Parents, teachers, and students were furious when a beloved high school principal in Texas was suspended from his post at Colleyville High School last month. Dr. James Whitfield, the school’s first Black principal, was put on administrative leave after being accused of pushing critical race theory in the school’s curriculum. Now, it seems as if their attempts to save him were all in vain. On Monday night, the Grapevine Colleyville Independent School District voted unanimously not to renew Whitfield’s contract.
After a lengthy discussion about budgeting and tax rates, board members opened the floor to community members who had prepared speeches to share in support of Whitfield. After being warned by the board that there would be no “noise or clapping” during the segment, nearly three dozen attendees took to the podium on Whitfield’s behalf.
“I grew up in the Jim Crow South, and what’s going on here is not particularly new. It’s an old playbook,” one resident of Grapevine, who said she lived in the area for 10 years, said. “But to beat it, we need to start being very clear about what’s OK and what’s not OK—or we’re going to continue being bullied by a reactionary minority.
“It is not OK to make baseless accusations about what our schools are teaching, particularly when all you know about the topic is what’s been told by professional propagandists. It is not OK to demonstrate contempt for another human being by making salacious comments about his family… To the board: It is not OK to punish a respected educator for defending himself when you could not find the intestinal fortitude to defend him as you, yourself, should’ve done.”
During the summer of 2020 as a racial awakening swept the country after the George Floyd protests, Whitfield wrote a letter to the academic community. In it, he said, “Education is the key to stomping out ignorance, hate, and systemic racism.”
That letter appeared to prompt accusations that he was pushing critical race theory in school.
In July, Whitfield was accused by a failed school board candidate of supporting critical race theory being taught in schools. Soon after, Whitfield was put on paid leave. The superintendent of Grapevine-Colleyville schools then submitted a request that Whitfield’s stint as principal of Colleyville Heritage High School should end.
There’s no evidence that critical race theory is part of the school curriculum, and Whitfield has been adamant that he has not shown any public support for it.
After receiving the news, Whitfield said in a Facebook post, “I was not given any clear reasoning behind the decision and was not given a timetable regarding further steps. I was simply told that it was in the best interest of the district.”
Monday’s meeting was not the first time the community spoke out about what they said was unjust treatment of Whitfield. Students planned school walkouts, and parents have been vocal on social media about their support of Whitfield.
At the meeting, a graduate of Colleyville High School who said she also served for 15 years as the assistant coach for a couple of the district’s school’s debate teams, said, “Maya Angelou said, ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’ ... Dr. Whitfield has also shown us who he is: He is warm and welcoming to his students... he is also a man of principle. He has also shown us that he is willing to hold us accountable as a diverse community where white voices have long drown out diversity... We should all talk less and listen more to Dr. Whitfield.”
As applause broke out and the board had to remind attendees that there would be no noise of any kind, a district parent stood up to make a speech.
“I started a petition in support of this gentleman over here,” the woman said while pointing in the direction of Whitfield. “That petition now has 2,200-plus signatures.”
Another parent—and an alumna of Grapevine High School—said that she loved growing up in the area “but what I’ve seen happening, it really makes me sad.” She continued, “[Whitfield] is known by his supporters as an enthusiastic educator—and not the CRT boogeyman. And speaking for him, he is being impugned even though we have a diversity advisory council for doing what the rest of the district and he should be doing.”
Nevertheless, the board approved Monday night that Whitfield’s contract would be terminated at the end of the current school year. He still has the opportunity to appeal the decision and lead Colleyville High School into the 2022-23 academic year. He will have to present evidence and testimony to argue his case if he wants to start a new contract.
In response to the wave of support, Whitfield released a statement Wednesday saying he was disappointed that the students’ wellbeing was not the primary focus of the school board. However, he said he was “humbled by the dozens of community members who spoke so passionately on my behalf. This painful journey would be much harder without the support of those willing to fight for what is right.”
Critical race theory has become a point of contention for conservatives and racism truthers who find the theory to be anti-patriotic. It focuses on the ways racism has been systemic in American culture, how certain groups of people have benefited from it and how others have not. Though educators in the K-12 realm have been quick to attack the ideology, it’s usually mainly taught in law school settings.
Whitfield is the first Black principal of Colleyville High School’s 25-year history. He took the role in 2020.