James Whitfield, a Texas high school principal, was suddenly put on paid administrative leave this week after finding himself in the middle of a controversy surrounding critical race theory in education. He had previously been named the first Black principal of Colleyville Heritage High School in Fort Worth, Tx., back in May 2020. Now he is suspended after parents accused him of having “extreme views on race” at a school board meeting.
“I was not given any clear reasoning behind the decision and was not given a timetable regarding further steps,” Whitfield said in a statement on Facebook. “I was simply told that it was in the best interest of the district.”
The controversy is the latest in a string of conservative Republican movements around the country that believe critical race theory – the ideology that racism and inequality is woven into the fabric of history in the U.S. – should be banned from being taught in the classroom.
Speaking with CNN, Stetson Clark, an attendee at the school board meeting, said that he was the one who brought up the view that Whitfield, “promotes a conspiracy theory of systemic racism,” breaking a rule at meetings by naming the principal directly.
After calls for James Whitfield to be fired as principal, the school district put him on administrative leave a month later.
“The decision to place Dr. Whitfield on administrative leave was not a result of the complaints made by members of the community against him,” District Spokesperson Kristin Snively said in an emailed statement sent to parents. “As this is an ongoing personnel matter, we will not comment further. We remain committed to providing a learning environment at Colleyville Heritage that fosters and encourages student academic and extracurricular achievement.”
Tensions reportedly began back in 2019 when he was president of the Heritage Middle School in Fort Worth, when the school board asked him to remove Facebook images of him and his wife, who is white, embracing on a beach in Mexico for their 10-year wedding anniversary.
“Is this the Dr. Whitfield we want as an example for our students?” a forwarded email with the photo attached read.
After going viral online, supporters tweeted messages with the hashtag “#IStandWithDrWhitfield,” saying that the photos of the interracial couple simply looked like two normal people still very much in love after 10 years of marriage.
“THANK YOU for all the love, support, & encouragement,” James Whitfield wrote in response. “There will be many hills to climb in this journey through life, but the crew we climb makes all the difference – they sustain us & keep us locked in on our destination. Thanks for being my crew.”
As parents showed up at the school to demand James Whitfield’s termination, dozens of students rallied outside in support of the principal.
“I can no longer maintain my silence in the face of this hate, intolerance, racism, and bigotry,” the principal said in a public Facebook post back in July. “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.”
According to CNN, roughly 53.1% of the student population in the area is white, compared to around 6% who are Black.
Dave Denning, former principal of Grapevine High School in Grapevine, Tx., has since been named interim principal for Colleyville Heritage High School. There is no information as to what role principal James Whitfield will have in the future or how long he will remain on suspended leave.