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Students held walkout in support of Colleyville Heritage HS principal sidelined amid critical race theory complaints

Dr. James Whitfield has been on administrative leave since late August. Grapevine-Colleyville ISD may decide his fate by Monday.

COLLEYVILLE, Texas — The embattled principal of Colleyville Heritage High School is expected to learn his employment fate this coming Monday. But on Friday morning, students marched out of school to protest his treatment by Grapevine-Colleyville ISD administration, and to demand that their beloved principal be brought back to the campus.

"They're here to show their voice. That they will no longer give into that culture of forcing to assimilate and being ashamed of their identity," said student Sunehra Cowdhury.

Dr. James Whitfield has been promoted several times in the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD system. But he said trouble began as far back as 2019 when someone complained to administrators he was setting a "bad example" by posting pictures of himself kissing his wife on Facebook. The photos were from an anniversary trip. He said he agreed to take some of the photos down.

Then on July 26 of this year, a former school board candidate named Stetson Clark stepped up to the microphone during a public comment period to accuse Whitfield of being an advocate for critical race theory: the idea that racism runs deep and continues to shape American society today. 

"Because of his extreme views I ask that a full review of Mr. Whitfield's tenure in our district be examined and that his contract be terminated effective immediately," said Clark, who lost a recent campaign to join the Grapevine-Colleyville ISD school board. 

Other people in the audience shouted in support and cheered when Clark made his remarks.

In a July 31 post on his personal Facebook page, Whitfield responded:

"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, and 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 early August, Grapevine-Colleyville ISD placed Whitfield on administrative leave. In a Sept. 1 written statement the district said:

"The District has received numerous questions regarding the decision to place Dr. James Whitfield on paid administrative leave. While the status of this as an ongoing personnel matter limits the information that the District can disclose about the events leading up to this decision, the speculation and conjecture that surround these events warrant some additional context.

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. Nor was the decision made in response to allegations Dr. Whitfield was teaching Critical Race Theory, or because of the photos on his social media account that were brought to the attention of the District in 2019.

We understand that members of our community have questions, but the District does not resolve personnel matters in the media. We have established procedures for that which we are following."

"The vast majority of people in that community, they know who I am. I love them, they love me," Whitfield said in an interview with WFAA's Jason Whitely on the same day the students walked out of school to support him.

"It would be my hope that more rational minds prevail. That they are able to hear and see the students. It would be my hope finally someone listens to the students because ultimately that's who we're here to serve."

Credit: WFAA

"Nothing he's done has anything to do with critical race theory," said civil rights attorney David Henderson of Ellwanger Law, which is supporting Whitfield. "What he's done is said listen, we teach lots of different types of kids. We need to make sure we're providing a healthy environment for all of them."

"Anything that has to do with being inclusive, having a safe and nurturing environment for all students, they want to attach that to CRT, because it's the boogeyman buzzword of the day," added Whitfield. "But if it's not CRT for this group, it will be something else."

Credit: James Whitfield

Whitfield's status with Colleyville Heritage High School is expected to be decided at a Monday school board meeting. 

The district told WFAA again Friday that the decision has nothing to do with critical race theory or allegations by a small group of parents. But they would not be more specific.

"His diversity efforts have just been amazing," said student Samantha Zelling, who took part in Friday's march and protest. 

"If they do proceed with firing him, I hope the administration knows that these people aren't going anywhere," fellow student Sunehra Chowdhury said of the students who walked out of class.

"That show of love and support is a signal for me that in some form or fashion, I've made an impact in their lives and that's what I'm here to do," said Whitfield.

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