The failure to hire minority applicants for jobs with the board of education was brought to the school board's attention by the president of the Marshall County branch of the NAACP.
"We will not tolerate this any longer," Gary Davis said. "Our voices must be heard."
He called for "an immediate focus on hiring, retaining and promoting minority employees."
Davis said he had received a document from the Human Resources department that showed nearly 400 people, including about 23 African Americans, had applied for 33 open positions. No African Americans were hired. Several African Americans had been told there were "no jobs," and generally treated harshly, while others, who did fill out an application, had to re-apply because their application was "lost."
"I know one African American who was discouraged from applying here," said board member Curt Denton. "They agreed to interview him, but wouldn't tell him for what position. He ended up taking a job in Pigeon Forge."
"I'm shocked we've lost applications," exclaimed school board chairwoman Ann Tears.
"It's the first I've heard of it," said director of schools Stan Curtis.
"How many are we talking about?" asked Tears.
"I've known 10," answered Davis. "Most were told there were no applications available."
"Who do they talk to?" Tears asked.
"Human resources," replied Davis.
"Everybody must be treated decently and with respect - we must correct this," Tears said.
"I don't understand what's going on with that," said Curtis. He named four positions that have been filled by minorities since he took over as director, and mentioned one African American who has been given additional responsibilities.
"We have four percent African American employees, versus eight percent of the County population," assistant director Roy Dukes said.
"It's hard to hire people that don't apply," said board member Craig Michael. "The question is: 'why aren't more applying?' If people aren't received in a friendly manner they become discouraged."
"You may have to do broader recruiting," Tears commented. "The way we're doing it is not getting good results. We welcome a dialogue with the NAACP - we are here for every child."
A letter from the Marshall County branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People to the board of education was circulated to school board members and the Tribune. Included with it were the questions the NAACP posed to Curtis at the May 21 board meeting, his replies, and the NAACP's reaction to those replies.
Their rebuttals were sharply critical of Curtis' replies, criticizing them for lack of evidence. "You have condoned and implemented a hostile and segregated school environment and are failing our minority children," is their conclusion.
On Monday, Curtis held a meeting with Davis, plus Dukes, Tears, Michael, and attendance supervisor Jackie Abernathy.
"We talked about being more proactive in recruiting minorities," Michael reported. "We also talked about the importance of making everyone feel welcome when they walk into the Board of Education building."
"Yes," agreed Curtis. "People have to remember we're a service organization."