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An attendee of the recent Rally for a New FWISD Superintendent holds a poster that calls for Kent Scribner’s ouster. Courtesy of Facebook

“I’ve been caught up in other people’s agendas,” reads a pinned message on James Whitfield’s Twitter page. “My only agenda is serving kids and making sure that every student walking those halls has access to a great education.”

Grapevine-Colleyville’s school board recently voted to not renew Whitfield’s contract, a decision that effectively means termination. Whitfield’s supporters believe that the board’s vote signifies tacit support for a national right-wing effort to push back on racial equity work within public school systems.

Last year, Whitfield, who was the high school’s first Black principal, penned an open letter to the Grapevine-Colleyville school community. Across the country, emotions were high following the murder of George Floyd that May.

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“Education is the key to stomping out ignorance, hate, and systemic racism,” Whitfield wrote at the time. “It’s a necessary conduit to get ‘liberty and justice for all.’ ”

The letter was well received by the community at the time, Whitfield recently told the Texas Tribune. The principal was blindsided this summer when parents began trying to discredit him by using the letter and false narratives about Critical Race Theory (CRT), the academic framework for understanding the role of racism in American society and government.

Reporting by the Texas Tribune, Daily Beast, and other publications found the accusations against Whitfield to be baseless. The fake controversy surrounding CRT, according to New York Times writer and noted author Wajahat Ali, is “pure projection” by a white supremacist movement that is emboldened by Donald Trump’s presidency and the slew of Republican leaders who have embraced lies about the “stolen” 2020 presidential election and other false narratives as a means of clinging to power.

“Projection is an unconscious self-defense mechanism in which people attribute their worst motives and inclinations to others,” Ali wrote for Daily Beast. “It allows the person to avoid responsibility as well as feelings of guilt and wrongdoing.”

As egregious as Whitefield’s mistreatment was, no North Texas school district has seen the level of sophisticated attacks on racial equity work that Southlake has. Many of the tactics used by powerbrokers in the tony suburb in Northeast Tarrant County are beginning to surface in Fort Worth, one current Fort Worth school district employee told us.

Last year, Carroll school district’s seven board members, who govern Southlake’s public school system, were preparing to review and potentially implement the district’s Cultural Competence Action Plan (CCAP), which is effectively a road map for addressing lingering racism in the school district. Multiple viral videos of Southlake high school students chanting the n-word in 2018 and 2019 put Southlake in the national spotlight.

Reactionary and affluent Southlake parents were able to effectively halt the implementation of CCAP by targeting alleged violations of the Texas Open Meetings Act, the state law that dictates how boards discuss matters of public interest, by school board members. After pooling funds through Southlake Families PAC, which was founded by current county commissioner Tim O’Hare, a tight-knit and well-connected cohort of Republicans filed a lawsuit against Carroll school district that resulted in an ongoing restraining order that prohibits the school board from discussing CCAP and race-related topics (“ Right-Wing Extremists Taking Over Carroll School District?” Sep. 15).

“Three years ago, [the radicalized right] would not have thought they could be that vocal against” the racial equity work Fort Worth school district is also conducting, the employee told us on condition of anonymity. “After Southlake, that all changed.”

Since 2016, the Fort Worth school district has made significant strides in drafting and implementing racial equity language in school policy. The school district’s Racial Equity Committee has actively provided advice to the school board for the past five years. In 2020, the board unanimously passed a resolution that stated that the school district “has the power and the duty to be part of the solution to dismantle institutional racism on behalf of the children we serve and the community in which we all live.”

Rather than openly attack those initiatives, critics of equity and inclusion are going after Fort Worth school district’s superintendent and the district’s lackluster academic ratings, the employee alleges. The district currently has an overall grade of “C,” according to state accountability ratings.

Indeed, public comments by parents at school board meetings frequently weave accusations that CRT is taught in school with criticisms of local public school performance. Around 40 parents rallied in late August to rebuke Superintendent Kent Scribner’s performance.

“The biggest problem that the [district] is facing is failing student performance,” said Carlos Turcios, one of the event’s organizers, during the August meeting.

A cursory glance at Turcios’ Facebook page showed that he attended a recent “Rally for a New FWISD Superintendent!” The post does not mention the exact location and date of the event, but it does list O’Hare as one of the speakers. O’Hare’s press releases are a trove of lies about his opponent, former Mayor Betsy Price, who is widely expected to trounce O’Hare in the upcoming March Republican primary (“ Splitting Hares,” Aug 11). One former Southlake elected official described O’Hare as the mastermind behind the successful effort to halt progress on Carroll school district’s CCAP. Photos from the event show attendees holding posters that read, “It’s time for change. Fire Scribner.”

Fort Worth’s school board recently voted to renew the superintendent’s contract. The school district employee said the upcoming Nov. 2 school bond election offers further ammunition for proponents of CRT misinformation to attack the Fort Wort school district. The $1.49 billion bond package includes four separate propositions that are focused on updating the district’s middle schools. Information about the bond can be found at FWISD.org/Bond.

