A school board in Texas voted not to renew the contract of a Black high school principal who had been thrust into the public eye over racial issues in the district, saying that he would remain on paid leave until his resignation takes effect in 2023.
The Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District made the decision during a board meeting on Monday at which supporters of the principal, James Whitfield, as well as people who objected to his tenure spoke about the role of race and diversity in the school.
After it announced the vote, the district, which includes most of Grapevine and Colleyville, as well as parts of the Dallas-Fort Worth area, said in a statement that it and Dr. Whitfield, 43, “have mutually agreed to resolve their disputes.”
Dr. Whitfield, the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School, said in an interview on Wednesday that it was a relief “to be able to move on.”
“It was good to hear people continue to advocate for themselves and for other people,” he said.
Dr. Whitfield has been on paid leave since Aug. 30, after he was thrust into controversy at a public board meeting in July, when residents said he supported teaching critical race theory in schools, activism after the 2020 protests over the murder of George Floyd, and programs on equality and diversity.
“There are always going to be people that don’t agree with you,” Dr. Whitfield said of the Monday board meeting, at which he said some attendees voiced “baseless grievances.”
One woman said Dr. Whitfield was persuading students to become “political activists,” while another speaker, who was identified as Stetson Clark, asserted that “critical race theory, social and emotional learning, and equity” were among Dr. Whitfield’s “divisive ideologies.”
In August, Dr. Whitfield described critical race theory, which is an academic framework that seeks to understand the roots and persistence of racial disparities, as a “doctoral level” study and said it was not a framework taught at his school.
After the July meeting, Dr. Whitfield objected in a Facebook post to being cited during that meeting by name, which is against policy, and for the first time revealed that the district had asked him in 2019 to remove old photographs from his personal Facebook account that showed him and his wife, who is white, embracing on a beach.
In the post, he said he was revealing the request to remove the photographs because he has had a sense since 2019, which he said was confirmed by the criticisms in the board meeting, that race would overshadow his tenure as a Black educator rising in the ranks of the public school system.
In September, with Dr. Whitfield already on leave, the district proposed not renewing his contract, which ends in June 2022, and set a hearing for Nov. 9.
The district said its reasons for the decision included a failure to maintain an effective working relationship. Robin Ryan, the district’s superintendent, added that the recommendation was “not about Dr. Whitfield’s race.”
“It is not about pictures of Dr. Whitfield,” he continued. “It is not about critical race theory. It is not about certain individuals in our community calling for his resignation or his firing.”
But the district later said it reached an agreement that included paid leave until his resignation on Aug. 15, 2023, and approved it in the vote on Monday.
A copy of the agreement said its terms “compromise disputed claims, avoid litigation and buy peace.”
In its statement on Monday, the district said that it and Dr. Whitfield “have been in the media frequently in recent weeks concerning the disputes between them,” and that each “strongly believe they are in the right.”
Dr. Whitfield, in the interview, said he could not discuss the agreement. But he reflected on those who used critical race theory as a way to criticize him.
“As a Black man in America, I know that systemic racism is real,” he said.
“What’s ironic is people who don’t want it, what they are doing through this process is they are giving people a real-life practical course on critical race theory,” he said. “They are showing people a very real example of how critical race theory plays out.”
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