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‘It’s Become Blatant Racism’: Colleyville Students Pledge To Support Principal Placed On Leave

Rows of desks and chairs sit empty in a sunlit classroom.
Tobias Arhelger

A group of students at Colleyville Heritage High School say they will continue to support their principal who’s been placed on administrative leave after a Critical Race Theory controversy.

The action was taken against Principal James Whitfield more than a month after a former school board candidate voiced opposition to the way Whitfield talks about race and racism.

Grapevine-Colleyville ISD Superintendent Robin Ryan announced Whitfield was being placed on leave in a message to parents Monday. Since then, the district has stressed the move has nothing to do with those complaints.

A group of students protested in support of Whitfield outside last week’s school board meeting.

Sean Vo, a senior at Colleyville Heritage High School, helped organize the protest. He said the debate over his principal isn’t really about Critical Race Theory (CRT).

“It’s become blatant racism and bigotry,” Vo said. “It’s escalated so much to just personal attacks on a man that they do not even know.”

The controversy started at a July Grapevine-Colleyville ISD board meeting where former school board candidate Stetson Clark called on the district to fire Whitfield.

Clark took issue with a message Whitfield sent to students and parents in the summer of 2020 that promoted “the conspiracy theory of systemic racism.” He said by opposing systemic racism, Whitfield encouraged people “to destroy our businesses, our school district, our city, even our state.”

Clark also accused Whitfield of promoting CRT, a decades-old intellectual movement born out of law schools. CRT teaches that racism is embedded in systems and structures in the U.S., rather than just being the product of individual prejudice. The idea has become a point of contention in Texas and other Republican-led states, even though educators say it’s not taught in the state’s public schools.

Whitfield responded in a Facebook post on July 31 where he said he would defend his views against “hate, intolerance and bigotry.”

“I am not the CRT (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,” he wrote. “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.”

In a statement, a Grapevine-Colleyville ISD spokesperson said the district could not share the specific reason Whitfield was placed on leave, but it's unrelated to the CRT debate.

"The decision to place Dr. Whitfield on administrative leave was not a result of statements made by members of the public, including those who spoke at recent meetings of the GCISD Board of Trustees," the statement said. "Nor was the decision made in response to allegations Dr. Whitfield was teaching Critical Race Theory."

Vo, the student at Whitfield’s school, said it’s important to teach students about racism because they sometimes don’t understand when they’re being discriminatory.

“I’m not not gonna say that they’re necessarily outright racist, but I think a lot just don’t understand the repercussions of their actions and their words and how it can affect people of color and minorities like me,” Vo said.

Besides the protest, Vo and his classmates have been reaching out to students, alumni and community members to drum up support for Whitfield. They plan to continue organizing on his behalf.

“Our voice matters so much more than these parents and these people who don’t go to our school,” Vo said.

Got a tip? Email Miranda Suarez at You can follow Miranda on Twitter @MirandaRSuarez.

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Updated: September 2, 2021 at 4:28 PM CDT
This story has been updated to include a statement from Grapevine-Colleyville ISD asserting Critical Race Theory and the statements made by Stetson Clark have nothing to do with the decision to place Principal James Whitfield on administrative leave. The district shared that updated statement on Sept. 2.
Miranda Suarez is KERA’s Tarrant County accountability reporter. Before coming to North Texas, she was the Lee Ester News Fellow at Wisconsin Public Radio, where she covered statewide news from the capital city of Madison. Miranda is originally from Massachusetts and started her public radio career at WBUR in Boston.