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CMCSS e-mail “misunderstood” by principals; community leaders appeased but mourn “lost opportunity”

A delegation of multi-cultural community leaders met with Clarksville-Montgomery County School System Director of Schools Michael Harris today to learn why a number of the city’s high school students were not allowed access to inaugural coverage of President Barack Obama.

After the meeting,front row from left: Urban Resoucre Center Director Terry McMoore, Wanda McMoore, Pastor Tommy Vallejos, and Naomi Jerkins; back row from left, Ward 5 School Board representative Jimmie Garland sr., Joann Latz, Pastor Jerry Jerkins, and Frank Washington of the NAACP and PCA.

CMCSS was deluged with phone calls for and against viewing the inauguration on school time, and the questionable e-mail to teachers was the result. The e-mail from the directors of high, middle and elementary schools read in part:

“If any of your teachers is going to show the Inauguration in the classroom it should be tied to their curriculum … I think you may leave yourself open to question if students are just watching the Inauguration in a passive manner. If it is tied to instruction the Inauguration can be a highly relevant event to learn about and from.

“The only reason I even send out this recommendation is that we have had a flood of calls from the community asking if the Inauguration is going to be shown in schools. Those calls represent different perspectives. Ensuring it is tied to relevant curriculum and instruction is consistent with how we use other teaching tools.” – CMCSS email to principals

On Inauguration Day, as the eyes of the world and the eyes of schoolchildren around the world were on Washington, a email sent out to teachers calling for a link to curriculum as a prerequisite for watching the inauguration meant that a number of teachers did not allow their students to watch this global broadcast. A second flurry of calls began Tuesday (1.20.09) evening when angry parents who had expected their children would view this event at school learned that their expectation had not materialized.

CMCSS Director of Schools Michael Harris

Harris said the e-mail was “misinterpreted” but that the directors of the schools were concerned about students “passively” watching. Harris acknowledged that the e-mail sent out to teachers “could have been clearer,” and that the communication was subject to misinterpretation by teachers.

In a press statement following the meeting, Pastor Tommy Vallejos called the meeting “constructive” but also said he was “satisfied” with the answers.

“We have a great school system,” Vallejos said, adding that meeting put “clarity” on the issue and re-focused attention to the message at the root of the root the problem.Vallejos and most of the participants commented earlier, though, that if the schools can find time for pep rallies and other events, they should have found time for an event that was “living history.”

Mr. Harris acknowledged that the e-mail sent out to teachers “could have been clearer,” and that the communication was subject to “misinterpretation” by teachers.

Jimmie Garland Sr., Ward 5 School representative and local NAACP President

Ward 5 School District Representative Jimmie Garland Sr. said “there will never be another day like this January 20th. We have to get it right next time.” He noted that if the McCain/Palin ticket had won, there would have been a similar impact with the first woman (Sarah Palin) elected to the vice-presidency.

Terry McMoore said the school system “has assured us that it will not happen again.”

Wanda McMoore, military veteran and nurse, said “the fact is that some students didn’t get to see it; students were told they were not allowed to see it. Frankly, if one missed it, then we all missed it.”

“People around the world were united in a common purpose, there should have been unity throughout the schools with the inauguration — not lack of access.” — Wanda McMoore

Harris admitted that the email was subject to “misinterpretation” and that “was not our intent.”

According to Vallejos, students had been expected to watch the event and the department “wanted every student to have the opportunity” to watch the inauguration. “Next time, there will be greater “clarity of message,” Vallejos said.

That statement remains a problem for Naomi Jerkins, who said there is no opportunity to make up this loss. “It happened. It’s over. It was living history. Folks were out there (in Washington D.C.) freezing, but they were there.” She was deeply saddened by this lost opportunity for some student to “live” history. “I witnessed the civil rights movements. I marched. I remember Wilma Rudolph. It is a shame that some of our children did not see (the inauguration).”

From left, parent Kelly LaPlante, FreeThinkers for Peace founder Debbie Boen, CO editor Christine Piesyk, NEHS student Bobby LaPlante, Urban Resource Center Director Terry McMoore and Ivan Roberts gather Sunday for a press conference on the "inauguaration watch" isse at the Montgomery County Library

Kelly LaPlante, who attended the meeting with her son, Robert,17, acknowledged that any resolution on this issue was “moot” because there was no way to re-capture this lost opportunity. “I can think of a dozens ways to link this event to every single subject; there was not excuse for not making this required viewing for all students.” She was glad she kept her son home from school and attended the ASPU screening of the Inauguration, where she was joined by one of her daughters (Rochelle, an APSU freshman), and her mom.”My son can’t wait to register to vote, he worked on the campaign and for the Democratic Party, and he wanted to see it. I felt it was a chance to watch history. I’m glad I kept him out of school; he might not have been able to watch otherwise.”

Rev. Frank Washington was only “somewhat” satisfied with the outcome, saying “we disagree” and stating a belief that had the CMCSS truly wanted to maximize this opportunity, it would have happened. As to statements that this kind of error won’t happen again, he said simply, “we’ll wait and see.”

Attending the meeting were Urban Resource Center Director Terry McMoore, Wanda McMoore (a veteran), Ward 5 School Board member Jimmie Garland (also president of the local NAACP), Anderson Grant of the Clarksville Human Relations Commission, Pastor Tommy Vallejos of HOPE, Pastor Jerry Jerkins and Naomi Jerkins, Frank Washington of the NAACP and the PAC (Private Citizens Advocates), Kelly LaPlante (parent of a high school student), and Northeast High School student Robert LaPlante II. This group met with Mr. Harris, Dr. B.J. Worthington (Chief Academic Officer), Dr. Roz Evans (Directors of High Schools), Dr. Sean Impeartrice (Director of Middle Schools), and Dr. Ann Griffin (Director of Elementary Education).

Photos by Bill Larson



  1. I disagree that the Principals misinterpreted his message. I think they understood the message as clearly as the rest of us. Mr. Harris gave them the option if they could tie it the curriculum. According to his response to me, “Schools took advantage of that if it was appropriate.” There is no “misunderstanding” here. They followed his direction.

    When I read the Leaf Chronicle article about this, my own interpretation was that he was letting the Principals make the decision so that they would have to deal with the consequences on their own. Back then that was just my opinion. I see now that this is exactly what is happening. Instead owning his very clear message, he claims that the Principals misinterpreted him.

    What to do now? Perhaps a more clear, direct message to the students acknowledging an error in judgment, instead of blaming the Principals. Nothing else because this cannot be corrected.

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