Eanes ISD community members at odds over future of diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives

Almost 40 Eanes ISD community members signed up to speak during a June 22 board meeting. (Amy Rae Dadamo/Community Impact Newspaper)
Almost 40 Eanes ISD community members signed up to speak during a June 22 board meeting. (Amy Rae Dadamo/Community Impact Newspaper)

Almost 40 Eanes ISD community members signed up to speak during a June 22 board meeting. (Amy Rae Dadamo/Community Impact Newspaper)

At a crowded Eanes ISD board meeting June 22, trustees voted to extend the contract of a diversity, equity and inclusion, or DEI, consultant after hearing opposition and support from roughly 40 community members.

Due to the large number of individuals who signed up to speak, board President John Havenstrite announced that comments would be limited to one minute—a statement that was met with an outcry of disapproval as those in attendance demanded more time.

The open forum session spanned roughly one hour as several parents petitioned the board not to extend the contract of consultant Mark Gooden into the 2021-22 school year.

Gooden began his work with the district last summer after several dozen students and alumni publicly shed light on years of problematic and racist behavior on campus. Community members mobilized to form grassroots groups including Chaps for an Anti-Racist Eanes and Eanes for Equity, which called for the development of anti-racist curricula, among other initiatives.

However, some said these actions have resulted in a polarized community, including parent Susan Tipton-Hines.

“You’ve opened up a Pandora’s box by allowing pride, [transgender] and [Black Lives Matter] attire and flags to be worn in the schools,” she said.

Jen Stevens, who recently lost a campaign to unseat trustee Jennifer Champagne in the May 1 election, brought up the topic of critical race theory—an examination of how the law and legal institutions intersect with the social construction of race and institutionalized racism, per a definition from the American Bar Association.

“Eanes is a loving community that wants diversity but without division,” Stevens said. “Why hire a consultant whose expertise and written publications are rooted in [critical race theory] if you don’t plan on teaching [critical race theory]?”

Both Gooden and Superintendent Tom Leonard have frequently stated that critical race theory has not been incorporated in the district’s teachings and differs from diversity, equity and inclusion work.

“That’s just simply not what we’re doing,” Gooden told the board during a May meeting.

Others reinforced the need for DEI work, including Elizabeth McCall, who was one of two students to speak during open forum. McCall told the board diversity education is important in a district that is growing more diverse.

“As Westlake grows as a district, it's important to make sure that new students and parents feel welcomed and safe within the community,” McCall said. “Because Westlake has a racist past, it’s important to make clear that we’re making an active effort to move forward.”

When McCall’s statement reached one minute, another audience member grabbed the microphone off the podium and stated her time should also be limited.

Following her statement, EISD student Jeffrey Chen provided testimony regarding his own experiences with racism on campus and told the board he was recently called a racial slur on the school bus.

Trustees said accounts from past and current students such as Chen were the driving force behind the decision to extend Gooden’s contract and continue diversity and equity work on campus.

“I am very much in support of continuing this work,” Champagne said.

The vote passed 6-0 with trustee Kim McMath not in attendance, however, she submitted a written statement to the board in support of continuing Gooden’s contract. The total cost of the contract was not made public during the June 22 meeting as it has not been finalized. Community Impact Newspaper submitted an open records request June 23 to the district regarding this information.

By Amy Rae Dadamo
Amy Rae Dadamo is the reporter for Lake Travis-Westlake, where her work focuses on city government and education. Originally from New Jersey, Amy Rae relocated to Austin after graduating from Ramapo College of New Jersey in May 2019.


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