School board member banned from education meeting at South-Doyle

Betty BeanSouth Knox

State Rep. Eddie Smith banned school board member Jennifer Owen from a meeting with state and local educators on Thursday, leaving Owen sitting on a wall outside South-Doyle High School typing on social media.

A former teacher, Owen said she has lived in Smith’s legislative district since 1998 and taught in a South-Doyle High School feeder school for 10 years.

She posted on Facebook: “Eddie Smith just kicked me out of his meeting at South-Doyle. He says it is ‘a closed meeting, just for educators.’ Ummm … Transparent much?”

The meeting Owen missed was a teacher round table with state Education Commissioner Candice McQueen in the SDHS library. Owen said dinner was provided “from unknown funds,” and those present included Smith, a SDHS principal, former KCS administrator and Broad Academy fellow Nakia Towns, who worked in Knox County for several years and is now state assistant commissioner of Data and Research, KCS Family Engagement coordinator Tracey Matthews Wynter, plus data crunchers from McQueen’s office, invited teachers from Smith’s district and others not yet identified.

Towns is responsible for statewide testing and data collection. Owen would have had questions for her about the latest TN Ready snafu (and maybe the ones before this one – teachers, students and parents have been the victims of multiple state testing glitches in recent years).

After she was ejected, Owen sat on a brick wall outside the building and called Chief Gus Paidousis, who heads KCS security.

“I loved how he gently asked whether anything had ‘happened’ before I was asked to leave.”

She said she told him, “I walked in, greeted a teacher who lives in my district and was told that the meeting is only for educators. … I’ll just sit right here on this brick wall until it ends. Three constituents, a teacher and a parent asked me to be here, and I am here.”

A Facebook friend posted: “I’m sorry you experienced that. It’s a shame no one else in the room spoke up for you.”

Owen responded: “I don’t think most could hear (Smith). … He has had these (meetings) in the past, and told (school board member) Amber Rountree that she was not invited.

Owen sat on the wall for two hours, then gave up and went to watch a ballgame.

Here’s her summation:

“After consultation with the law department, security and some others, the only positive determination is that, ‘We haven’t dealt with this kind of thing before and we aren’t sure we can override the state DOE.’ However, I think everyone I have talked to sees why an elected official (Smith) having a closed, private meeting in a tax-funded, public building is not an appropriate use of resources.

“My own opinion is that our legislators’ repeated and overt disrespect toward our elected school board members says quite a lot about their real interests and intentions, as well as their real character.”



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