MBA retires a chant
Last week, rumors started trickling in that a handful of Montgomery Bell students were not representing the high-minded ideals of their tony West End school (i.e. Gentleman. Scholar. Athlete.). The accusation? During a Jan. 16 basketball game, standout Ensworth guard Tavarres Jefferson was taunted with chants of "Hooked on Phonics" (clap clap, clap clap clap).Jefferson, who is black, was apparently unfazed by the taunts, as he and Ensworth went on to beat the Big Red by nine. But Ensworth parents are less forgiving. After several complaints, MBA headmaster Bradford Gioia acted swiftly, meeting with about a dozen boys thought to be responsible for the taunt a day after the game. "Phonics" has been a weapon in the MBA armament for as long as he can remember, says Gioia, usually as a retaliatory lob at Father Ryan students who chant "Da-ddy's Mo-ney" (clap clap, clap clap clap). It's all a part of the grand tradition of young men teasing opponents at sporting events, something they probably learned while watching their dad flick off Ravens fans at LP Field. The phonics taunt becomes a loaded weapon, however, when employed by a mob of well-heeled children at the expense of a black kid—something Gioia, to his credit, was quick to acknowledge."(MBA kids) have been saying that for 10 years, with the insinuation being 'you're dumb,' " he says. "They didn't have any intention to be racist. But when the line between what's funny and what's spirited gets muddled, it's best to step away from it." —Caleb Hannan
Rosalind Kurita's revenge
Call it Rosalind Kurita's revenge. The Tennessee Democratic Party has been slapped with a whopping $80,000 bill from Bass, Berry & Sims, the lawyers' price for defending the party against Kurita's unsuccessful federal lawsuit. The former state senator alleged that Democrats violated her rights by stripping her of her 19-vote primary victory over now-Sen. Tim Barnes.Unfortunately, $80,000 is about all the party has left in its bank account. And with the Democratic establishment upset over Saturday's election of Chip Forrester as the party chairman, fundraising isn't looking too promising at the moment. So Forrester is trying to come up with a payment plan to satisfy Bass, Berry. —Jeff Woods
English-Only's carpetbagger funding
According to the Davidson County Election Commission, almost all of the $84,205 raised in support of the failed English Only amendment came from ProEnglish, an Arlington, Va., interest group that goes around the country spending money on these kinds of things.
That explains why Councilman Eric Crafton, the measure's chief proponent, was so evasive about funding prior to the election, going so far as to blow off filing his campaign finance reports. When the Scene asked last summer where his money came from, he offered this cryptic response. "From folks. It's just mostly folks and their contributions."
Car dealer Lee Beaman was the only major local contributor, kicking in $6,000. Just five other Nashvillians contributed to the cause, giving between $100 and $200 each. —P.J. Tobia
The NAACP throws a wrench
Black leaders held a press conference last week as part of their unfolding strategy to stop Nashville's impending return to a more segregated school system.
At NAACP headquarters, the Rev. James Lawson—a white-haired eminence of the civil rights movement—took center stage to express his outrage over the student rezoning plan. "It's disgraceful in this land of ours that we are still having to organize ourselves to defeat the vestiges of racism that have never been dismantled and remain," Lawson said.
According to sources, here's the NAACP's game plan:
Step 1: Shame the city into abandoning the plan, which smacks of the days of desegregation when white flight created the city of Brentwood. Not a pretty time to recall.
Step 2: If that fails, hit the school board where it hurts—in the pocketbook. That's the reason for the federal complaint that's been filed with the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights. It makes two indisputable points: (a) the rezoning plan results in a more segregated school system and (b) the school board has refused to discuss a possible compromise with parents or even to place the matter on its agenda.
If the Office of Civil Rights is sufficiently upset about all this, it could threaten to withhold federal funds from our schools. The mere threat would cause the school board to knuckle under quickly.
Step 3: As a last resort, the NAACP will sue the school board in federal court. In that case, they'll have to prove discrimination, which might not be all that hard to do considering the backroom behavior of certain school board members revealed in Pedro Garcia's memos. —Jeff Woods
School board won't back down
At least one key public official isn't fazed by the NAACP's civil rights complaint against the school board over its rezoning plan. School board chair David Fox says he remains adamantly behind it. There's been "no conversation at the board level to do anything any differently," he says. Fox insists the board will keep its promise to spend an additional $6 million on Pearl-Cohn's cluster of schools next year, despite the district's budget troubles.
"I don't think there's a scenario in which we can't spend it," he says. "...We have been clear publicly and with the administration that, as the budget process begins, additional resources for the Pearl-Cohn schools will be one of the first elements put into the budget. I don't see any scenario in which those resources are not made available. ...I think of it as a way for us to demonstrate that we can educate our at-risk children to high national standards, so I don't really see it as optional."
In which case, we have a suggestion: Take the money out of Hillwood High's budget. —Jeff Woods
The elusive dress code
It's a measure of how little confidence exists in MNPS governance that parents are strategizing about how to get the school system to honor its own dress code policy.
When the school board first approved the inanity of "standard school attire" in 2007—a policy for which no solid evidence of its effectiveness exists—it came with an expiration date of sorts: The board included a provision that after two years "a school's principal may submit in writing a petition to opt out of the program to the Director of Schools." It also gave schools the right to appeal a director's refusal to the school board. The two-year mark arrives later this spring, and parents who are both fed up with the policy's inherent lunacy and distrustful of the school system's willingness to stick by its policy are eager to learn details of the opt-out procedure.
But instead of offering up a simple and timely announcement of an opt-out procedure, school officials hint that an announcement might not come until late May, when school is out and parents would have more difficulty influencing principals to opt out.
Meanwhile, incurious education reporters like The Tennessean's intrepid Jaime Sarrio are parroting district propaganda about dress code effects, rather than pushing officials to put an opt-out on the table sooner rather than later. The potential bright spot is new schools director Jesse Register, who seems to understand that a board directive can only be undone by the board.
Replying by email last week to a parent, Register wrote, "Be assured that we will discuss the intent of the board policy and that they will have the opportunity to exercise the opt-out policy as intended by the Board." Thanks, Jesse, but we'll believe it when we see it. —Bruce Barry
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