NewsNewsChannel 5 Investigates


School Director's Rap Song Sparks New Controversy

School Director's Rap Song Sparks New Controversy
Posted at 5:01 PM, May 14, 2018
and last updated 2018-07-23 15:52:05-04

A rap song has now become a powerful symbol of the discord playing out among the leadership of Metro Nashville Public Schools.

It's a song that Schools Director Dr. Shawn Joseph says sometimes plays in his head during difficult meetings of the Metro School Board, and it's now triggered an official complaint by one board member.

"I could not understand how this misogynistic song could be appropriate in ANY educational environment," school board member Jill Speering said in the complaint sent to the district's civil rights coordinator.

"What kind of example does this set for principals, teachers and students?"

In recent weeks, Joseph's relationship with the Metro School Board has turned more contentious as he's faced questions about the district's spending from Speering and fellow board member Amy Frogge.

During one discussion, Joseph appeared to be rolling his eyes, although he later claimed in a tweet that "sometimes you need to look towards where your strength comes."

Attorney Jamie Hollin represents "more than five" principals who were in a meeting last Thursday for all the district's principals.

That's when Joseph brought up the song "Blow the Whistle" by rapper Too Short.

"He said, according to my clients, here is what I am thinking about during school board meetings," Hollin told NewsChannel 5 Investigates.

According to Hollin and other principals who spoke to NewsChannel 5, Joseph told the group that, when dealing with a difficult board, he sometimes hears the song in his head.

Joseph played the following lyrics:

"I go on and on. Can't understand how I last so long. I must have super powers. Rap two hundred twenty-five thousand hours."

A school district spokesperson said that's where Joseph cut off the song to avoid any explicit lyrics.

But some see the song's title, "Blow the Whistle," as a reference to street lingo for a sex act.

And the lyrics go on to include this.

"What's my favorite word?" "B****! Why they gotta say it like short? B****! You know they can't play on my court. Can't hang with the big dogs, stay on the porch."

While Joseph did not recite the first part, multiple witnesses say he did quote the line "can't hang with the big dogs, stay on the porch."

The reaction in the room?

"Extremely negative," said Hollin. "They were very discouraged. It has been a blow to morale among the principals -- all across the city."

In her complaint, Jill Speering said some principals felt "Dr. Joseph's behavior was unbecoming the Director of Schools."

Hollin agreed.

"The school board hires him -- and, clearly, he could [not] care less about the opinions of at least two of them," he added.

Reverend Enoch Fuzz, a community activist who has recently been critical of some of Joseph's budgetary decisions, said the playing of the rap song "seems to be out of a frustration."

Fuzz recently came to the defense of the two dissident school board members after one of Joseph's fraternity brothers accused Speering and Frogge of engaging in what he called "a public lynching."

When Frogge confronted Joseph, he denied that he thought the two are racists.

Still, he declined to rebuke a fellow fraternity member.

"If a member chooses to come and speak," Joseph said, "he has the right to do say and say what he feels is on his heart to say."

The schools director also went on a radio show and compared himself to the nation's first African-American president.

"They beat up the last president I knew, Barack Obama," Joseph said. "So, you know, it's expected. It's alright. I'm going to try to keep cool like he is."

Reverend Fuzz said, "I don't like people trying to use me, based on racial preferences."

He added that he believes Joseph's use of the rap video reflects an unfortunate tendency to demonize his critics, rather than fully engaging with them.

"I think I'd like to ask Dr. Joseph to help people understand what he's talking about," Fuzz added. "Don't get mad. It's just business."

He added that he thinks Joseph and the school board could benefit from some expert mediation.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates repeatedly asked Dr. Joseph's office whether he believed this was an appropriate statement to be aimed at board members who are his bosses.

A spokesperson repeatedly insisted that no objectionable lyrics were ever played.

In the end, she said: "We never want an employee to feel uncomfortable, and we will carefully consider full lyrics in the future."