NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WTVF) — Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee continues to try to dodge the controversy surrounding one of his education advisers who privately mocked public school teachers and the colleges that train them.
NewsChannel 5 Investigates caught up with Lee Tuesday as he made an unannounced appearance at a conference of agriculture teachers, and he insisted he has no plans to heed new calls for him to disavow the comments by Hillsdale College President Larry Arnn.
The Republican governor has also refused to condemn curriculum developed by Hillsdale that teaches children that laws against racial discrimination violated the intentions of the nation's Founders. Lee has invited Hillsdale to set up 50-100 charter schools in the state.
"I've said what I am going to say about this," Lee said, repeatedly attempting to walk away from NewsChannel 5's camera.
"I fully support our teachers, and I'm here to talk to them."
Lee's appearance before the Tennessee Association of Agriculture Educators comes as controversy continues to simmer over Arnn's argument that public school teachers come "from the dumbest parts of the dumbest colleges."
Arnn made the comments during an invitation-only reception with Lee last month. Hidden-camera video shows the governor did not refute his friend's comments.
Among the latest developments:
- The Wilson County Board of Education approved a resoluton Monday night, condemning Arnn and adding: "We further condemn the failure of Governor Lee to rebuke Mr. Arnn for his comments and request the elected representatives and senators for Wilson County condemn his comments as well.”
- The Tennessee Association of Secondary School Principals issued a statement, saying of Arnn: "It is disconcerting that anyone connected to any education system could speak so vehemently against educators and educator preparation programs and not be blackballed from having an impact on the system."
From TN Assoc. of Secondary School Principals on Larry Arnn: "it is disconcerting that anyone connected to any education system could speak so vehemently against educators and educator preparation programs and not be blackballed from having an impact on that system." pic.twitter.com/P8yAqzjpTT— Phil Williams (@NC5PhilWilliams) July 13, 2022
Facing a continuing backlash, the Governor's Office had told reporters that Lee had "no public events" this week.
But thanks to a viewer tip, NewsChannel 5 Investigates found him at the agriculture education conference in Murfreesboro.
In a media availability last week, the governor refused to disavow Arnn's remarks.
Claude Pressnell, head of the Tennessee Independent Colleges and Universities Association, had called upon Lee to go farther.
"I think the Governor does need to say more, and I think what he needs to say needs to be on point to our concern, and our concern is Larry Arnn."
"You'll have to talk to other people about their comments."
NewsChannel 5 Investigates pressed, "But you were there, sir — and you didn't speak up. And some educators think you need to do more."
"Yeah," the governor answered.
"What do you say to those educators?"
"I say I fully support our educators, and I want them to listen to my words to them. I appreciate them. I support them, and I'm grateful for them."
Still, we had questions about comments made this week by the Republican chairman of a key House education committee.
Rep. Mark White, R-Memphis, posted on Facebook: "When the General Assembly convenes again next January any hope that Hillsdale will operate in Tennessee has been shattered."
We wanted to know what Lee thought.
"You'll have to talk to Chairman White about that," he said.
We asked again, "What is your reaction to that, sir?"
"My reaction is that I am about to go speak to teachers — fully supportive of them."
Inside the conference, the governor received a polite reception, even getting a "Teach Agriculture" T-shirt to take home.
He addressed the teachers without taking any questions.
Yet, the hidden-camera video shows how Lee continues to embrace Hillsdale's charter schools despite a curriculum that, our investigation discovered, suggests the civil rights movement "ran counter to the lofty ideals of the Founders"
That curriculum also teaches that laws opening up lunch counters and outlawing discrimination in restaurants, hotels and theatres "was where the line between private conscience and government coercion began to blur."
As Lee attempted to duck out another door, NewsChannel 5 Investigates wanted to know why that doesn't concern the governor.
We asked, "Do you agree that laws against racial discrimination violated business owners' constitutional rights?"
"I just think that we need to follow the Constitution," he responded.
"That's what I think we need to do - especially with regard to anything regarding discrimination of anyone for any reason."
With that, the governor got into his state vehicle, closed the door and was driven away from our questions.
SPECIAL SECTION: Revealed
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