Months after students urged Highland Park ISD to implement diversity education, discipline users of racial slurs, and promote inclusion, those issues remain a source of contention within the district.
Recent board meetings have drawn students and parents to speak on those topics, and concerns over what changes could bring have been a flashpoint in the Place 1 trustee race.
“Students learn from what they see, which is why representation is so critical to a learning environment.”Sophia Chung
Sophia Chung, one of the students seeking change through an “Open Letter to Highland Park” video this summer, urged the school board in April to form an inclusion committee and address racist behaviors such as taunting in the middle school.
“These behaviors are taught, and they can also be unlearned,” she said. “Students learn from what they see, which is why representation is so critical to a learning environment.”
But many are worried about what is and will be taught.
Leo Whelan, whose grandchildren attend schools in the district, attended a recent board meeting where he spoke against “critical race theory.”
“It’s divisive, un-American, and has no business in Highland Park school district,” he said.
On CNN, Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founding critical race theorist and a law professor at UCLA and Columbia universities, defined critical race theory as a practice.
“It’s an approach to grappling with a history of White supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it,” Crenshaw said.
Whelan and others see the issue as a key one for the May 1 election.
“I’m going to do everything I can with my neighbors to make sure that we have a candidate who is elected that supports traditional American educational values,” he said.
Park Cities Parents Unite (PCPU), which advocates for lifting COVID-19 protocols in the district, has shared social media videos leading up to the election.
One refers to HPISD Place 1 trustee candidate Doug Woodward as “Diversity Doug” and includes a clip of him saying he believes there should be a lead diversity officer for the district.
Woodward told People Newspapers he also favors the creation of an inclusion committee.
“Although progress has been made and current programs have been effective in at least raising awareness, students and parents still report problems that we must have the courage to address,” Woodward said.
In a video shared on his campaign Facebook page, he said he didn’t know what critical race theory was when he filed to run and, after looking into it, doesn’t support it in schools.
Woodward’s opponent Kelli Macatee said she’s not part of PCPU but knows parents who are.
She said the district should focus on what unites rather than divides and not allow race to be weaponized.
“The vast majority of people I come across in Highland Park are not racist,” she said. “They have hearts of gold and champion various heritages, races, causes, and cultures and speak openly about championing others.”