By Matt McGregor
TEXAS—The majority vote in public comment chose to favor proposed policies that will put guardrails on social-emotional learning (SEL) programs and prohibit critical race theory (CRT) teachings for the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (GCISD), following a board meeting on April 25.
Board members Casey Ford and Shannon Braun proposed the policy (pdf) based on what Ford said was input from the community.
After an antagonistic discussion about procedural issues—how the policy was presented, how the draft was written, and if it should be discussed that night or in a later committee—the board agreed to evaluate the policy further. A total of 40 individuals spoke in favor of the policy.
Board member Becky St. John, who advocated for the SEL program, said there were sections of the policy that violated the First Amendment, while stating that CRT and SEL were separate issues.
Though CRT is a Marxist philosophy that claims social relations are a class struggle between oppressors and the oppressed—specifically labeling white people as the oppressors and all other races as the oppressed—the phrase has come to encompass for many teachers and parents a more expansive trend that incorporates not only issues of race but also themes of sexuality through SEL questionnaires.
SEL programs are sold to schools by for-profit companies backed by philanthropic organizations, such as the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Eli and Edythe Broad Foundations, that provide grants to schools, which some parents and teachers have argued is done with the intention of controlling the curriculum with data-mining and political agendas at the sacrifice of basic reading, math, and science skills.
Many of these SEL programs that come from companies such as the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning promote themselves as resources to help children develop positive emotional skills that will in turn help them learn. However, under the microscope, parents and teachers have reported agenda-based content, such as ideologies telling children they can choose their own gender while authorizing teachers to diagnose students with gender dysphoria, a practice that steps outside the purview of taxpayer-funded public education.
The policy proposed that teachers should instead be required to present materials related to the founding documents, such as the Declaration of Independence, as well as speeches by African American statesman Frederick Douglas and Civil Rights Leader Martin Luther King.
Impartial and Objective
The policy would require that teachers present controversial topics “in an impartial and objective manner,” while teachers “not use the classroom to transmit personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues.”
The TikTok page Libs of TikTok has cataloged numerous testimonies of teachers on the social media platform discussing their strategies to teach complex sexual and politically-biased issues to their students.
In North Carolina, a task force was initiated in 2021 to give teachers and students an online portal on which to share their experiences with political and sexual indoctrination in the classroom.
Race shaming and allusions to surgical castration in children’s literature—as well as accusations of xenophobia against political figures such as former President Donald Trump—were among the themes found in North Carolina Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson’s “Indoctrination in North Carolina Public Education” report.
‘I Was Shocked’
One speaker during the public comment session who stood in favor of the proposed policy said after being shown what children were being taught in school, “I was shocked.”
“I am shocked that we need this, but I am grateful for those who put this together so we can get this implemented,” he said.
A speaker who said she was against the policy said it was “ridiculous,” arguing that those who proposed the policy are operating under the assumption that “racism doesn’t exist,” while also arguing that the policy would prohibit mental health treatment for children “by not allowing them to be themselves.”
The speaker suggested that the policy would prevent teachers from being a “safe space” for children where their parents aren’t.
Board member Jorge Rodriguez said he took issue with the sentence in the policy stating that teachers “shall not be compelled to discuss widely debated and currently controversial issues of public policy or social affairs.”
However, a sentence following the one Rodriguez read on page two of the document added, “However, in the event a teacher chooses to discuss a topic described above, the teacher must explore that topic objectively in a manner free from political bias.”
The idea that CRT is equivalent to teaching about racism has been the main talking point for critics against anti-CRT legislation, and those critics have often alleged that those pushing for policies that would prohibit CRT in public K-12 public schools are attempting to “whitewash” history.
Conservative Christians ‘Need to Get COVID and Die’
Another speaker during public comment, advocate Aaron Rowan, said he had been on a podcast called Deprogrammed with Keri Smith, in which he detailed the background of what he described as “existentially troubling attitudes” within school district officials.
On his website, gcisdparents.com, he and others have compiled what he said was evidence of the district’s relationship with CRT and SEL propaganda.
On the podcast, Mario Cordova, who was also among the 40 supportive speakers in the meeting, described an incident earlier in the year in which Lisa Grimes, a GCISD teacher, resigned after being caught on video telling other teachers, “I’m telling you, those conservative Christian people, they need to die; they need to get COVID and die.”
Both Cordova and Rowan said it was an incident that reflected toxic attitudes “in pockets” of the district toward Christian parents.
“If she had said this about blacks or Jews, this may have made national headlines, but because it was against conservative Christians, it only made local headlines in the area,” Cordova said.
Cordova and Rowan described another incident in which a GCISD principal, James Whitfield, agreed to leave his role after being accused of advocating for CRT.
Whitfield openly criticized those advocating against CRT by stating, “If you listen to their words that they have to say in an open forum, they’ll tell you exactly who they are about having school for and that is if you are a white, Christian, straight person.”
The board at the time voted 7-0 to approve a settlement that involved Whitfield being placed on administrative leave until his resignation in August 2023.
Both Rowan and Cordova said it was statements such as these that promote CRT concepts that allege systematic racism.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, since he’s moved on, we’ve been able to tackle this head-on—shed some light on it—and now, we’ve got momentum behind people understanding that critical race theory has been present in our district,” Cordova said.