applying for additional charter schools where local parents, teachers and students desire excellent education alternatives.”


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