Teen suicide, racial disparities and transgender bathrooms -- all these topics were taken up Wednesday night by Knox County education leaders at the school board meeting.
Superintendent Bob Thomas addressed the deaths this year of three Farragut High students at the beginning of the meeting.
Students, parents and community members plan to talk about suicide and the support they can offer. They've worked with local and state mental health groups to put on a meeting set for Thursday.
Support crisis staff is sent to any school where there is a student death to provide help as long as they're needed.
“We want to be there to provide support and listen. To make sure the community understands we are providing support and anytime there's a loss of life with one of our students we're deeply concerned about that,” Thomas explained.
That meeting is set for Thursday night at 6:30 at Farragut High School.
“Every time you escort a trans child to a special bathroom or you force a child in a sparkly dress to the little boy's room you are outing them,” one parent said speaking up for transgender Knox County students.
A small group of parents and community members demanded Knox County create bathrooms for transgender use.
“No child should have anxiety about something as simple as using the restroom. Yet Knox County Schools is ensuring just that by policing my daughter's restroom use,” parent Crystal Yamazaki said.
Parents of transgender students say being forced to use the facilities that match the gender on their birth certificate is discrimination. But Superintendent Thomas said the district is obeying the law by enforcing state gender laws.
More than 50 people representing Justice Knox came out tonight to ask the district to do more about racial disparities in Knox County schools.
“Every time our community locks up a kid in school and takes them away in handcuffs in front of their peers and puts them in a squad car and takes them to jail we start recruiting for the gangs,” group member Charles Fells said.
Several members of the group want to see the school district address students who they say are being denied a complete education because of race, poverty and disability.
KCS is putting out another request for a proposal in hopes of finding the right company to perform cultural competency training - lessons that help teachers relate to students of various backgrounds.
Melissa Massie, director of student support services, said they have a group working to address disparities. She hopes the people who came out tonight would mentor students in schools.