Some community members are calling a training session that included conversations about racism, white privilege and equity attended by Hamilton County teachers Friday inappropriate.
Dozens of teachers in Hamilton County's Opportunity Zone, which consists of the district's 12 highest-needs, lowest-performing schools, were gathered for the third annual Urban Education Institute on Friday as they prepared to welcome their students back to school next week.
Former NFL player Robert Jackson served as the guest speaker for the event.
Jackson also presented at the district's second Urban Education Institute held in January, where teachers learned about how trauma at home could affect students' performance in the classroom.
On Friday, Jackson led the teachers through what the district said was a presentation about "how adverse childhood experiences can impact behavior in the classroom and methods to have effective classroom management."
Some of the slides included in Jackson's presentation provided as examples of white privilege that white people are less likely to be followed, interrogated or searched by law enforcement; their skin tone will not affect their credit or financial responsibility; when accused of a crime, white people are portrayed as good people; and they don't lose opportunities when mistakes are made.
One slide also said that "people of color cannot be racist because they lack the institutional power to affect white lives."
Patrick Hampton, vice president of communications and community engagement and Hamilton Flourishing, a local conservative political organization, posted on Facebook about the slides.
In his post, Hampton said, "This is what Hamilton County employees and teachers had to sit through. This is called professional development. The liberal left is running the school systems and pushing their agenda onto our children with our tax dollars. #GetOut."
Hampton, a vocal critic of the public school district, added that taxpayers should be furious.
Board members Rhonda Thurman, of District 1, and Tucker McClendon, of District 8, said Friday their phones had been inundated with messages from community members about the training.
"I've heard from several teachers who attended the training and I had some who said they felt very uncomfortable and they did not like the whole discussion and didn't know why they had to hear about it," Thurman said. "We don't need to be balkanizing our school system. How is a white teacher going to feel if this is how they think black people think about them?"
District 4 board member Tiffanie Robinson, who represents several Opportunity Zone schools, disagrees with Thurman. She said she was disappointed that some in the community have misconstrued the purpose of the training.
"Our teachers want to know and understand their students. Many of our teachers, fortunately, did not grow up in the environments our students are coming from. Understanding their home life and community helps our teachers better understand how to build relationships with their students and thus better instruct them toward success," reads a statement from Robinson. "Our school system is striving for progression and empathy in the classroom — the public has asked for this and we as public servants have listened."
She also noted that she is concerned about the current divisiveness around public education.
"I am more sad that community members believe this type of divisiveness in education is healthy where as it is not, and if continued, will hurt all of us. this training is incredibly important for the schools I represent," she said.
District spokesman Tim Hensley said in a press release that the district "regrets that there [has] been misinterpretation" of the presentation.
The press release further reads that slides had "been taken out of context and misrepresented in Facebook posts."
"The slides are being misrepresented as a presentation on white privilege. For the slides in question, the speaker was reviewing terms that can impact perception and definitions attached to the terms when the slides were used. White Privilege was one of several terms on slides during the short part of the presentation," Hensley said.
Hensley added that the district will put additional safeguards in place for external presenters to ensure there is less potential of misinterpretation of the content shared in the future.
McClendon told the Times Free Press that he has requested a copy of the full slideshow so board members can understand the context of the presentation.
Superintendent Bryan Johnson was unable to be reached for comment.
Contact Meghan Mangrum at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6592. Follow her on Twitter @memangrum.