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School board member debates after controversial comments about diversity in schools

For the last month, UnifiEd and Chattanooga 2.0 have been hosting debates for Hamilton County school board members up for elections this fall. Monday night's comes off the heels of Smith's criticism's of UnifiEd's APEX report. (Image WTVC)

District three incumbent Joe Smith sits next to his opponent, Miracle Hurley, in front of a room full of District Three voters at Hixson High School.

For the last month, UnifiEd and Chattanooga 2.0 have been hosting debates for Hamilton County school board members up for elections this fall. Last week, school board Chairman Steve Highlander faced his opponent, D'Andre Anderson. Monday night's debate hosted Smith and Hurley. It comes off the heels of Smith's criticism's of UnifiEd's APEX report. Since then, Smith says he's received backlash from the public, and the organization itself.

"There have been some very hurtful things said about me," said Smith, during his introduction into Monday night's debate. "Some of those things by the organization who sponsored this debate."

Regarding the APEX report, Smith says diversity is not a problem in Hamilton County and UnifiEd's suggestions wouldn't work. Hurley told News Channel 9 the APEX report is worth reading.

"Everything I talk about is coming together as a community and one way we can do that is by integrating both racially and socially economically," she said.

Of the five prepared questions, question number two focused on diversity and integration in Hamilton County Schools.

"I will say racial and social integration is needed," Hurley said from the stage. "It's something we'll see. It's a problem."

"I think that any child regardless of gender, color, identity, ought to be able to go to any school they want to," said Smith from the stage. "It's called open enrollment. Now, they gotta find a way to get there. If they're making a choice to go to a school out of zone, and there's room, they gotta find a way to get there."

UnifiEd's APEX report stirred controversy about the idea of forced busing. UnifiEd says that's not something they support and never included in their report.

While Smith agrees the opportunity should be there, he says the money to pay for transportation shouldn't be on the school board.

"That's not the school board's responsibility to fix social problems or to fix poverty," he said. "That's not the school board's responsibility."

UnifiEd's executive director, Natalie Cook, did not offer a response when asked about Joe Smith's comments on the organization.

One last debate will be held on Tuesday, May 29th at Dalewood Middle School, hosting the district five candidates. That debate is set to begin at 6 p.m.

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