‘We Are a Microcosm’: One Town’s Struggle Represents a Much Greater Issue

Lily M., editor-in-chief

In the viral video, 10 high schoolers sitting together in a house gleefully chant a racial slur back and forth. Laughing, they record themselves before posting the video on Snapchat. The clip started to circulate immediately. The Carroll Independent School District School Board president promptly promised disciplinary action.

Only a few months later, a second video surfaced. The premise was nearly identical, although this time the students recorded themselves shouting the slur in their car. Again, the Board condemned the students immediately.

Nearly two years later, in the summer of 2020, Carroll ISD announced its new comprehensive plan to combat racism and other forms of discrimination via diversity and inclusion trainings, as well as improved support systems for students facing discrimination and an ‘equity audit’ of the curriculum. The resulting backlash was strong and effective, with a lawsuit successfully halting implementation of the plan in December of that year.

Carroll ISD, which is located in Southlake, Texas, is relatively small. It has less than ten thousand students, 80% of whom are described as ‘Anglo’. Since 2018, this highly homogeneous community has been unable to resolve the issue of how to deal with instances of racism and discrimination within its schools. School board meanings, once prosaic affairs, have regularly devolved into shouting matches. Both sides of the debate have organized protests throughout the conflict, and elections have become highly fraught affairs.

Southlake’s seemingly endless array of conflict has become a popular topic in the national media, with NBC News releasing its own six-part podcast in August of 2021. The issue, especially as it relates to critical race theory, has also been food for fire in partisan debates. It has also fed into a larger conversation about a law that Texas passed in June. The law, which has been subject to much debate since its passage, requires that, should teachers choose to discuss contentious policy and social issues, they must “strive to explore the topic from diverse and contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective.”

The law, House Bill 3979, further ignited controversy in Southlake that quickly spread to the national stage when a Carroll ISD employee tried to explain how it should be translated into lessons in the classroom using the Holocaust as an example. “And make sure that if you have a book on the Holocaust, that you have one that has an opposing — that has other perspectives,” she told teachers during the Oct. 8 training. The U.S. Department of Education opened three investigations into Carroll ISD only a month later.

For Krista Wyatt, head of the advising department at GWUOHS and a parent living in Southlake, the conflict is more complex and nuanced than the media often makes it out to be. Of her city, she said, “I don’t know if it’s being portrayed accurately but I don’t know if it’s any different from any other community next door to us.”

It is certainly true that Southlake has not been alone in dealing with high-profile battles over racism. These fights have largely concentrated around critical race theory (CRT), a complex framework largely centered around the idea that race is a social construct and that systemic racism, racism that is embedded in legal and social institutions, is rife within the U.S. The concept has become increasingly controversial despite existing for several decades without much mainstream attention. Today, some view its teaching in schools as divisive while others feel it is a necessary part of the fight to end discrimination. Several states, now including Texas, have passed laws that attempt to ban the teachings of CRT without explicitly naming it. In many ways, Southlake is not dissimilar from other communities in states like Iowa, Rhode Island, and Tennessee.

“We are a community that is representative of our nation right now,” Wyatt said. “Any community with strong schools, success in athletics and academics—you’re going to have people who care very much about what happens, not just in the schools, but in the community.”

Many of those who have been most passionately engaged in the Southlake battle have been parents. In some other communities, protests against CRT have joined with anti-mask mandate movements. San Diego saw members of the far-right organization Let Them Breathe attempt to replace the school board by voting themselves into already-filled positions.

Despite the upheaval, Wyatt has found positivity and a willingness to speak openly about these issues in her community. “Even though our political views are vastly different from a lot of [our] neighbors, we can still have conversations with them.”

Photo credit: Carroll Senior High School

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