Texas Voters Don't Want DEI in the Classroom

Local elections in a Dallas suburb became a battleground over a far-reaching Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion program for public schools.

In many American schools, racial justice activism became supercharged in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Critical Race Theory (CRT), equity, and antiracism quickly began to penetrate school curricula. But in Southlake, Texas, these debates are not new. The affluent suburb 30 miles northwest of Dallas has been bitterly divided over these contentious concepts since 2018.

The battle culminated last month with Southlake’s local elections. Republicans have historically won in the city; this time, however, the energizing issue was not partisanship. Instead, voters overwhelmingly voted against candidates pushing to institute a radical and far-reaching diversity program into public schools. Not only was the election a landslide, but three times as many voters cast ballots as in similar contests in the past.

As these ideas percolate throughout the rest of the country, Southlake gives us an early look at what happens when more extreme elements of progressive ideologies butt up against Americans in the voting booth.

It all started with a video showing a group of Southlake students chanting a racial slur at a house party. The aftermath came quickly: Police presence was increased at the local high school, and the district hosted listening sessions with parents and students, after which the school board created a diversity council to develop a plan to make Southlake’s schools more welcoming and inclusive. 

Responding to the event was appropriate. Public schools should be a safe sanctuary of learning for students, regardless of race. It certainly didn’t help when a second video involving two additional students using racial slurs surfaced less than four months later. But the school board went too far.

The diversity council came up with the so-called Cultural Competence Action Plan (CCAP)—a 34-page document that came with a $1.4 million price tag. Teaching science and humanities was to take the backseat to a racialist ideology. The plan explicitly mandated diversity and inclusion training, culturally responsive teaching, and the monitoring of microaggressions. 

The last of these provisions—the monitoring of microaggressions—drew perhaps the most ire from Southlake residents. The proposal defined the term as “everyday verbal or nonverbal, [sic] snubs or insults, whether intentional or unintentional, which communicate hostile, derogatory, or negative messages to target persons based solely upon their marginalized or underrepresented group membership.” Not only was the school teaching children to assume malice, but the alleged microaggressions would be reported, tracked and documented in a student’s “discipline offense history.” 

This microaggression tracking was a far cry from addressing the initial incident—students chanting offensive and explicit slurs. And parents had good reason to be concerned. The ambiguous and broad definition of microaggressions meant that unintentional and inoffensive comments or actions could have been tracked in a student’s discipline file. The professor who popularized the concept of microaggressions, for example, considered calling America a “melting pot” a microaggression. Others claim that asking someone where they are from qualifies as a microaggression. 

But anyone who has discussed an esoteric idea like microaggressions with regular people at a ball game, cookout, or the local Dunkin’ Donuts knows that most people find such concepts silly. According to at least one survey, most people of color reject them, too. Seventy-seven percent of Latinos said that they did not find it offensive to be told, “You speak good English.” Seventy-seven percent of blacks and 70 percent of Latinos didn’t find calling America a “melting pot” offensive. And a larger majority did not find it offensive to say that “everyone can succeed in this society if they work hard enough.”

The experience of the average American, regardless of race, is that normal everyday interactions will become impossible if every comment, question, and facial expression can be held up as an example of “causing harm,” punishable by school principals and college administrators.

They have a point. In places where similar tracking systems have been established, mostly in colleges and universities, they have largely been a disaster and, predictably, led to lawsuits.  

When it came time to vote, residents of Southlake were resounding in their rejection of the 152-point plan: School board and city council candidates who supported it were trounced by a 70-30 margin. The message was clear: An overwhelming number of the voters were saying “no” to indoctrination of their children.

The recent Southlake election may or may not portend what is to come in other cities. Members of the school board in Loudoun County, Virginia, are in the midst of a heated recall effort over their sanctioning of CRT, indoctrination, and activism in schools. But Loudoun County is not Southlake: Biden won in Loudoun with 61 percent of the vote.

Consistent with recent polling by Parents Defending Education, there is intense bipartisan momentum to put the brakes on the race and gender essentialism being taught to the country’s children in the name of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Eighty percent of respondents opposed political activism in classrooms, while 88 percent favored a diversity of ideas to be presented to students. The recall effort in Loudoun will be an early test to see whether these results are accurate—and whether left-leaning communities are starting to push back as well.

After the election, Southlake’s outgoing mayor, Laura K. Hill, wrote that “critical race theory attacks the root system of a healthy community. It pits neighbor against neighbor, divides where no division exists and poisons thought rather than teaches shared human values.” Time will tell if voters in other parts of the country see it the same way.

Erika Sanzi, a former educator and school committee member, is the director of outreach at Parents Defending Education, a national grassroots organization. She writes about education, motherhood, and other topics at sanzi.substack.com