Board of Education Dress Code Voiceover – 9/6/16

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Diversity Panel Speaks to Importance of LGBT Visibility on Campus

During a talk about increasing inclusion for all kinds of people in the Knoxville and University of Tennessee communities, LGBT advocate Shannon Herron expressed concerns about UT’s current climate.img_4470

A row of rainbow flags is flying outside of University of Tennessee’s College of Communication and Information in celebration of its annual Diversity & Inclusion week. Meanwhile, across campus, the UT Pride Center is fighting to keep their flags flying and their visibility on campus intact.

This Tuesday was “The Big Orange Sphere,” dedicated to inclusion within the UT community. The morning session panel was “Profiles in Courage,” showcasing community members who have forged paths in Knoxville for marginalized groups.

One of the panelists was Shannon Herron, CEO of All Out Knoxville.

Herron is an advocate for LGBT inclusion and visibility in Knoxville and an employee of the campus Center for Student Engagement. While a graduate student at UT, he started All Out Knoxville, an organization dedicated to connecting LGBT people in the area.

“My mission was to show people that you can be LGBT, and you can live in Knoxville, and that you can be happy here.”.

That organization is Knoxville wide, but recent events have called into question if the LGBT community on UT’s campus feels happy here. The Pride Center lost all funding over the summer after the Office of Diversity was defunded by the state. Vandalisms and an assault have occurred in the months since.

The latest hurdle for LGBT inclusion is a request by the administration to take down the flags flying out of the Pride Center windows. The administration cites a flag policy, but it’s been perceived as an attack on visibility.

Herron stressed the importance of visibility during the panel, echoing the sentiments of LGBT people who are still UT students. He agreed that recent events have hurt progress on campus.

“When I was in school, I did feel comfortable and safe here, and I do think that has stepped back.”

Herron’s original idea when founding All Out Knox was to provide a space for people who had left UT, since he felt UT provided them support while at school. Now that campus climate has changed, the organization might be changing as well.

“Going forward, I think a lot of our mission and focus will be on the students and how can we support them while they’re in school,” he says. “That community and their students are hurting right now, and I think we need to do everything that we can to support them.”

But a sense of belonging in the “Big Orange Sphere” for all LGBT Knoxville residents remains one of Herron’s top priorities.

“If everyone here at UT who’s LGBT graduates and moves away, who’s going to be here for the next generation of LGBT students?”

img_4466A full room of students listening to panelists share stories of their efforts to increase campus and community diversity.
img_4468The group behind the event poses for a photo op with the panelists. Shannon Herron is pictured second from the right.

City Council reviews parking appeal for new business (story for print)

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A debate over parking agreements raised questions about the use of old commercial properties in Knoxville that lack sufficient parking space.

The council voted 7-1 to deny an appeal by Lockett Road homeowner Maha Ayesh. Ms. Ayesh was appealing a unanimous decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals to allow Abridged Beer Company owner Jesse Bowers to amend the required number of parking spaces at his new restaurant from 43 to zero.

“The proposed establishment is described as a brewery and restaurant. I’m going to refer to it as bar, because that’s what I see it as, is a bar,” Ms. Ayesh said.

Neighbors voiced concerns about reckless driving, noise, and patrons parking on the street in front of their homes.

“It can’t be injurious to the neighborhood. We’re very concerned that it will be injurious.”

“I know I’m going to have people come down through my yard, maybe some of them will park in my yard,” said longtime resident Gene Herrill.

Mr. Bowers has reached an alternative parking agreement with Erin Presbyterian Church to allow restaurant goers to use their lot, a plan that offers little comfort to Lockett road residents. Neighbors noted that the church hosts regular Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the restaurant will have hours on Sunday evenings.

The council noted the lack of other options; every establishment allowed in the general commercial zone requires parking that doesn’t exist at this property.

“The issue is really the parking, and it sounds like the opposition is really based on the use. There’s no use of this property without some type of variance,” said Councilman Marshall Stair.

The appeal was denied, and Abridged Beer Company will be allowed to continue its plans.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Reem Abdelrazek, who was there to support her neighbor’s appeal. “I feel like we were blindsided.”

