Tempers flare as Grapevine-Colleyville schools consider controversial policy on race

Sandra Engelland/sengelland@star-telegram.com

Disagreement flared on Monday night in public at a board of education meeting in the Colleyville-Grapevine school district during a discussion of a draft policy that guides instruction on race and prohibits lessons that suggest racism underpins the country’s founding principles.

Among the elements of discord were an uncomfortable exchange between board trustees focused on the names of the people who prepared the policy, conflict concerning the circumstances under which the board president should scold meeting observers for outbursts and debate about how and when the board should consider district protocol on curriculum and material its teachers share with students.

Trustee Becky St. John, who appeared to have reservations about parts of the policy, attempted to get another trustee, Casey Ford, to list its authors. Ford and Trustee Shannon Braun requested that an initial examination of the policy be added to the meeting’s agenda.

Ford said he and several community members contributed to the document, known as the classical social and emotional learning policy.

“So which parts did you write?” St. John asked.

“I don’t remember,” Ford said.

Ford said ad hoc committee sessions, rather than the board meeting, was the best forum to review policy’s details and language.

“I’m not answering any more questions,” said Ford, who sat beside St. John in an arrangement that added to the strain.

Beyond racism matters, the policy also requires regular board consideration of district books and other media that contain references to sex.

Trustee agitation developed at the meeting at which there also were public spats on the timely return of a colleagues’ telephone call and the number of hours that elapsed between when board materials were distributed and the meeting.

A committee of three trustees, Ford, St. John and Coley Canter, and a district administrative employee and its legal counsel will refine the policy. The board may consider and vote on it at a another meeting, perhaps in May or June.

Ford and Braun proposed the policy that they said was developed to address concerns of district residents who believe the district should steer away from critical race theory and books that contain what they consider to be improper references to sex. Several parents or grandparents said they expected the district offer a classic education focused mostly on reading and math.

The draft policy states that the district will not “instruct that race or sex is inherently superior to another race or sex [or that] an individual, by virtue of the individual’s race or sex, is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.”

During a public comment period, 42 people each spoke from a podium for one minute. Twenty-five supported the draft policy, 10 opposed it and six people did not offer a clear opinion.

Board President Jorge Rodriguez said classroom discussions on racism were central to curbing it.

“Talking about racism is not CRT, you know. That’s not what CRT is,” he said. “Racism is part of our history, you know. Unfortunately, and I can tell you as a brown man in Texas, it is part of our present, too,” Rodriguez said.

Stetson Clark, a parent of elementary-age children, said he had become familiar with the district’s instruction as he worked from home during the coronavirus pandemic and heard his daughter’s virtual class unfolding on her iPad.

“That’s when I started noticing the amount of time that she wasn’t [spending] learning academically rigorous things,” Clark said.

Rather, he said, students were discussing their emotions and reviewed quotations from performer Lady Gaga.

Another parent, Michael Quinn, suggested the Bible’s Old Testament contains sexual themes that could be prohibited under the policy.

“Let me explain what porn is. It’s designed to arouse. It pertains to the prurient interest. It is not award-winning books of literature that might include challenging themes,” he said. “I’m sick and tired of these three-letter acronyms. It’s becoming a tired playbook. CRT, SEL. Now we have PPM. I’m afraid that our district is going to be SOL if we keep going down this path.”

The district sought an opinion on the draft policy from its attorney. The assessment has not been made public.

A former district principal, James Whitfield, who led Colleyville Heritage High School, departed in November. Controversy erupted when Whitfield, who is Black, was accused of welcoming CRT. District trustees voted 7-0 to approve a settlement under which Whitfield is to be on paid administrative leave until his resignation takes effect on Aug. 15, 2023.

Whitfield wrote in a Facebook post that he had been the recipient of racial attacks for several months and noted criticism after writing about the death of George Floyd and his support for the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Whitfield has said school district officials used his race as the foundation for declining to renew his contract. School officials said that a nonrenewal notice was connected to Whitfield’s lack of communication, email communications with a party outside the district and accusations of hiding electronic public records by deleting them.