Southlake, Texas rejected diversity education in schools. However, a federal investigation may require them.

A federal civil rights investigation could lead to a Texas suburb having to implement diversity programs similar in nature as those rejected by voters in the landslide elections.

Southlake, Texas rejected diversity education in schools. However, a federal investigation may require them.

SOUTHLAKE (Texas) -- Conservative parents and politicians were furious when the Department of Education's civil right enforcement arm announced that it was investigating student claims of bullying and discrimination at Carroll Independent School District in Southlake.

John Huffman, Southlake's mayor, stated that the federal investigation was launched in retaliation against the city's election of three school board members who opposed new diversity and inclusion programs. They characterized it as a plot to indoctrinate students using critical race theory.

Southlake Families PAC raised tens of thousand of dollars to oppose the diversity initiative at Carroll schools. sent an email to supporters speculating that the Department of Justice was directing the civil rights investigation as part of a larger plot against conservatives.

U.S. Rep. Beth Van Duyne (a Republican from Southlake) responded by writing to U.S. Secretary Education Miguel Cardona. The letter was signed by many GOP lawmakers, including Sens. Ted Cruz of Texas and John Cornyn from Texas expressed concerns that the Biden administration was "weaponizing Federal Resources to intimidate Parents who Disapprove with this Administration's Policies."

There is no evidence to suggest that Carroll's investigation, which centers on three students alleging they were bullied because of their race, gender, and national origin, was initiated in response Southlake's election.

However, if the investigation by the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights uncovers systemic problems at Carroll school district, legal experts believe the agency may require the school district implement the same diversity and inclusion programs that Southlake voters rejected last year in two landslide elections.

It is a possibility that some parents count on.

Jennifer Hough, a Southlake mom who supported the diversity plan, stated that "The only way we are going to get any changes in here is if they come in and do something." "Our children will continue to suffer unless the Department of Education comes in and says, 'Y’all have to do anything to protect these children.'

The tension in Southlake , a conservative suburb north of Dallas, is a result of the national Republican movement to limit the way schools can talk and teach about race and LGBTQ issues. School districts could be unable to comply with federal protections against discrimination due to local decisions or a wave new state laws that ban or limit diversity.

Both politicians and activists on both sides of critical race theory are monitoring the Southlake outcome to determine how far the federal government will go to force Southlake's school district to make necessary changes that might not be popular with voters.

"Even if a school board is elected and they reject critical race theory being taught -- whatever they may think critical race theory is -- certain if there is discriminatory behaviour against anyone on basis of a protected group, it needs to been addressed," W. Scott Lewis, managing Partner at TNG, a consulting company that advises school districts about complying with federal civil right laws, said.

Lewis stated that investigators will be looking at what the district is doing in order to teach staff and students respect for people of all races, genders, and cultures. "Obviously, that could be one contributing factor to bullying."

These implications go beyond Southlake. The Office for Civil Rights was conducting 248 investigations into school districts in February over claims that administrators had mishandled harassment reports against students based on their race, gender, or national origin. This includes several districts that were under pressure to end diversity education efforts over the past year.

Sometimes, investigations by the Office for Civil Rights can take many years. If investigators find that a school system did not protect student rights, the agency will often settle the matter by asking districts to make policy changes to prevent discrimination in the future.

These changes are outlined in hundreds of formal resolution agreement that can be found on the agency's website. They often include the implementation training programs to teach students and staff how to respect all races, ethnicities and sexual orientations.

Luke Jackson, spokesperson for the Department of Education, stated that the Office for Civil Rights doesn't comment on pending cases. Jackson stated that OCR is neutral and does not respond to any complaint.

Cardona, education secretary, stated that the Department of Justice wasn't involved in the Southlake investigation in a December response to Van Duyne. If his agency finds violations of students’ civil rights at Carroll, and the school refuses to make changes, the Department of Education may pull funding from the district and refer the matter the DOJ.

Conflict is not just local. In more than two dozen Republican-controlled states, lawmakers have passed or introduced legislation banning or restricting various types of diversity training in public schools.

These measures are being proposed by those who claim that they will stop schools from teaching children concepts such as white privilege and microaggressions.

"The problem with most of these bills is that they are so vague that it's difficult to know what kinds of trainings are included," stated Jeremy C. Young (senior manager of free expression & education at PEN America), a non-profit group that supports free speech. Diversity trainings are a large, broad category that covers a variety of things. Some of them are completely objectionable and others are more controversial. The bills are terrible at separating what is allowed from what is not.

According to Lewis, and other school policy experts and lawyers, the pressure to eliminate these programs could pose a problem for school districts.

Lewis stated, "If you decide suddenly that we won't do any training on different races, cultures, ethnicities or understanding sexual orientation and gender identity, then that lack education leads to a loss of understanding, appreciation, or tolerance, then harassment or bullying will ensue, then the OCR will get involved." It creates tension.

"We will certainly comply"

After a video showing white high school students shouting the N-word, the Carroll school district began to address racism in 2018. Many parents, students, and recent graduates shared their stories of anti-LGBTQ harassment and racism at Carroll, a predominantly white district. The video was viral.

The 34-page Cultural Competence Action Plan proposed by the district to address these issues would have required diversity training for students and teachers, a new reporting and tracking process for incidents of racist bullying, as well as changes to the code to hold students responsible for discriminatory acts.