City Council Examines Property Use and Parking (story for web)

Knoxville City Council made a decision Tuesday that could spell the future of shared parking for new businesses.

A debate over shared parking raised questions about the use of older commercial properties in Knoxville that lack parking space.

The council denied an appeal by Maha Ayesh. Ayesha lives on Lockett Road, and was appealing a unanimous decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals to allow Abridged Beer Company owner Jesse Bowers to amend the required number of parking spaces at his new restaurant from 43 to zero.

“The proposed establishment is described as a brewery and restaurant. I’m going to refer to it as bar, because that’s what I see it as, is a bar,” Ayesh said.

Neighbors were concerned about reckless driving, noise, and patrons parking on the street in front of their homes.

“It can’t be injurious to the neighborhood. We’re very concerned that it will be injurious.”

“I know I’m going to have people come down through my yard, maybe some of them will park in my yard,” said longtime homeowner Gene Herrill.

Bowers made an alternative, shared parking agreement with nearby Erin Presbyterian Church to allow restaurant goers to use their lot, a plan that offers little comfort to angry neighbors. As neighbors pointed out, the church hosts Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and the restaurant will have hours on Sundays.

The council noted the lack of other options; every establishment allowed in the general commercial zone requires parking that doesn’t exist at this property.

“The issue is really the parking, and it sounds like the opposition is really based on the use. There’s no use of this property without some type of variance,” said Councilman Marshall Stair.

The appeal was denied, and Abridged Beer Company will be continuing with its plans.

“It’s very disappointing,” said Reem Abdelrazek, who was there to support her neighbor’s appeal. “I feel like we were blindsided.”

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Ayesh speaking before the council at the meeting on September 13.

A portion of the appeal documents filed by Ayesh.

Knox County sophomore brings dress code issues before board of education

IMG_0312.JPGThe debate over dress code in Knox County Schools took center stage during the public forum portion of the board of education’s meeting on Wednesday, Sept. 7.

Farragut High School sophomore Hollie Sikes identified herself before the board by saying, “You may know me as the girl who started the dress code petition.”

Sikes pointed out that she had never been reprimanded for breaking Knox County’s dress code, but knew people who had been “called out and embarrassed” over what they were wearing.

“The reason I started this petition, sincerely, was because in our day and age it is nearly impossible to find girls’ shorts that come below fingertip length,” Sikes said.

This is in reference to what’s called “the fingertip rule,” which is applied to female students in Knox County. The rule states that a student’s hemline must never rise above their fingertips. Specifically, Sikes questioned the fairness of girls having to buy all new clothes for hot school days.

“When school comes around,” said Sikes, “we are forced to spend money on brand new clothes that we will never wear outside of school.”

Sikes also noted that teachers did not seem to be held to the same standards as students.

“I have seen teachers wearing tank tops calls girls and boys alike down for wearing something similar.”

According to Sikes, the idea for the petition started with a joke she made to her friends in a group chat. On August 13, when she posted her petition on change.org, she said the hope was for maybe 500 signatures.

By September 7, the date of the meeting, her petition had 3,728 signatures.

“It was wild,” Sikes said. “It had like a thousand signatures in a day.”

Although Sikes has many supporters for her cause, there are some who disagreed with her stance on the issue. Student representative Sydney Rowell is one such case.

“I feel like our dress code is pretty lenient,” Rowell said in response. “I personally don’t see that any changes could be made to the dress code.”

Rowell expressed that more flexible regulations would make dress code unnecessarily hard to enforce for teachers and administrators.

Some of Sikes’s examples about the availability of clothes which are deemed appropriate, such as clothing store Forever 21 only offering two pairs of dress code appropriate shorts, failed to impress board member Tony Norman.

After the meeting, Norman stated, “I’m sorry, there’s the internet. You can order anything. That’s not a valid argument.”

Norman also said he would not be in favor of changing the dress code in any way.

For Sikes and her thousands of supporters online, the future of the dress code still remains unclear.

This article was published by The Tennessee Journalist on September 8th, 2016. The post on that website can be found here:

Knox County sophomore brings dress code issues before board of education