Last year, Dr. James Whitfield became the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School in north Texas. Popular with students and faculty, he is now facing the end of his tenure after getting entangled in the public education debate over critical race theory in Texas.
In the Summer of 2020 in the days following the murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery), Dr. Whitfield penned a thoughtful letter to his community on his Facebook page. He wrote about the tragedy, and the role schools can now play for healing and learning. “Education is the key to stomping out ignorance, hate, and systemic racism,” wrote Dr. Whitfield.
Over a year later in July 2021, Dr. Whitfield was accused of teaching critical race theory and advocating for the teaching of systemic racism at a school board meeting. Those charges were levied by Stetson Clark, a conservative former candidate for the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board. Dr. Whitfield was placed on administrative leave and hearings were scheduled to decide his fate.
On Monday, Dr. Whitfield appeared before a special school board hearing that was deciding whether or not to renew his contract. Dozens of teachers, students, and parents all spoke up in favor of retaining Dr. Whitfield. The school board unanimously voted to propose not renewing his contract. A second meeting by the school board will be held which will ultimately determine if Dr. Whitfield’s contract will not be renewed.
Dr. Whitfield addressed the school board on Monday evening. “I believe every student regardless of race, religion, sexual orientation, whatever bucket you want to put them in, I believe they should have access to excellent equitable education,” he said. “Yes, I said those words. Unfortunately, my unapologetic stance for those things has brought us here tonight which is disheartening.”
In the leadup to Monday’s hearing, the story generated national headlines. Dr. Whitfield and his attorney appeared on CNN and MSNBC. It was also revealed that before the allegations of teaching critical race theory, Dr. Whitfield was asked to remove photos of himself and his wife, who is white, from his personal Facebook page.
Critical race theory has become a lightning rod around the country, and especially Texas. In the first legislative session of the Texas legislature, House Bill 3979 was passed in an effort to stomp out critical race theory from the classroom. The American Federation of Teachers of Texas called HB 3979 a “de facto school censorship bill” that severely limits what can be taught in social studies.
Critical race theory was first introduced by a number of law professors in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was a scholarly approach examining the impact of race and racism on law and the legal establishment. Republicans in Texas (and around the country) have latched on to the phrase in order to ban educators from teaching “divisive” concepts.
On Friday, Governor Abbott signed another bill meant to prohibit critical race theory from the classroom. Abbott included critical race theory as an agenda item when he announced the second special session for the Texas legislature.