Discrediting the Fort Worth school district paves the way for flipping board seats in favor of elected officials who are willing to push back against racial equity and pro-LGBTQ+ school policies, the employee said. Currently, he continued, only board members Roxanne Martinez, Quinton Phillips, and Jacinto Ramos understand the ideological battle that Fort Worth’s public schools will face in the coming months and years.

“You have people with lots of money who don’t like the progressive turn of the last five, six years with regards to equity and gender issues,” he said. “I think the [perceived successes] in the suburbs made them rise up.”

Speaking to one of our reporters in July, longtime educator Shawn Lassiter echoed much of what the school district employee told us. After several years of work as a Fort Worth school district administrator, Lassiter was hired by Leadership ISD in 2019 as the nonprofit’s chief of equity and innovation. Leadership ISD trains school leaders on effective equity practices and has worked with several current Fort Worth schools.

“We have been preparing for this type of backlash for a long time,” she said. “If anything, Texas loves to lead the way in stuff like this. We are continuing to build our coalition. We continue to do our work. We are in it for the long haul. I don’t know if the other group is. I think that the [uproar over CRT] will fade away, but it will shape up in another way. It’s about racism. It’s about separating people. It’s about not wanting to tell the truth about history.”

 

This column reflects the opinions of the editorial board and not necessarily the Fort Worth Weekly. To submit a column, please email Editor Anthony Mariani at anthony@fwweekly.com. Submissions will be edited for factuality and clarity.

7 COMMENTS

  1. Screaming racism and seeking victimhood in a more intelectual and structural context does not necessarily make it racism or discrimination, its just another Marxist attempt at power and control by discrediting others. Society is very tolerant nowadays, as long as you don’t push your values on others legally or illegally. Many parents were horrified of there children emulating rappers and the vile music of that genre. But the fact is its a genre thats followed and emulated in the US and all over the world, and guess what, they use that word too. But obviously the temptation to yell racism was too tempting in the Marxist play book.

    School boards have allowed homosexual child porn in the school libraries, there are teachers involved with Antifa promoting hatred of our country, and the white race. School systems are failing on so many levels largely due to the misdirection of curriculum. The parent has to stand up for their child. In the middle of much of this are the good teachers that are afraid to speak out, they have to feed their family too.

    Lets get back to the basics.

    • What a load of Trumpy BS. There’s nothing “Marxist” about a honest effort to recognize and address the ingrained, institutional, historical disadvantages that people of color have experienced in our country, nor is it in any way “an attempt at power”. Your lunatic ravings about child porn and “Antifa” in the public schools expose you for the irrational, fearful, disgraceful bigot that you are.

  2. Teaching about racism and slavery (historical facts) is not teaching hatred towards our country. Acknowledging racism exists in Southlake isn’t saying Southlake is bad. Racism is everywhere. It’s something we can improve. Simply put. These teachers care enough about their school and community to put the work in yo improve it. Working to improve the lives of our children and teaching perspective taking and understanding of others is an advanced skill that will serve all children well, no matter what race they are.

  3. FW Weekly has certainly gone down. They will let anything go now, I guess. This is not journalism. This sounds like an angry child throwing a fit on paper and calling someone names b/c he has no facts.

  4. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI), the name given to non-University level CRT gambits, are nothing but open racism against white students.

    It’s garbage. Fort Worth ISD is already garbage as well, rife with discipline problems and low academic scores. The majority of students aren’t even white in FWISD.

    So, you wonder why they waste their time with non-academic pursuits, such as DEI and CRT. They are cheating their taxpaying parents by not focusing on making school campuses safer and teaching real academics, such as math, science, and grammar.

  5. Anna Im sorry but i don’t think you even know the the motives these people have, or you are a part of the problem. Your dialect it seems that of an extremist, and your trying hard to be polite. Furthermore you do not even address the perversion pushed onto the child that you say you care about along with the teachers.

  6. This article is the most pathetic attempt to paint a false “opinion” piece I have seen in a while. If by “far-right extremists” the author means an incredibly diverse group of citizens deeply concerned with the failure of FWISD to properly educate students then ok. Our current and failed superintendent has created an environment that produces angry and uneducated students. Why is it that after 5 years students reading and math scores have not improved? Why has the district lost over 10,000 students in the past 5 years? Why is it that charter schools targeted at minority communities are having great success over public schools? Why is Rivertree Academy able to take a group of children in COMO and get 75% of the students reading at or above grade level in 1 year? Why does the district pay an average of $98,000 to Diversity personnel when the average FW family – I repeat family – income is $65,000? Why does our FWISD Superintendent make over $330,000 a year (which seems like overspending). What I find to be systemically racist is the idea that we funnel minority students into public education knowing that they will not learn to read, write and do arithmetic. How in the heck are these kids supposed to be successful adults? They will be taken advantage of their whole lives and it started in FWISD. It’s just shameful. If you want to remove systemic racism then vote for school choice and let parents decide what kind of education is best for their children. The money needs to follow the student. Imagine if a single mom could use the tax dollars to get specialized tutors for her child? Tutors could be replaced if they didn’t help her child. Why are so many people against this?

    If you are not willing to look at reality and what is actually happening then please don’t write stupid opinion pieces that are garbage.

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