Pandemic politics are coming home to roost in Nashville as a group of parents have launched a recall effort against school board member Gini Pupo-Walker following frustration over Metro Nashville Public Schools remaining in virtual school.
The notice of intent to recall Pupo-Walker, who represents the West End-Green Hills area on the school board, was filed with the Metro Clerk on Friday.
Pupo-Walker was elected to the board in 2018 and her term expires in 2022.
Political recalls are a long-shot. Only one – Jamie Hollin’s defeat of Metro Councilwoman Pam Murray in 2009 – has ever been successful. According to Metro law, petitioners need signatures of 15% of registered voters in the district which amounts to about 7,500 voters.
The question of whether children should return to in-person school has permeated politics at every level, from the presidential race down to community school board seats.
The decision to begin the school year with virtual learning at least through fall break in October was made by MNPS Director Adrienne Battle. Pupo-Walker told the Tennessee Lookout she supports the district’s decision.
Pupo-Walker said she felt dejected and defeated after hearing news of the recall effort, but added she has no regrets. Pupo-Walker said she believes she’s kept up with emails and phone calls from concerned parents and tried to explain that beginning the year in virtual school was a central office decision, which she supports.
“I’m tremendously proud to work with Dr. Battle,” Pupo-Walker said. “I’m really proud of her team. I’m really proud of how hard they’re working. I think we’ve tried to be transparent. I think we’ve tried to get feedback. We’ve conducted surveys and we’re conducting another one. I think, and I understand it, it’s hard for parents especially of younger children who want to go back.
“I’ll continue to talk to people and try to listen and to do the best I can.”
The recall backers accuse Pupo-Walker of “dereliction of duty” for “lack of competency and planning” for virtual school. Pupo-Walker’s district is perhaps the most affluent in Davidson County, and many of her constituents have been pushing to return to in-person learning. The district is planning a phased-in return following fall break, if the public health data on COVID-19 cases in Nashville allows it.
“Many school board District 8 families who have managed to log in quickly experience repeated technology failures, and our teachers lack adequate support from MNPS central office,” the recall backers claim in their notice filed with the clerk. “We believe this collapse of education delivery is the direct result of a nine-member school board – including Ms. Pupo-Walker – that has failed to govern at a time when school board leadership is more important than ever.”
In the letter to Metro Clerk Elizabeth Waites, supporters of the recall effort raised two issues for why they want to recall Pupo-Walker. They say she had a conflict of interest that she should have disclosed when the school board considered a resolution to seek a moratorium on state standardized testing.
“Setting aside the highly questionable policy of forcing a failed standardized test on students and teachers in the middle of public-health and economic crises, we believe Ms. Pupo-Walker – through her lack of disclosure – violated school board policy 1.106 and undermined the public’s trust,” the recall notice states.
Pupo-Walker works for the local chapter of the Education Trust, a national nonprofit group that supports standardized testing. Pupo-Walker said neither she nor the Education Trust stood to benefit financially from her vote.
“My position is that my work and my day job is 100 percent aligned to my values and what I think is best for MNPS children,” Pupo-Walker said. “I’m very clear on that. I’m happy to be more transparent about that, but it’s not a conflict in a technical sense. We don’t get any money from the district. But, I think you could name a lot of different board members who work in advocacy for education, and you could make a case that any of them are going to take a position that is aligned to what they do for a living.
“I would have taken that assessment position whether I worked for the Education Trust or not. It’s something that I believe fundamentally is a civil rights organization.”
The recall backers have 30 days to garner the necessary signatures and trigger a recall. Should the effort earn enough signatures, backers would have to submit a candidate to run to replace Pupo-Walker.