Overhauling Antiquated Discipline Practices Should Not Wait

The Knox County Schools Board of Education recognized a need to make changes to discipline practices several years ago. After nearly three years of work, a clear and comprehensive plan has been created and presented for the Board to approve, but suddenly, there is a huge political push to put the brakes on all of our work.

At the June work session, I realized that policy language that had been agreed to in the review committee had not been fully transcribed to the policy document that was to be voted on during the next regular session. Though the staff scrambled to correct the error, I felt it was too late to post the corrected language in a timeframe that could be reasonably considered transparent communication with the public. I made the motion to put off the vote until the July meeting, so the public would know exactly what language was up for vote.

The Board seemed to have consensus regarding the policies and even discussed waiving two readings. We had certainly agreed to this language in the review sessions.

Within weeks, political forces began working overtime to convince the public that three years of work and multiple opportunities for public input never happened. Many are now fighting AGAINST improving our discipline guidelines. I would like to be amazed, but I am more disheartened, that people would have either so much tainted political dependence or such evil in their souls that it would cause them to work against helping children.

The idea that changes to discipline policies in Knox County Schools have popped up suddenly, and without ample time and opportunity for community input is being pushed by those with a solid agenda to maintain the status quo and the school to prison pipeline. It is being sold by those who want to ensure that principals in Knox County Schools have NO autonomy to make the decisions necessary for equitable and appropriate treatment of the students in their schools. These people want to ensure that students are given “equal” consequences – whether children are 8 or 18 years old. Most of these individuals have never worked in any classroom – and have neither the experience nor the basic understanding of student behavior to begin to comprehend the potential consequences of their misguided proposals.

I have not been able to find ANY of these individuals who have READ the proposed guidelines.

These changes have been a work in progress for many years, the largest and most public piece of work beginning in November 2014, with the creation of the Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force. The Task force was made up of community members who were business leaders, faith-based leaders, experienced community volunteers, and teachers, administrators, and parents of Knox County Schools students, as well as Knox County Schools students. Their goal was to consider reported outcomes in academic achievement and discipline in Knox County Schools and recommend ways to address disparities that seemed to be correlated with income, race, language, or disability. (Members of the original Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force are listed at the end.)

Those who claim that school administrators and other staff have not been involved and/or had input into changes in discipline are ignoring basic facts: Principals have been involved in these changes for at least two years. At the October 29, 2015 Principals’ Meeting, all K-12 principals were engaged in a discussion related to disparities in educational and discipline outcomes in the Knox County Schools. That meeting yielded NINETEEN pages of notes from principal input, which has been continuously available to the public, here:


Principals have also been involved in many other meetings regarding discipline changes that are needed in Knox County Schools. They have met for discussions, have submitted ideas and concerns to their supervisors, and repeated that process many times. I have been told that all of their concerns were addressed and all of the changes they requested were integrated into the current guidelines. When I sat in on one of these meetings, it was very clear to me that principals in that meting were ready to embrace moving forward with these guidelines to better serve the students of Knox County Schools and grow toward meeting more of our students’ social and emotional needs.

One notable recommendation from principals:  “Whole community support”

We can only build community support by involving the community. In December 2015, the “Superintendent and the members of the DEO Task Force invited students, families, educators, and community members to participate in a community meeting to share options, triumphs, and challenges with regard to their observations and personal experiences with disparities in discipline and education.”

DEO Task Force – Community Forum Video – December, 2015:



The recommendations presented by the DEO Task Force at a community meeting in April 2016 were drafted using the input, suggestions, and opinions of those who attended that meeting, in addition to all of the other input that the Task Force had already solicited from all of us who are concerned with creating the best possible schools for all students.

DEO Task Force – Community Forum Video – April, 2016



To continue the work begun by the DEO Task Force, The Disparities in Educational Outcomes’ Steering Committee was created. It is made up of members of the original Task Force as well as other community, governmental and educational leaders. (Current Steering Committee members are listed at the end of this document.) Its charge is to:

  • Review progress, discuss issues and refine efforts
  • Identify and include additional stakeholder perspectives and expertise to include subcommittee working groups
  • Evaluate outcomes and ensure public accountability and transparency
  • Regularly solicit input from the community, follow up on concerns and communicate frequently with Knox County Schools leadership to address issues.


