Whitfield is the first Black principal to lead Colleyville Heritage High School. He has repeatedly denied what he calls “baseless allegations” raised at a school board meeting that he has been teaching critical race theory. The framework maintains the U.S. legal system, and the laws it has produced are rooted in racism. And while stories like Whitfield’s ironically point to just how much truth there is in the theory, educators have been banned from teaching the framework in many places, including Texas, as Republicans use misunderstandings about the theory as a means of further whitewashing history instruction.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill over the summer that states a teacher “may not be compelled to discuss” current events or controversial issues of social affairs. If a teacher chooses to discuss such topics, that educator should “explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.” The law, which went into effect on September 1, is Texas’ version of a ban on teaching the impacts of slavery, the Republican branding on critical race theory. Legislators don’t mention the framework by name in their ban. No, that would be a bit too on the nose for Republicans. They instead passed general language that, on a first skim, may not seem alarming but, in actuality, limits conversation in a way that fails to serve students of color in particular, and all students to some degree.
Republicans weren’t successful in their attempt to practically remove women and people of color from a portion of the required social studies curriculum outright. Still, they were able to pass as part of the legislation a ban on Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones’ “1619 Project.” The project correctly asserts that “no aspect of the country” has been “untouched by the years of slavery” that followed the first slave ship’s arrival to the coastal port of the English colony of Virginia in August of 1619. Other concepts banned in the law are that which show the “advent of slavery” is the “true founding of the United States” or that “an individual, by virtue of the individual ’s race or sex, bears responsibility for actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex.”
The Texas chapter of the American Federation of Teachers called the legislation a “terrible example for our schoolchildren” in a statement released in May. “The specific references by Republicans to banning Critical Race Theory and the 1619 Project make it clear that they want this to be a wedge issue for state and local political races,” the federation wrote. “The bill is part of a national movement by conservatives trying to sow a narrative of students being indoctrinated by teachers. Our members rightfully have expressed outrage against this insult of their professionalism to provide balanced conversations with students on controversial issues.
“Texas AFT and more than 70 other educational organizations oppose this bill.”
Whitfield told board members at the meeting regarding his job: “I stand before you today no different than I was when I came in ’18-’19. I’m an advocate for all kids. 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. Yes, I said those words.”
Members of the Next Generation Action Network, a lobbying group for social change, wore red T-shirts at the meeting, which they attended in support of Whitfield. NBC DFW reported that they were asked to turn their shirts inside out because they violated a rule prohibiting “signage” at board meetings. “The fight ain’t over. It’s just beginning,” one activist could be seen shouting after the meeting adjourned. Another protester shouted: “Dr. Ryan, you attacked the credibility of a good man. You are wrong. You are wrong, and you have to sleep with that.”
Whitfield wrote in a Facebook post responding to allegations against him on July 31 that he is not the critical race theory “Boogeyman.” “I am the first African American to assume the role of Principal at my current school in its 25-year history, and I am keenly aware of how much fear this strikes in the hearts of a small minority who would much rather things go back to the way they used to be,” he wrote. “But here’s the deal – I’m here, so let’s dive into their claims about me.”
Whitfield said his critics disproved of his support of the Southern Poverty Law Center, specifically his recommendation of author Lonnie Bunch III’s A Fool’s Errand: Creating the National Museum of African American History and Culture in the Age of Bush, Obama, and Trump. They disapproved of his call to end systemic racism following the murder of George Floyd, and they disproved of photos he took with his wife on a beach in Mexico, where they were celebrating their fifth anniversary. Whitfield was asked to take the photos down, and having just earned the principalship position on June 27, 2019, he obliged.
“It was at this moment that I knew the attack that we currently endure, was coming,” he said in the Facebook post later recounting the experience. “There are numerous examples of these sorts of racist threats and statements directed my way, but I continued to take the high road and focus on my mission and purpose, as nothing was ever done to alleviate or deter these threats on my behalf.”
Attorney David Henderson, who is representing Whitfield, said in a statement released on Wednesday that he’s rarely seen a Board of Trustees “mislead the public” the way the Grapevine-Colleyville school board did. Henderson also said the trustees “mischaracterized its decision as a ‘procedural step.'” “However, the Board’s vote is final. Dr. Whitfield must successfully appeal the Board’s decision to avoid effectively being fired as principal of Colleyville-Heritage High School,” Henderson said. “Most Americans believe people deserve a fair hearing before being condemned. GCISD was only willing to grant Dr. Whitfield sixty seconds. Additionally, it refused to explain why it opposed him until more than an hour after he spoke. GCISD’s ongoing lack of transparency and unfair treatment have forced Dr. Whitfield to seek a more level playing field where he will finally receive due process.”