Commentary: Williamson County group chooses equal and fair treatment for all children

June 16, 2021 5:00 am
Franklin High School (Photo: Williamson County Schools)

Franklin High School. Battles between parents and school boards have been heated in Williamson County. (Photo: Williamson County Schools)

I am a storm-tossed and weary Williamson County Schools parent.

I’m weary because I’m a mother of four who would rather be making summer plans with her kids instead of writing this op-ed. I’m weary after a year of navigating a pandemic with four children in four schools, almost losing my husband to COVID-19, and keeping my son who has autism steady and on-course in a year of constant change. Yes, I am weary of many things.

Let me tell you something that’s not making me weary, though. I’m not weary because “I’m a white woman being made to feel ashamed of my skin color because of our county’s Marxist curriculum.” I’m not weary because “we have elected a bunch of communists to our school board.” Even though this is the message being sent to our community from national groups trying to scare us and politicize our schools and school board, I’m not weary of those things because those things are imaginary problems. 

We do have some real problems that need solving, though.

  • Young children of color in our community are told by fellow students that their school is only for white people and they should go home. 
  • Black students in our community regularly hear the n-word in the halls of our schools. 
  • Parents of children of color in our community have to ask me if there are any support groups for parents who are having difficulty knowing how to prepare their children for our school halls. 
  • Children of color in our community are finally starting to see some of their historically accurate experiences in their school curriculum only to have affluent people in the majority demographic with every advantage cry foul because who knows why?! (Maybe they are having to have difficult conversations with their kids about race or discrimination for the first time? I can only speculate.) 
  • A person in our community reached out to One WillCo through our website on behalf of a bi-racial child who is dealing with suicidal ideation because of pointed racial harassment she faced all of last school year. 

These realities are why Revida Rahman and I co-founded One WillCo, a nonpartisan grassroots group advancing racial equity in our local schools, in 2019. 

We started One WillCo because racism is real and here in our community. White children and children of color don’t experience our schools in the same way. Although we know that policies can’t eliminate racism, they can absolutely help protect students from it. Even though racial inequity in our schools is a long-standing, nationwide problem, we know that together we can create positive change in our own community.

We started One WillCo because racism is wrong. This seems obvious, but many of us have become so accustomed to the racism around us that we accept it as normal or don’t recognize it for what it is. The law doesn’t see it that way. “Schools must take immediate and appropriate action to respond to complaints of discrimination, including harassment or bullying based on race, color, national origin, or religion.” U.S. Department of Justice.

And we started One WillCo because racism is expensive. In 2019 our school district was fined over $900,000 for showing significant disproportionality in discipline based on race and ethnicity. This type of disparity is an issue across our entire nation, not just in the South or Tennessee. Fines and laws are there to mitigate the problem, but rules don’t solve problems, people do. And teachers and policy makers can’t fix the problem alone. Our whole community must work together toward that same end.

And we are grateful for the progress that  Superintendent Jason Golden and all of the WCS leaders have made this year by listening to the call of our students of color and their families and with integrity and courage, taken action.This started with the school board’s unanimous vote to hire experts, Fostering Healthy Solutions, to help make things better for our students who aren’t in the majority demographic, but whose voices are equally important.

But now, we’re hearing an outcry in our community that “critical race theory” (CRT) is the biggest threat to our children, and we’re seeing a public smear campaign against our WCS leaders and against Fostering Healthy Solutions. Dear God, have mercy.

These are divided times. And yes, One WillCo has chosen sides, but we haven’t chosen the liberal or the conservative side. We haven’t chosen a political side. We’ve chosen the side of something that’s not controversial at all. Equal and fair treatment for all of our public school families and students, especially our families of color who have been waiting for it for far too long.

We’re paying attention. We vote. And we’re not going anywhere.


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Jennifer Cortez
Jennifer Cortez

Jennifer Cortez is the mother of four, all of whom have attended or currently attend Williamson County Schools. Her writing has been published in Asperger’s Digest, The Mom’s Bible, and The Devotional Bible for Dads.