By Steve Hunley
School Board Follies

Last week, the Knox County Board of Education had some 60 people sign up to speak.  What do you suppose had folks all stirred up?  Test scores?  Curriculum?  None of the above.  It was, yet again, masks.  It seems like nothing has kept the board as preoccupied as the masking debate.  A group of people, armed with signs, gathered outside the Andrew Johnson Building to demand students be put into masks.  Others were there to brag on the board for allowing masking to remain optional at the discretion of the parents.  Once again the board voted to allow the masking policy to remain optional and for the parents of every child to decide.

Perhaps the only amusing episode surrounding the board was the Knoxville News-Sentinel story saying the board may have violated the law by turning people away from its meeting.  That logic ignores following the etiquette of social distancing.    It can’t be surprising some of the same people who are always squalling about rigidly applying and following the Covid protocols with the same fervor as a religious zealot follows the commandments of his/her religion, are being more than a tad hypocritical in this instance.  The usual unknown “someone” should have anticipated the size of the crowd and booked a room at Thompson – Boling arena.  Logic dictates there is no way to know that well in advance of a meeting, especially considering folks have until 4:00 the day the board of education meets to speak.  Yet that same unknown “someone” should have known to the digit the number of people who would show up at the meeting and the school system should have booked Thompson – Bowling Arena.  It is interesting to me how every media outlet in this county always seems either not to know or forgets, or just doesn’t give a hoot that residents have plenty of time to plan to attend and communicate with board members in any number of ways.

As crowds go, especially in a county of some 500,000 residents, it was an exceedingly modest one.  According to the writers at the News-Sentinel, “parents are turning up the heat.”  One would think, given the description, maddened villagers arrived toting torches and pitchforks.  Board member Daniel Watson squealed that he has received more than 800 emails and he can no longer keep up with his correspondence.  From what I’m told, nine times out of ten, people email the entire board instead of targeting their own specific board member.  I asked Mike McMillan, East Knox County’s member of the board of education, if he had received more than 800 emails in the last few weeks.  Not at all, McMillan replied.  Of course McMillan is well known for tending to matters inside his own district and paying attention to the people who elected him.  Mike McMillan is not a global board member like Watson.

It’s much ado about nothing.  Much of the conversation was exemplified by some old fellow wearing a baseball cap who had registered to speak for the three minutes given each person and opined the board members had a tough job and he was concerned about his granddaughter, but readily admitted he had no solution and didn’t have anything to suggest to the board.  Evidently, the old fellow was enjoying the attention as he belligerently told the board when advised his time was up, that he was going to continue speaking and there was nothing they could do about it.  Turns out he was wrong about that.  A security officer quietly went up and whispered something in his ear and the old duffer knew his time was up and he was escorted out.

It was something less than a stirring portrait of democracy in action.  There was an example of one Knox Countian who certainly got his say and he had nothing to say and wanted to keep saying it, kind of like Watson.

Having been on the Knox County Board of Education, I know most members pay attention, like Mike McMillan, to the people who elected them.  Recently, there has been a change and McMillan insists there are a number of people who seem to believe board members are elected at large.  When queried about correspondence, McMillan said he has heard from some of his constituents and he tries to respond to each inquiry as quickly as possible.  Some folks seem to think sending the same message repeatedly and hectoring board members daily will change opinions.  Attempts to bully the board and shrill cries that the board members literally have blood on their hands is asinine and counterproductive. Now the News-Sentinel is reduced to crying about the board trying to make the best of its situation and follow Covid protocols.  Instead of being patted on the back, the board and the school system get kicked in the behind.  What’s the old saying?  Danged if you do and danged if you don’t.  How true!