- Dr. James Whitfield recalled in a Facebook post that his school district once asked him to take down a photo showing him kissing his wife.
- He told Insider that was just the start of a sustained harassment campaign from local residents.
- At a tense public meeting in July, residents accused Whitfield of promoting “the conspiracy of systemic racism” and called for his firing.
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On the day of his appointment as the principal of a Texas middle school, Dr. James Whitfield was forwarded an email from a resident of his school district that referenced a photo of him kissing his wife on the beach in Mexico, where the couple celebrated their 10-year anniversary. Whitfield is Black, and his wife is white.
According to Whitfield, in May 2019 the school district forwarded him the email, which read, “Is this the Dr. Whitfield we want as an example for our students?”, and requested he remove the photo from his Facebook profile.
“I felt small, insignificant, and undervalued as a staff member,” he told Insider in a phone interview.
Whitfield recalled the ordeal in a July 31 Facebook post. The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District said in a statement Monday that it made the request to provide Whitfield with a “smooth transition” to his new role and “had absolutely nothing to do with race.”
Whitfield ultimately set the photo to private. But he told Insider the request was just the start of what he believes is a sustained harassment campaign against him by residents of his school district who think he promotes the idea that white people are inherently racist.
Since Whitfield was appointed principal of Colleyville Heritage High School in spring 2020, making him the first Black person to lead the school in its 25-year history, he said community members have repeatedly asked the school board to investigate and even fire him. Colleyville, a city in Tarrant County outside of Dallas and Fort Worth, is more than 90% white.
Whitfield’s opponents center their outrage around critical race theory, an idea that originally emerged from legal scholarship that argues racism continues to affect the legal system and other modern institutions in ways that perpetuate discrimination against and the oppression of people of color. In September 2020, then-President Donald Trump issued an executive order which labeled concepts like critical race theory “offensive and anti-American” and banned any diversity and inclusion training containing such “divisive concepts” from federal contracts.
Following Trump’s ban, states including Texas enacted a rash of anti-critical race theory legislation that distorts the concept to limit how history, race, and current events can be taught in public schools. Outrage over teachers discussing police brutality, white privilege, and systemic racism in the context of current events exploded at school board meetings across the country, including in Whitfield’s district.
“They think I’m the CRT boogeyman,” Whitfield said of his opponents. “My position strikes fear into the hearts of certain people that would prefer things go back to the way they used to be.”
Locals called for Whitfield’s firing in an explosive school board meeting
At a tense district board of trustees meeting on July 26, speakers railed against what they view as critical race theory permeating the curriculum at local schools. Whitfield said he was advised not to attend these meetings in person for his own protection.
In a video recording of the meeting reviewed by Insider, one woman calls for the trustees to investigate any use of critical race theory because “the whole idea of systemic racism is a theory or a philosophy.” Other speakers air concerns over the district teaching “social justice” and the “systemic racism conspiracy.”
During the open forum portion of the meeting, one man criticizes Whitfield directly by name, which is against the board’s rules. The man accuses Whitfield of promoting the belief that the community should “destroy all our businesses, our school districts, our city, and even our state.” He further calls for Whitfield’s contract to be terminated because of what he says are Whitfield’s “extreme views.” Shouts to “fire” Whitfield can be heard in the background.
The man is twice interrupted and reminded of rules against airing grievances against a specific employee, but finishes his speech to raucous applause.
Asked for comment, the school district told Insider that similar violations will not be tolerated at future board of trustees meetings.
‘My agenda is loving kids’
Whitfield said he increasingly felt the community’s ire directed at him after George Floyd’s murder.
Feeling compelled to leverage his leadership position to speak out against systemic racism, Whitfield sent an email to his high school community listserv on June 3, 2020.
“We are collectively using our voice to denounce systemic racism and the inequities that people of color face on a daily basis in our country,” Whitfield wrote. “I encourage us all not to grow weary in the battle against systemic racism – commit to being an anti-racist.”
Whitfield’s opponents immediately took issue with his message.
In public Facebook posts reviewed by Insider from a group called “GCISD Parents for Strong Schools,” members called Whitfield a “Critical Race Theory (CRT) advocate” and accused him of “using his principal position as a platform for social justice and politics.”
Other posts in the group encouraged members to file public records requests in an attempt to uncover documents they could use to argue the school district promoted critical race theory, social justice, and systemic racism. Insider identified more than a dozen public records requests filed within the last six months in the Grapevine-Colleyville district for information on critical race theory, antiracism, or social justice in teaching materials, school policies, staff training materials and district communications.
Many of these requests identify Whitfield as the subject of their search, but turn up little of note. Whitfield co-presented a voluntary professional development seminar to fellow district educators aimed at having productive conversations about identity differences, including race; he exchanged one email with a colleague in another district about anti-racist groups at their schools; and in other emails, he writes about his school’s affiliation with a non-profit education program aimed at supporting minority, rural, low-income students who apply to college.
Whitfield said he will not apologize for advocating for his students, and that includes his commitment to building what he sees as a truly inclusive school for everyone, not just for “white, straight, and Christian kids.”
He said he is disappointed that his district hasn’t done more to stand up to his critics.
“Tell them who you are,” Whitfield said of district administrators. “Behind closed doors you say you’re about inclusion, equity, and diversity, so come out and say that’s what you’re about.”
The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District did not reply to Insider’s question about social justice or antiracism policies at its schools, nor did it provide comment on the accusations leveled against Dr. Whitfield in the board of trustees meeting and on social media.
For his part, Whitfield says that he does have an agenda – it’s just not what his critics claim it to be.
“My agenda is loving kids,” Whitfield said, “and making sure each and every one of them has the opportunity to be successful.”