Arriving at Smyrna AFB near Nashville was a thrill for me. We had lived in Tennessee before the tour to Japan and I loved living there. An absolutely beautiful state, and I especially love all the country-western music, Nashville being the capital of country music.
We had rented a small furnished house to live in temporarily. I wanted to build a new house, and left the furniture in storage until we could build. I enrolled the children in school, joined the local bridge club in Murfreesboro, and I always belonged to officers wives clubs, and participated in their luncheons and activities. Not much of a joiner, but officers’ wives clubs and bridge clubs I usually joined.
We were barely settled in, before the usual Temporary Duty assignments began. At one time my husband had more flying hours in that big banana shaped Sikorsky helicoptor than anyone else. A lot of trips back and forth to Washington, D.C.
I quickly learned overseeing the building of a new home was up to me. I had selected a split-level design on a cul de sac, near the base, and within walking distance of the local school.
Once the house was completed, furniture out of storage, and settled in, I paid more attention to my childrens’ schooling. Checking textbook material, I found the same old objectionable material that I had encountered in Reno.
But a new dimension added to my concerns. A very mean-spirited principal, who ruled the school like a dictator. And I soon learned parents were afraid of him and cowered at confrontation because he would take it out on their kids. I discovered he used the school boys at his home to shovel coal for his heating system. He would walk in on the girls in the bathroom without knocking or permission. I learned he frequently ordered my son, who was 12 years old, to sit for hours in the lunch room for some trivial thing like playing with a string in class and a laundry list of various types of abuses and punishments.
One day I picked him up after school and football practice. He was white as a sheet. I asked him what happened and he had been punished for something minor, by having to run 90 laps in 90 degree weather around the football field. I complained to the principal and he had an arrogant attitude. He treated me as if I had no authority to do anything about my children while in school under his authority.
I was a bit fiery and not afraid of that principal nor anyone associated with the school. I decided the next incident, I would remove my children from the school. The next thing I found objectionable was a report card incident. My daughter came home with hers and told me I was required to pay $1.00 for her report card. I decided not to pay and to withdraw my children and keep home.
I knew I was in for a battle with the school board and compulsory attendance law. I had heard complaints from other parents and knew they were afraid of the principal. I knew I had disturbed a sleeping giant in the school, and there would be controversy. I decided to enroll my children in a home study course with American Schools.
Then I got busy preparing myself for a battle I knew was coming. I sent letters to many parents about deplorable conditions in the school, and copied the letter to all the local church pastors. Then sent a letter to Nashville Tennessean newspaper, with a story about the dollar report card.
Before the day I actually removed them, my son did not come home from school. I called to find out what happened and discovered he was in lunchroom detention being punished for playing with a string, and had been there most of the day. While I’m thinking he’s in a classroom being taught, he’s sitting alone in the lunchroom for hours.
I grabbed my purse and headed for the door when the phone rang and it was a reporter from The Nashville Tennessean, asking what was happening over the dollar report card charge. I told him I was on my way to yank my kid out of the school, and remove my kids from the school. He asked if I would wait until he got there with a camera and would be there in 20 minutes. I waited.
The reporter with a photographer arrived the same time I did. The principal was standing in the hallway, and as I confronted him and told him I was removing my son from his detention, the camera was rolling on him. He was so stunned he couldn’t speak.
The principal was named McWilliams, known as Mr Mac. I marched my child past him, with cameras still rolling, and Mr. Mac was on 6 and 10 o’clock television news that night. The next morning, headline of Nashville front page news was story about the One Dollar Report Card Case.
A story that garnered a lot of interest in the Smyrna-Nashville area and became a hot potato issue, with the Airbase getting involved. Horror stories about the school were flying everywhere. Parents were in an uproar but still scared, and they started flocking to my house wanting to organize.
From that day forward, I removed my children and they never returned. I knew I would ultimately face arrest for defiance of the compulsory school law, but also knew I would be dealt with for exposing all the unacceptable things going on in the school.
I decided to hold a meeting in my home with all the disenchanted parents to discuss the problem. They wanted to form an organization with me as the leader to deal with all the problems. I told them I would not do that, because I was only fighting for my children and they must stand up for theirs. I asked them to write me a letter about all the abusive situations they had personally encountered in the school and present to me signed and notarized as soon as possible. Which they did in short order. This was part of my ammunition I knew I would need in this battle already heating up.
A few days after the meeting, I was called to the Base Commander’s office to discuss the matter.
Now everyone knows there’s a massive amount of money poured into the tax-supported school system. Plus a staggering amount of tax money funding military bases. This school was mostly military personnel children. The military base and school had a sizable impact on the local economy in this small town. I knew that, so I wrote a letter to Chairman Senator Richard Russell, I’ll mention later.
I’ll begin PART FOUR with the call from the Base Commander’s office.
LET FREEDOM RING