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Transcript: Beyond the Bubble

The full episode transcript for Beyond the Bubble


Southlake: Bonus Episode

Beyond the Bubble

Archival Recording: Ms. Durant, your time is, (BEEPS) your time is up--

Archival Recording: I, I, I would like to reclaim my time from being blatantly interrupted. We are better than this.

Antonia Hylton: It's been five months since voters in Southlake, Texas delivered a landslide election victory to two school board candidates opposed to the district's diversity plan. And if you're wondering if things in town have settled down since then, here's a clip from a recent Carroll School Board meeting.

Archival Recording: Ms. Durant--

Archival Recording: Every time I exercise my freedom as an American, I'm pushing back against y'all. And I will not stop.

Archival Recording: Ms. Durant, I need you to. (BACKGROUND VOICES)

Archival Recording: Is that the resources officer that y'all said it would take more than two of y'all to stop you.

Archival Recording: Ms. Durant, ok, I need a police officer up here please.

Archival Recording: I'm gonna stop. Y'all have a good night. Thank you.

Mike Hixenbaugh: That's the sound of a pro-diversity plan speaker talking after her time was up. While diversity plan opponents shout at her from the audience. In the middle of the chaos, a Black mother approaches the board to ask for help controlling the crowd. And the voice you hear calling for a police officer.

Archival Recording: I need a police officer up here.

Archival Recording: I'm gonna stop.

Hixenbaugh: That's conservative board member Hannah Smith reacting to the mother who'd approached the dais.

Archival Recording: All right. We are gonna take a recess at 5:40 p.m. (BACKGROUND VOICES)

Hylton: So not exactly on the fast track to reconciliation. And the agenda item that had everyone animated at that August board meeting.

Archival Recording: And I cannot believe you want to hold a special election (BACKGROUND VOICES) you, after what this town just went through.

Hixenbaugh: That's right, a special election. One of the Carroll School Board members who'd supported the diversity plan resigned this summer and moved out of Southlake. And rather than simply appointing someone to fill out the remainder of his term, the board agreed to let voters decide. The result? This November, the city of Southlake is holding its second high stakes school board election of 2021. This time the results will determine which side has majority control of the board.

Hylton: Just like in the Spring, Southlake Families PAC is throwing its support and funding behind a candidate who has spoken against new diversity and inclusion programs.

Archival Recording: Our first speaker is Andrew Yeager.

Andrew Yeager: Can you see me and hear me, ma'am?

Hixenbaugh: Back in August 2020, Andrew Yeager, a white dad of three, was the very first resident called to comment before the school board voted on the diversity plan.

Archival Recording: I can hear you.

Yeager: Okay. I'd like to clearly communicate my passionate request to the board to reject the proposed Cultural Competence Action Plan.

Hixenbaugh: Full disclosure, Yeager is a regional ad sales director for TV stations owned by NBC Universal, the same media company behind this podcast. He didn't respond to our messages requesting an interview.

Yeager: It is a political agenda to fully change our great school. It's an attack on our tradition of excellent which has been a unifying force for all Dragon students of every race, religion, and ethnicity.

Hylton: Diversity plan supporters meanwhile.

Stephanie Williams: My name is Stephanie Williams and I'm running for the school board trustee place seven in--

Hylton: Are backing a former teacher and white mother of four named Stephanie Williams. We spoke to her by phone and asked why she supports new diversity programs at Carroll.

Williams: And not to be hyperbolic, but I believe that our children's futures are at stake. Whatever it's called, whether it's just diversity training, whether it's a social/emotional education, I do believe that we need that in our schools. I think listening to the podcast, it's clear that even the leaders in our school district aren't equipped with the skills to be able to respond appropriately in incidents of racism or discrimination, and I believe strongly we need to address that.

Hixenbaugh: Once again, voters in Southlake will be asked to choose between these two visions and determine the future direction of the school district.

Hylton: On this special episode, we're gonna talk with the man who set this showdown in motion, former Carroll School Board member David Almand. We'll be describing his tumultuous tenure on the board, why he supported the district's Cultural Competence Action Plan, and why he decided to walk away before his term was finished.

David Almand: Every disagreement has become an argument, and every argument has become just this polarizing clash of cultures.

Hixenbaugh: But we're also gonna be tracking this story beyond Southlake. We'll be talking with an embattled principal from a neighboring town, and educators from across the country who've been disciplined or pressured to resign as a result of the growing national divide over the way schools teach and talk about racism.

