Comal ISD community members call for district to address racial diversity concerns

Community demands for Comal ISD officials to address racial diversity concerns were heard during the Sept. 10 board meeting. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)
Community demands for Comal ISD officials to address racial diversity concerns were heard during the Sept. 10 board meeting. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)

Community demands for Comal ISD officials to address racial diversity concerns were heard during the Sept. 10 board meeting. (Ian Pribanic/Community Impact Newspaper)

Community demand for Comal ISD officials to address racial diversity concerns has come on the heels of an email sent Aug. 17 by CISD board President David Drastata.



In the email to Canyon High School’s athletic booster-club parents, Drastata, who is also the booster club president, referred to COVID-19 as “the China virus.”



The pejorative reference sparked concern among some parents, teachers and students who believe the term is racist and can lead to animosity toward those of Asian descent.



I felt that if the board president could use a slur like this so lightly, that it would probably mean other people in the community are referring to the virus this way, too,” said CISD parent Morena Hockley, whose husband is Filipino American and sons are student-athletes at Canyon High School.



On Aug. 27, Drastata apologized on the Canyon Athletic Booster Club website, but Hockley said the incident, along with insulting comments left by a CHS teacher on a Facebook post she made expressing her worries, prompted her to share her experiences with the community and school board.



“I told [Drastata] that [his supporters] need to hear directly from him why it’s not OK to say ‘China virus’ and why we need to be more inclusive,” Hockley said. “As a result of this experience, I’ve had lots of students and teachers and parents contact me privately, so we've kind of built this little support group.”



During the public comment portion of CISD’s Sept. 10 meeting, the school board heard from CISD parents and students who shared personal experiences with racism within the district. The district also heard comments from community members wishing to support Drastata and his apology.



Jessica Edwards, whose stepsons are African American students at CHS, said as part of one incident, someone left fried chicken in one of her stepsons’ gym locker, and his coach downplayed it as a joke.



“The coach was like, ‘Oh, it’s not a big deal, they’re probably just playing,’ and [my son] was like, ‘No, that’s racist,’” Edwards said, adding attempts made by the family to press the matter with school faculty resulted in the same response, and her son was even benched during some games.



“When parents have gone to the administration, they’ve been told it was just a joke or they were just kidding,” Hokley said. “[Students] keep getting the benefit of the doubt, but kids of color aren’t getting the same treatment.”



Developing solutions



A common sentiment expressed by attendees during the Sept. 10 meeting was a desire for the district to continue conversations surrounding diversity, implement diversity training, hire a director of diversity and intentionally hire more people of color to fill staff positions.



“We can’t always show up after something bad happens. We have to start showing up where they know that our presence is known,” Edwards said. “Diversity directors are so important when there is such a small minority population because [students of color] don’t have anyone to turn to.”



According to data from the Texas Education Agency, 43.19% of CISD students identified as African American, American Indian, Asian/Pacific Islander or Hispanic during the 2018-19 school year, and 19.79% of CISD teachers were part of the same demographics.





“Comal County is changing. It’s not 95% white kids anymore,” Edwards said. “We can either be prepared and get ahead of this, or we can be caught behind trying to catch up 15 years later.”



The student population at CISD has been trending more diverse in the last decade. Data from the TEA shows the population of white students at CISD was 57.76% in the 2011-12 school year—nearly 5% higher than the 53.29% it was during the 2018-19 school year.





Though Drastata was prohibited by state law from responding to public commentary on nonagenda items, Superintendent Andrew Kim said the district is in the process of creating an advisory committee on student inclusion, equity and diversity.



“The way I would like to approach this is not necessarily a quick reaction; rather, [it would be] a sustained long-term work,” Kim said. “I think if we are really intending on doing this right, then we are going to have to take these incremental steps going forward, and hopefully we can accelerate that as we get ourselves together in terms of how we want to structure [the council].”



Kim said he has begun conversations with district staff, teachers and board members to pinpoint key concerns among families and students to begin planning districtwide and campus-level solutions, but there is not yet a definitive timeline for the next steps.



