Sullivan County school board approves teacher termination charges, supporters outraged

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Matthew Hawn. Courtesy of Blake Roller via Facebook.

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UPDATE – The Sullivan County Board of Education Tuesday voted 6-1 that the charges of dismissal against teacher Matthew Hawn are true and warranted.

Supporters and former students gathered at the meeting wearing light blue and holding placards voicing their support for the contemporary issues teachers.

During the meeting, only Board Vice-Chairman Matthew Spivey voted against the dismissal continuation.

Director of Schools Dr. David Cox said during the meeting that he’s been accused of racism due to these charges of dismissal against Hawn.

“There has been a lot of talk online that accuses me of moving to dismiss Mr. Hawn because he taught anti-racism lessons. Let me be perfectly clear. Sullivan County Schools, and I in no way condone racism of any county. We have encouraged all of our teachers, including Mr. Hawn, to promote an environment welcoming to all students of all races of all backgrounds,” Cox said.

He added that he has been told that white privilege was the reason for his dismissal charges against Hawn.

“This is also simply not true. In the charges I just read aloud in fact, I read that appropriate discussions around concepts like white privilege remain perfectly appropriate for a high school class, like contemporary issues. These charges of dismissal about Mr. Hawn refusing to provide his students with access to varying points of view, which is required under Tennessee law. And these charges are about Mr. Hawn, again, assigning inappropriate materials to his students,” he said.

Former students told News Channel 11 that latent racism was ever-present when they walked the Sullivan Central High School halls.

One student who graduated in 2018 and attended Hawn’s contemporary issues class for two years, said that he felt Hawn was a fair and balanced teacher.

“We talked about a lot of hot button issues in our class, we talked about white privilege, and he was very open and fair and balanced on both sides of the argument, and presented a like I said an open discussion we never saw any, anything that I believe would warrant a dismissal,” Kyle Simcox said.


BLOUNTVILLE, Tenn. (WJHL) – A Sullivan County school teacher and baseball coach is facing possible termination by the school district.

The charges of dismissal come after two incidents pointed out by the school district.

The first was after a parent who complained in early February about an opinion article Matthew Hawn assigned to his Contemporary Issues students by Ta-Nehisi Coats entitled “The First White President,” which the complaining parent claimed painted the former president in a negative light.

Matthew Hawn. Courtesy of Laura Hawn.

Hawn was issued an official letter of reprimand which passed unanimously at the March Board of Education meeting.

Later in March, Hawn faced a second round of reprimands from the school district when, according to officials, he showed a video called “White Privilege,” a spoken word poem by Kyla Jenee Lacey.

The school district wrote to Hawn that though the concept of discussing white privilege and the like during a contemporary issues class is perfectly acceptable, the district administration did not believe some of the terms used in the video were appropriate for high school students.

Hawn faces charges of dismissal at the Tuesday Sullivan County Board of Education meeting at 6:30 p.m.

According to a Facebook group showing support for Hawn, roughly 50 people are expected to gather to show their support for the teacher at the meeting.

It is unclear whether the public will be permitted to speak on this subject during the public comment section of the board meeting.

He has been tenured at the Sullivan County School District since 2008 and has been teaching Contemporary Issues and coaching baseball at Central High School.

Sullivan County Schools administrators sent News Channel 11 the following documents regarding Hawn:

Follow News Channel 11’s Bianca Marais on Facebook and Twitter for news updates.

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