SOUTHLAKE, Texas – Nine months after staff in the affluent school district of Carroll Independent presented a proposal to combat racial and cultural intolerance in schools, voters brought a strong victory on Saturday to school board lists and municipal council candidates who opposed the plan.
In an unusually fierce campaign that echoed the growing national divide on how to tackle race, gender and sexuality in schools, Southlake candidates were divided between two camps: those who supported the new demands for diversity and inclusion for Carol students; and teachers and those backed by a policy action committee set up last year to thwart the plan.
On the one hand, progressives argue that curricula and disciplinary changes are needed to make all children feel safe and welcome in Carol, a predominantly white but rapidly diversified school district. Conservatives in Southlake, on the other hand, rejected the school diversity plan as an attempt to indoctrinate students with far-left ideology that some say would institutionalize discrimination against white children and those with conservative Christian values.
Candidates and voters on both sides described the election as a “fork in the road”
In the end, the race was not close. Candidates backed by Southlake Families’ conservative PAC, which raised more than $ 200,000 last summer, won each race by about 70% to 30%, including those for two positions on the school board, two seats on the City Council and a mayor. More than 9,000 voters voted, three times more than in similar contests in the past.
Hannah Smith, a prominent Southlake lawyer who works for Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, defeated Ed Hernandez, a business consultant, to win a seat on Carol’s school board. In a statement to NBC News on Sunday, Smith, who is white, said the election “is a referendum for those who put personal politics and divisive philosophies before Carroll ISD students and families, as well as their shared American heritage and values in Texas.”
“Voters gathered in record numbers to restore unity,” Smith said. “By voting, they do not want a racially divisive theory of critical race to be taught to their children or imposed on their teachers. Voters agreed with my positive vision of our community and its future.”
Hernandez and other candidates supporting the new diversity and inclusion programs said they were not particularly surprised by the result in a historically conservative city where about two-thirds of voters backed President Donald Trump in 2020, but they were horrified by their margins. defeat.
Hernandez, an immigrant from Mexico, said she was concerned about the signal the result was sending to dozens of Carol high school students and recent alumni who had come out with stories of racist and anti-gay harassment over the past two years. To demonstrate the need for change, members of the student-led Southlake Racism Coalition collected more than 300 accounts from current and former Carol students last year who said they had been abused because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.
“I don’t want to think about all those kids who shared their stories, their testimonies,” said Hernandez, growing emotional moments on Saturday after learning the election results. “I don’t want to think about it right now because it’s really hard for me. I feel really bad for all those kids, every one of them who shared a story. I have no words for them.”
The Southlake fight dates back to the fall of 2018, when a video of white students from Carol’s high school chanting N-word went viral, making national headlines. School leaders then hosted listening sessions with students and parents and appointed a committee of 63 volunteers from the community to develop a plan to make Carol more hospitable to students from different backgrounds.
The effort was partly a recognition of the changing demographics. Southlake’s population has tripled to more than 31,000 over the past three decades, driven in part by South Asian immigrants attracted to the area from high-paying jobs and high-ranking schools. Black people make up less than 2 percent of the city’s population, where the average household income is over $ 230,000, and 74 percent of the population is white.
The result of the work of the School Diversity Committee, a 34-page document called the Action Plan for Cultural Competence, was published last summer, in the midst of a pandemic, heated presidential elections and wider national accounts of racism following the assassination of George Floyd by a white police officer in Minneapolis.
The plan calls for mandatory cultural sensitivity training for all students and teachers in Carol, a formal process for reporting and tracking incidents of racist harassment and changes in the code of conduct to make students accountable for acts of discrimination. The proposal also proposes to create the post of director of share capital and inclusion to monitor the district’s efforts.
The plan was met with swift and fierce opposition. For months, conservative parents have gathered at school council meetings, denying aspects of the proposal that they say would create a “diversity police” and constitute “reverse racism.” Members of the Southlake Families PAC, which was formed within days of the plan’s release, paid special attention to the district’s proposal to track micro-aggression incidents – subtle, indirect and sometimes inadvertent incidents of discrimination.
At a board meeting, a white father said he supported introducing children to different cultures, but said the district’s plan would instead teach students “how to be a victim” and force them to adopt a “liberal ideology.” Several parents said the plan would undermine their Christian values by educating children on issues affecting gay and transgender classmates. Others warned that the board had awakened Southlake’s “silent majority”.
The Southlake Families PAC backed a mother’s lawsuit against the district and won a temporary detention order in December, which delayed the diversity plan. Then, last month, two school board members who backed the plan were indicted by a Taranto County grand jury, which accused them of violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, a violation after opponents of the diversity plan received texts showing that members sent each other messages before voting for it.
The issue has become a defining topic for the typically low municipal elections in Southlake this spring, separating neighbors and former friends. The Taranto Democratic Party posted a brief post and then deleted the image on social media, labeling all candidates who opposed the diversity plan as “racist.” Meanwhile, the Southlake Families’ PAC sent mail correspondents accusing candidates for the diversity plan of pushing for “radical socialism” in Southlake.
The controversy brought the city into the spotlight ahead of election day, with a number of stories appearing on right-wing news sites describing the race as a test of a greater national struggle for anti-racist programs in schools.
“It’s happening everywhere,” Fox News presenter Tucker Carlson said during a segment on Tuesday about Carol’s diversity plan and the resulting repercussions. “They will come in, they will demolish your school, they will hurt your children, they will take your money, they will harass you and no one will do anything. And I’m so grateful to hear about parents doing something. “
As a steady stream of voters in Southlake headed to the town hall on Saturday, many described the significance of the vote. “It’s a great city,” a woman shouted over her shoulder as she refused to speak to reporters. “I want to keep it that way.”
Jason Rudman, a white father of two who voted for the conservative candidacy, said he was disappointed with the city’s political discourse.
“The most important thing for me is that we have a dialogue,” said Rudman, whose children attend a private school. “I don’t think we’re in a place right now where one side or the other is talking to the other side. I feel like people are firing grenades back and forth, and for me that’s the most important thing we have to deal with. s. “
At the Cambria Hotel, where the candidates for diversity plans and their supporters gathered on Saturday, the party with the election results became gloomy shortly after 19:00, when the news of the result spread around the room. In the race for mayor, Conservative John Huffman won 71 percent of the vote to defeat Debra Edmundson. Huffman, who criticized the diversity plan while serving on Southlake City Council, did not respond to a statement asking for comment.
Jennifer Howe, a white mother of two Carol schoolgirls who campaigned for the diversity proposal, said she was angry and devastated.
“Because the feeling is that hatred wins,” Huff said. “Like I said, we’ll get angry, and then we’ll get together and find out where we’re going now. The city is changing. More people are settling in. So it won’t be like that forever.”
Meanwhile, student members of the anti-racist coalition Southlake, which was organized last year with a request for change in Carroll, said they were upset by the results, but were determined to continue to push for change.
“I’m not surprised, but I’m worried,” said Nicki Olaley, a 12th-grade black student at Carol High School who is an outspoken critic of the school’s manipulation of racist and anti-gay bullying. “I don’t think it’s time to have a pathetic party. We’re just ready to move on and do what we can using our voice.”