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A right-wing takeover of Carroll school district may have spurred a new federal investigation into civil rights violations in Southlake. Courtesy of NBC News/Nitashia Johnson

By openly peddling vapid conspiracy stories, Carroll school district leaders have been the topic of weekly reporting by our newspaper and major news outlets like NBC News, but a new federal investigation into Carroll school district dealings may put an end to those right-wing antics. 

The school district that represents Southlake, after initially working to address documented incidents of racist student behavior, took a hard right turn to appease wealthy white parents who had adopted bogus claims that a Marxist takeover of Carroll schools was underway. 

In April, Southlake parents overwhelmingly voted in two right-wing school board members who were backed by a powerful PAC that also maintains undue influence in Tarrant County’s civil and criminal courts (“Buying Judicial Influence,” Sep 1). With the backing of the Southlake Families PAC, Cam Bryan and Hannah Smith were elected to Carroll’s seven-member board in the spring, and a new investigation by the U.S. Department of Education’s civil rights enforcement arm will now be looking into whether the school district is discriminating against students based on their race and gender identification.

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According to an NBC News story, the Carroll school district is “fully cooperating with the process.” 

The school district’s focus, the spokesperson continued, will always be what is best for our students.

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR), which is tasked with enforcing federal laws that protect students from discrimination, will head the investigation. OCR investigations can take years to complete. Findings from such investigations are used to change school policies and to compel school district leaders to submit to federal monitoring. 

The federal actions may well force the Carroll school district to implement the types of changes the school board was drafting last year. The Cultural Competency Action Plan (CCAP) was a school board-led effort that was halted by a 2020 lawsuit that is funded by the Southlake Families PAC. The lawsuit alleges that school board members, in their attempt to provide a racially tolerant school environment, violated Texas’ Open Meetings Act by discussing school district matters via text messages and not during open board meetings. The ongoing lawsuit led DA Sharen Wilson to seek unprecedented criminal charges against Carroll school board members Todd Carlton and Michelle Moore in April (“Rising Partisanship,” Oct 13). Wilson recently announced that he will not seek reelection, possibly due to blowback over her decision to push for indicting Carlton and Moore. 

Two Tarrant County judges, Republicans Josh Burgess and Susan McCoy, ruled favorably for the lawsuit just months after attending a 2020 fundraiser at the home of two Southlake Families co-founders, married couple Andy and Leigh Wambsganss.

If the federal investigation indeed finds that acts of racial or gender discrimination are condoned by school leaders, the findings would align with first-hand stories that our news magazine has published. 

Southlake mother Laura Durant told us in September that, in a private meeting, Smith voiced skepticism that a significant number of Carroll students identify as LGBTQ+. When Durant told Smith that 20% of students see themselves as something other than “straight,” Smith, a self-described religious freedom advocate, allegedly replied that Southlake was different. 

Durant said that Smith told her to cease work with the school’s student-led anti-racism group. Durant provided us with her unedited notes from that meeting, which was also attended by Bryan. 

Smith’s “disdain for LGBTQ+ students was palpable,” Durant told us at the time. 

Bryan and Smith did not respond to multiple requests for comment for that story. More recently, a Carroll school administrator was recorded telling teachers that any discussions about the Holocaust should include an “opposing” perspective. School leaders later said the comment was not representative of official school policy.

 

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