The community expressed great concern that the work of the Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force will be ignored by the Knox County Schools administration and the Knox County Board of Education. Based on our history with such recommendations, this is not an unwarranted concern. The difference between the 2007 task force recommendations and the 2017 recommendations, however, is that Knox County Schools has been moving forward with the recommendations this time around. Those whose livelihoods depend on suspending or incarcerating high numbers of youth, as well as those who depend on using those incarcerations to move their political agendas must be terrified that we will succeed in helping our students find better coping behaviors that help them stay in school, graduate on time, and move on to be excellent citizens.



 Other reading on the topic:



Members of the original Disparities in Educational Outcomes Task Force

  • Charme Allen, Knox Co. District Attorney General
  • Elizabeth Alves, KCS Exec. Dir. of Curriculum
  • Pastor Daryl Arnold, Overcoming Believers Church
  • Tomma Battle, parent
  • Susan Benner, University of Tennessee
  • Adolphus Brown, Coldwell Banker
  • Terry Brown, Knox County Juvenile Court
  • Dr. John Butler, Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church
  • Andre Canty, Highlander Research & Education Center
  • Michelle Casini, KCS Spanish Teacher
  • Ronni Chandler, Project GRAD
  • Maurice Chunn, KCS student
  • Tanya Coats, KCS Curriculum Specialist, Farragut IS
  • Clifford Davis, KCS Chief of Staff
  • Rabbi Alon Ferency, Heska Amuna Synagogue
  • Rita Geier, retired attorney
  • Coral Getino, parent
  • Chad Hensley, KCS, SDHS Master Teacher
  • Timothy Irwin, Knox Co. Juvenile Court
  • Sheriff J.J. Jones, Knox County Sheriff’s Office
  • Kamau Kenyatta, KCS Asst. Principal – Karns MS
  • Nathan Langlois, KCS Principal – Austin-East HS
  • Sam Lee, Knox Co. General District Attorney
  • Rosa Mar, Retired Community Volunteer 
  • Missy Massie, KCS Exec. Dir. Student Support Services
  • Alise Ndacayisaba, student 
  • Phyllis Nichols, Knoxville Area Urban League
  • Randy Nichols, Knox County Sheriff’s Office
  • Chief David Rausch, Knoxville Police Department
  • Mayor Madeline Rogero, City of Knoxville
  • Amber Rountree, Knox County Board of Education 
  • Mark Stephens, Knox County Public Defender’s Office
  • Thomas Strickland, City of Knoxville
  • Rosalyn Tillman, Pellissippi State Community College
  • Cindy White, KCS Principal – Vine Middle School
  • Kim Wilburn-Cullom, KCS Principal – Maynard Elem.

Current Steering Committee Members

  • Andre Canty– Co-chair, Highlander Research & Education Center
  • Jered Croom– Co-chair, Parent Representative
  • Bob Thomas, Superintendent, Knox County Schools
  • Charme Allen, Knox Co. District Attorney General
  • Chania Arnold, KCS Student
  • Tomma Battle, Parent
  • Christian Blair, KCS Student
  • Terry Brown, Knox County Juvenile Court
  • John Butler, Clinton Chapel AME Zion Church
  • Emma Cosigua, Parent
  • Coral Getino, Parent
  • Alex Lundy, KCS Student
  • Rosa Mar, CEO, Hispanic Chamber of Commerce
  • Phyllis Nichols, President, Knoxville Area Urban League
  • Randy Nichols, Knox County Sheriff Department
  • Angela Patrick, Teacher, Belle Morris Elementary
  • David Rausch, Chief, Knoxville Police Department
  • Bryson Rosser, Teacher, Central High School
  • Mark Stephens, Knox County Public Defender Office
  • Rosalyn Tillman, Dean, Pellissippi State Com. College
  • Juan Villegas, KCS Student
  • Cindy White, Principal, Vine Middle School
  • Missy Massie, KCS Dir., Student Support Services
  • Jeannie Dulaney, KCS Director of Community Relations



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