A Black high school principal in Fort Worth, Texas, has been forced out of his job following months of racial controversies, including a social media photo that showed him kissing his white wife and accusations that he endorsed critical race theory to students.
James Whitfield was on suspension from his administrative post at Colleyville Heritage High School since September when the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District board of trustees voted Monday to terminate his contract, according to NBC News.
“This is beyond me,” he told the network in an interview since the action by the board. “I’m hopeful that we can use this to move forward and to progress and get some true meaningful change and for people to be OK with teaching truth, people to be OK with embracing inclusivity and diversity, celebrating every student that walks through the doors of our schools.”
As part of a mutual agreement, the embattled principal will remain on paid administrative leave until August 2023, NBC reported, citing a joint statement from Whitfield and the school district.
“Both the District and Dr. Whitfield each strongly believe they are in the right. However, each also agrees that the division in the community about this matter has impacted the education of the District’s students,” the statement read in part. “The District and Dr. Whitfield have mutually agreed to resolve their disputes.”
Whitfield said he will now pursue other opportunities in education, but said he hopes his experience in Fort Worth will serve as a catalyst for positive change.
“Education is my heart and soul,” he said, according to NBC. “That’s my purpose. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have somebody that was there leading that way and guiding me toward better things.”
Whitfield was widely accused of teaching critical race theory and promoting the idea “of systemic racism,” according to parents who complained for months to the local school board.
Previously, Whitfield denied that he promoted critical race theory at his school and said that he was being racially targeted.
“There’s no credence to the CRT claims,” he told The Washington Post in September. “This group that has spoken out against me has a problem with inclusivity, with embracing diversity and with providing equitable experiences for all students.”
The national debate over critical race theory and its teaching in public schools and colleges has exploded as a major cultural issue in recent months, with conservatives decrying the curriculum as un-American. It was first developed during the 1970s and 1980s as a way of exposing the roots of systemic racism throughout all aspects of society.
Whitfield was also accused of insubordination and being uncooperative with an internal investigation into whether he was teaching critical race theory, which is now banned in Texas, KXAS-TV, the NBC affiliate in Dallas-Fort Worth, reported.
Whitfield was the first Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School, where the student body is mostly white.
Controversy over photo with wife
The Dallas-area community where the controversy erupted became deeply divided over the CRT issue since a heated school board meeting in late July, when some parents demanded that he be fired, according to KXAS-TV.
After the July 26 school board meeting where Whitfield was accused, at least one parent reached out to the district to complain about a Facebook photo of Whitfield embracing his wife, Kerrie, who is white, on their 10-year wedding anniversary.
A Grapevine-Colleyville school district official reportedly sent an email to Whitfield, calling the photo inappropriate and ordered him to take it down so that it would not “stir up stuff.”
“They said, ‘Could you take it down? Can you take this picture down? Can you hide it?’ and I asked, ‘Why? What’s wrong with the picture?’ It was, ‘Hey, I am trying to avoid any conflict,’” Whitfield said, according to KXAS. “I wish I had the conviction to say, ‘No, I’m not going to take it down — that’s a picture of me and my wife kissing on the beach. There’s no reason for me to take this photo down,’” he told the station.
In a lengthy Facebook post July 31, Whitfield called the situation “bigoted” and “racist” and said he felt he was being singled out for being in an interracial relationship, the station reported.
“I look at the picture, and I look at the words above it, and it says, ‘Is this the Dr. Whitfield we want leading our schools?’ I showed it to my wife, who immediately begins to well up with tears,” Whitfield told KXAS.
In a statement to KXAS, the school district denied that racism was a factor in its demand for Whitfield to remove the photograph.
“It had absolutely nothing to do with race,” the statement read. “As a new campus principal, we wanted to provide a smooth transition for Dr. Whitfield to Heritage Middle School, which is why we advised him of the concern and made a request for the photos to be taken down from Facebook.”
Whitfield, however, maintained that the issue was sparked by the color of his skin.
“I can no longer maintain my silence in the face of this hate, intolerance, racism, and bigotry,” he said in the Facebook post. “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.”
This story contains previous reporting that appeared in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.