Live from Music Row, Tuesday morning on The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy – broadcast on Nashville’s Talk Radio 98.3 and 1510 WLAC weekdays from 5:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m. – host Leahy welcomed the education reporter for The Tennessee Star, TC Weber in studio to talk about how Metro Nashville Public Schools high school students were able to attend the protest at Tennessee’s Capitol last week.
Leahy: We are delighted, capital D, Delighted. Welcome to our microphones, our very good friend, and our lead education reporter here in Tennessee at The Tennessee Star, Mr. TC Weber. Good morning TC.
Weber: Good morning to you.
Leahy: It’s a weird world we live in.
Weber: It’s beyond weird. It’s surreal.
Leahy: We have a story about the March for Life on the Capitol. But there’s another part to that story and that is Adrian Battle, the director of Metro Nashville Public Schools and all of the Metro Nashville School Board members decided it would be a good idea to offer this “Alternative to walk-ins.”
Can you explain to us what the walk-in alternative is? A couple 1,000 kids played hooky and went to the Capitol and rallied and shouted slogans and then came back, not to school, but I guess they’ll be back to school today. But there were a number of kids who participated in these walk-ins endorsed by Adrienne Battle because she said in a statement that lawmakers weren’t doing enough to stop gun violence. Something like that. A highly political statement. So what was a walk-in?
Weber: A walk-in was a way to try to control protest, and this is a conversation I had with my daughter yesterday. Protest is part of America, but protest needs to be something that you utilize after all of our avenues have been exhausted. In protest, you should be willing to take the penalties because you believe so hard in the subject.
Leahy: You are hearkening back to the civil rights movement of the 60s.
Weber: Right and those come with it because you’ve explored every other avenue. We try to control protests and act like it’s a social gathering. So we tell kids they can get out of school, or we can do this walk-in. Whereas if you as a child or you as an adult feel so strongly about something that it’s not being addressed, then walk out and be suspended from school.
Walk out. It’s not your parents signing you out, and you go down to the Capitol and shout for a while, and then the parents bring you back, and then it’s excused absence. That’s not a protest; that’s a social gathering with friends where you held up signs.
Leahy: Protest. Hold on. That’s a good line TC.
Weber: But that’s what it is. And I feel very strongly about this. (Leahy laughs) But you are right. I would have more respect for you if you protest and you took the penalties, and you understand that sometimes we all have to take a stand in life, sometimes you have to draw a line in the sand, and you have to be willing to do whatever it takes. You can’t take the consequences out of that. And that’s what we tried to do yesterday. We had to try to have protest with no conscience.
Leahy: So when you say protest with no consequence, right? There are two elements here. One was the walkouts. And you’re saying that would have consequences for the kids?
Weber: Yes. If you were a student to decide that the schools have told me that if I protest this, then I’m going to delay my graduation or I’m going to be suspended for three days. And I said, you know what? I still believe this.
I’m gonna walk out. And so I respect that. But if you get your parents to sign you out, and you don’t have any consequences, and you go down there, that’s not protesting.
Leahy: Let’s get this out in the open about the student walkout. So were there some parents that day that gave excuses to the kids?
Weber: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Oh yeah. Yeah. Oh yeah. Some parents took them down. I think you touched on it yourself earlier, last week on Friday. Where did all those students come from on Thursday? Where did they come from? How were those students suddenly not in school? It was a full school day.
So how were those students not in school? And this is where we haven’t gone, but this is one of the things that morally outraged me. That protest last Thursday at the Capitol, they started planning that hours after those kids got shot on Monday.
Leahy: It was our headline that said that they were trying to politicize those shootings was spot on.
Weber: What’s going through your mind when you react to a tragedy like that, and you say, you know what? We need a protest. There were more people at the protest on Thursday than there were at the vigil the night before. (Sighs) We’ve got our priorities wrong.
Leahy: Let’s go back to this in terms of the kids that walked out yesterday, right? Are you saying from Metro Nashville Public Schools, 2,000 kids were there?
Weber: That’s a stretch, but, okay.
Leahy: WKRN said it. Were you there?
Weber: I was not there, but I was watching it closely and talking to people.
Leahy: What number would you say?
Weber: I’d say there were probably 1,000 to 1,500.
Leahy: Let’s say we’ll go with 1,000. We’ll go with 1,000, 1,500. One of the things that I used to do in the Tea Party movement was when I went to these events; I got pretty good at crowd size estimating.
And that was, back in the Tea Party days. That was the big narrative. The person who first got the crowd size number out was the one who won because everybody went with that crowd size number. In this case, you’ll say 1,000 to 1,500.
Leahy: So, of those kids, how many had excused absence from Mommy and Daddy?
Weber: That you’d have to check with Metro Nashville Public Schools.
Leahy: What would be your guess?
Weber: I would guess there’s probably at least a third of them did, and maybe more.
Leahy: What did the excuse note read?
Weber: Probably read, Johnny has gone to the doctor—Johnny’s mother. Remember the old Welcome Back Cotter?
Leahy: Yes. Because it’s not an approved absence to go during school hours and engage in political protest.
Weber: But as a parent with a certain amount of influence, you can sign your kid out for anything and or whatever you want for an excuse. I took my kid to the movies last week just because he had a rough day. I said, come on, we’re gonna take a day and just have a mental health day and go to the movies.
Leahy: You’re a pretty good dad.
Weber: Yes. Some days.
Listen to today’s show highlights, including this interview:
– – –
Tune in weekdays from 5:00 – 8:00 a.m. to The Tennessee Star Report with Michael Patrick Leahy on Talk Radio 98.3 FM WLAC 1510. Listen online at iHeart Radio.
Photo “TC Weber” by Thomas “TC” Weber for MNPS District 2 School Board. Background Photo “Gun Violence Protest” by March For Our Lives.