After the district revealed the plan in August 2020 they were met by conservative parents who formed a political committee, funded a civil lawsuit and packed school board meetings. They claimed that the plan would have created "diversity cops" and was a form of "reverse racism" against children of color.

The majority control of the Carroll school board was won by conservative candidates who were supported by Southlake Families PAC. This group was formed to oppose the diversity plan. In December, the board voted to settle the civil lawsuit brought by the parents. The plan was officially killed.

Instead of implementing diversity training, the school board pushed for improvements last summer in the process of investigating student complaints. This was to ensure that all students feel comfortable reporting harassment and discrimination. A student and staff services division was also established by the district.

After the November news about the federal civil rights investigation, Carroll Superintendent Lane Ledbetter stated that OCR could determine that there are additional steps we can take. "My priorities are children, and we're going keep them safe."

Karen Fitzgerald, Carroll spokesperson, didn't return messages seeking comment. Fitzgerald released a statement in November stating that the district was cooperating with investigations.

Conservatives have continued to question Southlake's Department of Education's work.

Van Duyne was a Republican congresswoman who wrote a follow up letter to the education secretary. She asked for information about his agency's efforts to ensure Southlake residents' views were taken into account as part of the investigation. This was the same statement she published shortly after the probe was launched.

She stated that voting against Democrats and liberal policies was not illegal and did not merit a federal investigation. "I stand with parents and students to shine a spotlight on this overreach." "I am conducting my own investigation into the egregious use of federal resources to punish and intimidate parents.

Parents resist change

Carroll is not the only district being investigated by Office for Civil Rights for allegations of racism bullying. Parents are also pushing Carroll to discontinue diversity training programs that were intended to prevent discrimination.

The Office for Civil Rights launched an investigation into Birdsboro's Daniel Boone Area School District, Pennsylvania in December over allegations of racial harassment. A NAACP chapter filed the complaint on behalf of the mother, a Black student at high school. She described years of racism bullying at the district about an hour from Philadelphia.

Because she is afraid of retaliation, the mother agreed to speak with NBC News.

She claimed that her son was traumatized by the years spent at Daniel Boone. She said that her son was asked by white students to grant him an "N-pass", which allows him to use the N word around him. He didn't respond to her requests. She said that children still use racial slurs in his presence.

She complained to school and was told by an administrator that he couldn't do much because the word is often used in lyrics to popular rap songs. She also reported instances of students making racist comments and images on social media.

Rob Flowers, the district's chief of community relations, and equity awareness, stated in an interview that he could not comment on the OCR investigation nor the mother's allegations. He stated that the district shared the goal of protecting marginalized children and creating a culture where all children feel safe and welcome. This has been a priority in recent years.

Flowers, who is Black serves as the head football coach at Daniel Boone Area School. He also hosts diversity and inclusion training sessions and lectures for staff and students. He stated that the goal is to create a culture where all people are respected and accepted in the predominantly-white school district.

Flowers stated that "By no means has the problem been solved." She cited research showing that students learn better when there is an emphasis on equity, inclusion and diversity. "We don't claim to be the experts in this area, but we do know that we are trying our best to show respect to all students, families and staff.

Some parents argue that Flowers is doing too much.

Flowers denied that he had "brainwashed" students with Marxist ideology to make them feel guilty based on race at an October school board meeting. One parent claimed that Flowers' messages are just as racist as the Klan.

Flowers stated that despite the attacks, district leaders have remained firm in their support of his work.

According to the mother who started the Office for Civil Rights investigation, those efforts have not been sufficient. The mother shared her complaint with NBC News and asked for changes to the district, including the creation a department to deal with allegations of discrimination, and better diversity and inclusion training for staff and students.

The mother stated, "I believe the entire student body needs to learn."

Systemic change: A push

Four months after Carroll's civil rights investigation, Southlake students and parents are insisting on changes.

The NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund was a civil rights law company based in New York. In February, they filed another complaint with Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights. This was for two Southlake-based advocacy organizations and four Carroll students who claim that they were subject to harassment at school.

"We felt it was important for OCR that they understand that this wasn't just an issue of individual incidents but rather a systemic problem in the district," Cara McClellan said, the civil rights lawyer who worked on the case.

The civil rights group requested that Carroll be ordered to implement policy changes previously rejected by the school board. This included hiring a director for diversity, creating a "culturally responsive curriculum," and committing to training students and staff about issues "pertaining to racism and sexism."

Christina Edmiston's 12-year old son Christian is among the NAACP cited students. After reporting numerous incidents of bullying students for Christian's sexuality, Edmiston removed Christian from Carroll. Edmiston stated that Christian's sixth grade classmates encouraged him to take his own life at recess.

A senior Carroll administrator wrote to Edmiston acknowledging that Christian's bullying allegations should have been investigated by the school when he first reported them back in spring 2021. Edmiston did not request that the district discipline the principal involved in the case. However, the district noted that he and other principals were retrained on how to investigate student allegations.

Edmiston stated that Christian is doing well at his new school but she still worries about Carroll's students.

She said, "I don’t want what happened in Christian to happen to any other children." "I hope that the Department of Education will investigate it and that it will light a fire under Carroll."

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