The Maryville City Schools Diversity Task Force will begin its work today behind closed doors.

While the task force is expected to gather input and create a report on issues including whether to change the high school nickname from “Rebels,” it is not subject to the state’s open meetings law.

MCS Director Mike Winstead told The Daily Times on Tuesday, Sept. 29, that is by design.

“It’s not our intent for the work of the Diversity Task Force to be aired in the public,” Winstead said during a phone interview.

“It wouldn’t be fair to them to have those conversations in public,” he said. “I want them to be truly transparent to me.”

A committee formed by a governing body such as a public school board is subject to Tennessee’s Open Meetings Act, “but a committee formed by a schools director to advise him, that committee would not be,” Deborah Fisher, executive director of the Tennessee Coalition for Open Government, wrote in an emailed response to a question from The Daily Times.

In addition to Winstead, the task force includes four other MCS employees, including the high school principal and athletic director. Maryville Mayor Tom Taylor, an MHS alumnus, also is serving on the 12-member task force.

When Winstead announced the task force members last month, he said, the task force “will work toward providing a report to the school board in February 2021.”

“This will be a true community conversation,” the director’s Aug. 31 announcement said, “and we hope others will answer the invitation when asked to participate.”

The decision on whether to keep or change the Rebels nickname is up to the school board.

However, the work of the task force and other MCS initiatives are broader. Since 2018 the district has been working with a consultant and various teams on diversity.

“Our goals are inclusive and refrain from reducing diversity to a focus only on color or race,” the district explains on its website. “Instead our goals attend to social, economic, behavioral, religious, special needs, and race disparities and oppression. Racism, intolerance, and exclusive communication and actions are dehumanizing to everyone it touches.”

The task force is to gather feedback from the school community; action plans and outcomes from other schools that have faced similar decisions; and ideas from various stakeholder groups.

A position statement under the Diversity section of the Maryville City Schools website says, “We welcome open communication and seek ways to improve our work toward the creation of inclusive, safe, and supportive systems for those who are marginalized while cultivating a heightened awareness of perspective and mutual respect.”

Amy Beth earned her degree from West Virginia. She joined The Daily Times in 2016 on the education beat covering Alcoa, Maryville and Blount County school systems.

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