Updated at 5:30 p.m.
A plan to make the Southlake Carroll school district more inclusive to students of color is tied up in a contentious legal battle after a Tarrant County judge granted a restraining order to stop leaders from moving forward.
Interim Superintendent Jeremy Lyon said in a statement that the district will comply with the court order, though the school district’s attorneys are working to overturn it. A hearing is scheduled later this month to determine whether the administration can continue its work with the District Diversity Council.
The council — composed of more than 60 students, parents and staff — began meeting after videos of Carroll students chanting the n-word went viral in 2018 and 2019. Its members spent months assembling recommendations for how to boost cultural competency in an affluent district that’s becoming more diverse but is still overwhelmingly white.
Students of color make up approximately one-third of Carroll’s 8,500-student enrollment. But only 2% of its students identify as Black. During the national reckoning over systemic racism following George Floyd’s death, some of those students urged Carroll leaders to confront the racism they see in their school district.
The council suggested the district hire a director of equity and inclusion; establish a grievance system through which students can report discrimination; require cultural competency training; and audit the district curriculum through an equity lens, among several other recommendations.
But the plans swiftly sparked protests, with some parents accusing the council of promoting a “left-wing agenda” and forming “diversity police.” At an August board meeting, a parent said the proposals amounted to “reverse racism,” and a Black student was booed after testifying: “My life matters.”
The Carroll administration paused the plan’s implementation after those contentious meetings, saying they wanted to collect more community feedback and address the concerns of those opposed to the recommendations. District officials don’t plan to move ahead on it until a new, permanent superintendent takes over in 2021.
In the meantime, new members were added to the diversity council in hopes that “new perspectives would bring this issue to resolution and compromise for the good of all students,” Lyon said.
Instead, he wrote in his statement, the district was hit with legal action.
The temporary restraining order, granted earlier this week, stems from a lawsuit claiming the board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act in connection to the cultural competence action plan by holding “secret deliberations” on the proposals. The suit, filed by a Southlake parent, includes screenshots of text messages between board members.
“Their secret deliberations, evidenced by the text messages, are about official Board business and occurred outside of a properly noticed meeting,” it alleges.
The judge’s order states that the documents filed to the court lead them to believe that the district intends to rush the plan forward and implement it “in the very near future.”
The district must halt any actions intended to advance the proposals, the order states, and any work to revise or implement it must stop immediately.
Nikki Olaleye, a 17-year-old senior at Carroll Senior High School, is a member of the diversity council — and she was the student booed at the board meeting over the summer. She said she received an email this week telling the group to cancel any upcoming meetings or deliberations because of the court order.
“It’s almost unfathomable to see just how far this community will go to stop any sort of improvement,” she said. “They took it to a whole new level when they brought legal action.”
Lyon says the restraining order hurts the community, preventing them from doing the work necessary to reach a resolution.
“It halts our efforts to hear community concerns and move forward in resolving this issue for the good of current and future Dragons,” he wrote. “We went to extraordinary lengths to meet those in opposition to the plan at the discussion table, and they have for all intents and purposes muted their own voice (and the voice of the community) by forcing CISD to halt the process.”
He called the allegations of open meetings act violations “an attempt to discredit and derail this important work.” Lyon declined through a spokeswoman to comment beyond his statement, citing pending legal matters.
The attorney representing the parent who brought the lawsuit against the diversity plan could not be reached for comment.
Nikki remains undeterred by the legal fight, saying she and other students will continue advocating so students of color in the future can attend welcoming, equitable schools. She wants, for example, a way to track and report the microaggressions that students of color hear on campus.
On Friday afternoon, the district sent an email to Carroll high school families alerting them that, once again, an old video surfaced showing a teenager making “an inappropriate racial slur.”
“What’s happening here isn’t fair. It never has been, and they’re trying to make sure it never will be,” Nikki said. “So our work isn’t done.”
Dallas Morning News reporter Corbett Smith contributed to this article.
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