School letters cause controversy after singling out student groups by race

Letters sent home with some TN students cause outrage

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WMC) - Controversy is brewing after letters some Tennessee schools sent to parents, singled out groups of underperforming students by race.

Desiree Jones couldn't believe what she read in this letter from her daughter's middle school in Knoxville.

“I was in disbelief,” said Jones.

The letter told parents the school had been placed on a list of schools in need of academic improvement because of certain underperforming groups.

It then listed "black student ethic/racial group" as the group that was underperforming.

"As if no matter how well my child will perform in school, there’s going to be somebody in the background reminding her that ‘Maybe not you, but people like you are underperforming,’” said Jones.

Under a federal law, signed by President Obama in 2015, states are required to identify subgroups of students that are “consistently underperforming.”

In turn, the law requires schools to partner with stakeholders, including parents, to develop improvement plans.

The Tennessee Department of Education provides guidance on how schools should notify parents.

A template letter the department provides to schools appears to suggest schools can classify underperforming students in several ways, including by race.

But the department says it's not mandatory and says the letters are only meant to help parents understand where resources need to go.

Memphis state representative Antonio Parkinson is publicly calling for someone at the state level to be fired.

East Tennessee state representative Gloria Johnson also wants accountability.

"The fact that the state created that template and sent it out with very little guidance is horribly distressing to me,” said Johnson.

So far, there have been no reports of schools in the Memphis area sending out similar letters.

We asked Shelby County Schools if they send out similar letters that singled out certain student groups.

We’ve not yet heard back.

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