By Leah Asmelash, CNN
Updated: Mon, 10 May 2021 23:58:12 GMT
Three years ago, a video went viral of a group of teenage students chanting the n-word at a private party in Southlake, Texas. Now, as the school district tries to incorporate cultural awareness into the curriculum, a group of parents is fighting back.
Southlake is not a racist community -- that was the consensus among many parents at a school board meeting for the Carroll Independent School District in Southlake on Monday.
The meeting took place after the city's elections over the weekend, which saw huge wins for candidates opposing the district's plans. Two candidates for school board, two for city council and the mayoral candidate all won with about 70% of the vote.
They were all endorsed by the Southlake Families PAC, a group whose main issue is Carroll ISD's new Cultural Competence Action Plan, which was formed in response to that 2018 viral video. The plan, which was set to be presented for adoption last August before being postponed, aims to address racism in the district by emphasizing "cultural awareness" among students through anti-bullying programs and assembly speakers, according to a draft. It also requires things like diversity training for the staff.
All of that is opposed by the Southlake Families PAC. On its website, the political action committee calls the plan "some of the most extreme liberal positions in the history of Texas public education," saying the plan is "overreaching" and will "indoctrinate children according to extremely liberal beliefs."
The PAC's website acknowledges that racism is a problem but says the plan is not a solution: "We affirm that real racism remains an issue across the globe, and while rare in Southlake, we stand against it. We deny the current CCAP is a solution to any racist issues and, in fact, creates more racism, not less."
'Critical race theory ain't coming here,' PAC says
At Monday's school board meeting, many parents and community members echoed those positions while referencing the winning results from the weekend's election.
"Seventy percent of our community disagreed with critical race theory," one person stated. "Seventy percent deny there is systemic racism at Carroll ISD."
Though the plan does not mention critical race theory specifically, the area of study has become a catch-all for any type of education involving race. The actual plan, however, is focused on cultural awareness, referencing the "increasingly diverse student population" in the district.
"Indoctrination of children is over," said another speaker.
Southlake is a suburb of Dallas-Fort Worth. The city is 79% White, and the median income is about $240,000, according to the US Census Bureau.
Following the election over the weekend, the Southlake Families PAC wrote on Twitter, "Critical Race Theory ain't coming here. This is what happens when good people stand up and say, not in my town, not on my watch."
A few days later, the group expanded on that position.
"CRT is a theoretical framework which views society as dominated by white supremacy and categorizes people as 'privileged' or 'oppressed' based on their skin color," the group wrote Monday. "It also teaches kids to hate America. Ask yourself who in their right mind would want this taught in public schools?"
CNN emailed the group for further comment, but did not receive a response.
The entire situation -- the finger-pointing at critical race theory, the emphasis on indoctrination and the general vilifying of racial education -- is part of a larger trend currently playing out across the United States.
Just last week, Idaho moved to ban "critical race theory" or any racial education in its public schools, including public universities. Though the bill phrased the move as a ban against teaching that "any sex, race, ethnicity, religion, color, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior," supporters of the bill called out critical race theory specifically, and also claimed students were being indoctrinated -- just like in Southlake.
Tuesday, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley wrote on Twitter, "Critical race theory is harmful to a child's education," posted above a short video with a graphic reading, "Schools need to stop teaching kids that they're racist."
Critical race theory, according to those that study it, actually refers to an area of study dedicated to understanding systemic inequality and racism in the United States, arguing that historical systems such as slavery still play a role in society today.
"It's an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what's in the past is in the past," Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia University, told CNN in October.
Former students recount multiple racist incidents at Carroll ISD
On the other side is a group called the Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition, a group of past and present Carroll ISD students fighting for change in the district. The group's demands, according to its website, display an opposite approach to that of the Southlake Families PAC.
"We demand that Carroll Independent School District is actively anti-racist and dismantles their complicity in systemic racism and bigotry. We demand action now," the group states.
Several members of SARC, all of whom graduated from Carroll ISD, spoke with CNN. In regard to the 2018 video that sparked the Cultural Competence Action Plan, all said they weren't surprised the behavior occurred.
"That happens all the time at Carroll schools," said Raven Rolle, a 2019 graduate of the district. "I think most people's reaction in the city was just, 'Let's just leave them alone, they're getting a lot of hate from this,' ... not really focusing on the fact that it was racist."
Rolle, who is Black, recalled multiple experiences where White peers used the n-word. Though she reported them to school officials, she says they were never penalized.
CNN contacted Carroll ISD multiple times via email and phone to verify these incidents, but did not receive a response.
Rolle recalled one specific incident in which a student repeatedly used the word. When she went to the principal's office to report them, she said the other student denied the whole thing. Meanwhile, she said, the principal told her, "Just don't let them dim your light, you'll be fine."
Shawn Duhon, the principal of Carroll Senior High School, said in an email to CNN that he "cannot comment on the specifics of a student or a discipline situation."
"I can acknowledge that there was an incident reported to our Admin Team by a student a couple of weeks before graduation and as an administrator, we worked with the parents of both students involved to address the concern," Duhon wrote.
One former student, who requested anonymity for safety reasons, said they were called the n-word every day during class for two years.
"No one asked me if I was OK, no one did anything to show that they cared about me," they said. "I didn't know what to do. I was like, 14."
They are now in their early 20s. CNN spoke with another former student who said she was in class when these instances occurred. This student said, "It definitely happened. I don't know that it happened every single day, but there were multiple instances throughout our time ... together" in class.
CNN reached out multiple times to the two instructors who taught the class at the time for a statement, but did not receive a response.
The problem, several former students said, is that using the slur is often seen as just bullying, not racism. And the faculty doesn't always see it as a problem, said Maddy Heymann, who graduated in 2017. She used "To Kill a Mockingbird," a book they were required to read, as an example.
"Someone in the class will say the n-word when reading the book," Heymann said, "because teachers think it's an important part about reading the book, when it just further proliferates the idea that it's an acceptable word to say."
The proposed Cultural Competence Action Plan isn't perfect, several students said.
Anya Kushwaha, who graduated in 2016, noted that the 34-page document references racism only once, and doesn't address systemic or institutionalized issues. Instead, it focuses mainly on preventing bullying and increasing "cultural awareness."
But it's better than nothing, Kushwaha said.
"At the bare, bare minimum, any semblance of a plan like this is necessary just because of how far off we are," they said.