Hockley attended the first meeting of the CHS Diversity Council on Sept. 11, at which student leaders from campus groups including the Black Student Union, Jolt, the Gay Straight Alliance and Student Council met to discuss how to make the campus more inclusive.



“I hope that this group can kind of be like a template for other campuses because I think every campus needs this, not just Canyon High School.” Hockley said.



District employees have shared with Hockley that diversity training and actively hiring more diverse employees are options that are being discussed, though no solid plans have been shared publicly, she said.



“As far as the board and the district, I would love to see them be more open with their thought process and their planning,” Hockley said. “Adding the issue of diversity to a future board meeting so that people know that's on the agenda and they can come speak on it would help a lot.”



For Edwards, creating support networks for all minority groups in the school district and the broader community will be the most effective way to overcome issues like this.



“Having that supportive environment I think does more than even having a diversity director,” Edwards said. “I don't think it just falls with education; it falls with almost every sector, and so that's why the Diversity Council is working on trying to come up with how [we can] figure out what the best practices are.”

By Lauren Canterberry
Lauren began covering New Braunfels for Community Impact Newspaper in 2019. Her reporting focuses on education, development, breaking news and community interest stories. Lauren is originally from South Carolina and is a graduate of the University of Georgia.


MOST RECENT

Construction on the facility is anticipated to be complete in mid-July. (Courtesy Stantec)
New middle school nears completion in New Braunfels

The school will replace the existing New Braunfels Middle School and has capacity for 1,500 students.

The board approved the proposed budget at a June 21 meeting. (Lauren Canterberry/Community Impact Newspaper)
New Braunfels ISD adopts $83.4 million budget for 2021-22 school year

The budget includes funding for middle school soccer teams and music programs.

Several projects along IH-35 have been submitted for funding. (Warren Brown/Community Impact Newspaper)
Alamo Area Metropolitan Planning Organization seeks resident input regarding future road projects

The survey will collect feedback from participants about several proposed transportation projects in the area, including seven in New Braunfels.

Construction of Klein Road has been ongoing since February 2019. (Courtesy city of New Braunfels)
Reconstruction of Klein Road in New Braunfels to wrap up in summer 2021

Damage to the roadway has caused some delays to the project, which has been ongoing for over two years.

Volunteers of Austin Vaccine Angels gathered after becoming fully vaccinated. (Courtesy Jodi Holzband)
Grassroots groups aimed at vaccine outreach look toward the future

For the past five months, grassroots volunteer groups have been working to connect thousands of Central Texans to COVID-19 vaccines.

Washington Prime Group Inc. owns six area shopping centers, including The Arboretum. (Courtesy The Arboretum)
Owner of Austin-area shopping centers files for bankruptcy; entertainment complex coming to Cedar Park and more top area news

Read the top business and community news from the past week from the Central Texas area.

The Bloomhouse—an 1,100-square-foot home in the hills of West Austin—was built in the 1970s by University of Texas architecture students for fellow student Dalton Bloom. It was featured in the Austin Weird Homes Tour of 2020. (Brian Perdue/Community Impact Newspaper)
Austin Weird Homes Tour ends; Z’Tejas to close Arboretum restaurant and more Central Texas news

Read the latest business and community news from the Central Texas area.

Representatives from Continental and the City of New Braunfels signed a beam that will be used in the construction of the facility. (Lauren Canterberry/Community Impact Newspaper)
Continental breaks ground on manufacturing facility in New Braunfels

The 215,000-square-foot facility is anticipated to begin operations in late 2022.

Beauty Everlasting opened June 12 in New Braunfels. (Courtesy Beauty Everlasting)
Beauty company offering skin treatments now open in New Braunfels

The store officially opened June 12 on Center Street.

Chupik Properties and Design anticipates having 15 homes completed by the end of this year. (Courtesy Chupik Properties and Design)
Chupik Properties kicks off Farmhaus New Braunfels project

Ten homes are currently under construction, and the design company anticipates opening the properties for contracts later this summer.

The property along FM 1102 has been rezoned for mixed-use development. (Courtesy city of New Braunfels)
One rezoning dies, another approved by New Braunfels City Council

A proposed rezoning at the intersection of Klein Road and Walnut Avenue was halted after council members did not make a motion on the item.