BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – The second day of the appeal hearing for fired Sullivan Central teacher Matthew Hawn mostly revolved around his case presentation.
Monday, the school system’s case was presented and some of the testimony of recently retired schools director Dr. David Cox carried over into Tuesday.
In June, the Sullivan County Board of Education dismissed Hawn after parents complained about the content he shared in class.
“If we aren’t teaching students the truth then what are we teaching them it’s a slippery slope,” said Kyla Jenee Lacey, the author of “White Privilege,” who testified on Hawn’s behalf. “At what point do we start talking about the other side of the always easy to teach from their perspective of the person that’s able to hold the gun? I would agree that there are parts of it that are necessary for students to learn I would agree that there are things that take time and it’s something that has to be learned and unpacked over time but I would say that probably learning about it in high school is a good place to start.”
Lacey’s performance of her spoken word poem is at the center of the controversy. She came in hopes to help Hawn get his job back.
“[I hope that] we discontinue thinking that because that white guilt is more important than an education, you know that having students be afraid of learning something about a history that’s not golden, that’s just wrong and it’s not true. You can’t manifest this cohesiveness you know without allowing people the dignity of their experiences,” she said. “I would agree that there are parts of [white privilege] that are necessary for students to learn I would agree that there are things that take time and it’s something that has to be learned and unpacked over time but I would say that probably learning about it in high school is a good place to start.”
Along with Lacey, several students testified who were in Hawn’s Contemporary Issues class last year when the video was shown and complaints were made about the language used.
“I believe he tried to censor the video to the class but he would try to silence it. He made an attempt at least to censor the language in the video,” said former student, Zoe Pendleton.
“And was he successful?” questioned Virginia McCoy, Hawn’s representative.
“Sometimes he would get it, sometimes he would be off a little bit,” Pendleton explained.
“Did he say anything to the class about the attempt?” asked McCoy. “I don’t specifically remember,” said Pendleton.
Another student in the class recalled the day the video was played.
“We had shortly talked about the Capitol being raided and we had shortly talked about the Derick Chauvin trials and I had personally brought up that I thought that white privilege did have a play on that,” said Faith Jones. “Then Hawn had led the discussion from that and we went into that video and we watched the video in class and we discussed it.”
She explained that she thought the topic was important to cover.
“It was just a different perspective from a predominately white classroom,” Jones said. “It was just a different perspective somebody giving us an outlook on white privilege maybe.”
Evan Cook was in the same period and agreed.
“We discussed white privilege and both sides of that again, both sides of white privilege,” said Cook. “It is a subject that we needed to learn because a lot of people don’t know it in my opinion at least.”
Students who had Hawn for various other courses and graduated before the issues last school year also spoke on his behalf. One person got emotional during her testimony about Hawn’s impact on her life.
“The school system didn’t do all that they could to prevent the reasons I wanted to commit suicide, and Coach Hawn was my safe place,” said Leia Scalf. “Everything I needed support in, Coach Hawn was there.”
Wednesday is the final day of the hearing where Hawn’s case presentation will continue ahead of the case briefings and rebuttals.