Terry Harris: If this is happening to Matthew and his small school district in Tennessee then dammit, it's coming to New York, and LA, and Chicago, and St. Louis, and we should all be concerned about this movement.

Hixenbaugh: From NBC News, I'm Mike Hixenbaugh.

Hylton: I'm Antonia Hylton.

Hixenbaugh: And this is a special bonus episode of Southlake. So, Dave, I think just to start, can you introduce yourself?

Almand: Yeah. Dave Almand, former Carroll ISD trustee, retired Air Force, military.

Hylton: During his military days, Dave Almand used to fly C-17s, huge cargo planes that transport troops and equipment. He was a wing commander at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland before retiring as a colonel in 2014. That's when he and his wife moved back home to Texas and chose Southlake as the place to raise their teenage sons.

Almand: My wife works as a pilot for American Airlines. And Southlake just really stands out for the academic rigor and the extracurricular opportunities.

Hixenbaugh: In 2017, Almand was appointed to serve on the Carroll School Board after another member stepped down. In 2019, he was elected to serve a full, three-year term.

Almand: That was one of the reasons to serve too, was to give back.

Hylton: That three-year term was supposed to run through the Spring of 2022. But this summer, Almand decided to resign. His kids had both graduated, and he and his wife were ready to move into a smaller place in Dallas. The acrimony in town and the political attacks against Carroll School Board members were also big factors.

Almand: I thought we were on a great track, in the right place, you know, you second guess when, and how, and what we could have done different.

Hylton: He's part of a growing number of school board members across the country who've called it quits this year after enduring months of attacks from parents protesting anti-racism programs and COVID safety measures, and preventing boards from getting much done.

Almand: Part of that was just a feeling of no longer being effective too. It's kind of in this mire that we're going through and it felt like I'd failed these students, and maybe, you know, somebody else could do better out there.

Hixenbaugh: As we reported this series, we tried repeatedly to get members of the Carroll School Board to talk to us. They were the ones taking the brunt of the criticism from angry parents, especially the five who voted for the CCAP.

Archival Recording: Ms. Moore, you cannot shut us up. You cannot keep us quiet. (BEEPS) Nobody has any respect for you.

Hixenbaugh: But those five board members were all named as defendants in the civil lawsuit filed by a mother over the diversity plan. And because of the temporary restraining order issued by a judge in the case, none of them were willing to record interviews. Now, with Almand stepping down and having been formally dropped from the lawsuit, he said he was ready to talk about his time on the board, and about why he thinks the district's diversity efforts went so badly.

Almand: Yeah, this quick spread of false misinformation that what this plan's intent all along was to bring critical race theory into our schools and convince our white students, you know, that they're bad and evil too was furthest from the truth. You know, what we're looking for was really to create that environment where every student feels valued and part of the team, and nothing that was...

Hylton: Almand told us he didn't think the diversity plan was perfect, but he supported it because he believed students of color deserved action. He thought many of the changes proposed by the district diversity council and the CCAP were a good place to start.

Almand: The leadership of this committee, they were willing to compromise. They had accepted to in this draft to pull out the microaggression, to pull out some of the other things that were the most controversial. Again, I wasn't on that committee, but there's another draft just sitting on the shelf out there that I think, you know, probably 90% of the community would agree to. But unfortunately, it's still freeze with the court orders that are still currently in place.

Hixenbaugh: Almand, a registered Republican, said he couldn't believe it when residents started accusing the board of trying to force a radical, liberal agenda onto the town. Almand's support for the CCAP wasn't inspired by Marxism, he said, it was based on his experience in the military.

Almand: I supported the plan and one example of what success looked like to me was what I experienced with women in the military in the '90s.

Hixenbaugh: Back then, more women were being allowed to service as pilots in squadrons where most of the other service members were men.

Almand: In that environment, there was, you know, inappropriate behavior, actions, that were tolerated. And we learned was, yeah, sure you could ask that one female, "Hey, does this Sports Illustrated calendar bother you?" And they said, "No," so it must be okay.

But we were surprised when they didn't show up at the social events, they didn't want to be on the softball team. Like, "Hey, why aren't they a team player?" Well, 'cause we weren't making them feel like part of the team. We were not valuing them the same and treating them with dignity and respect. We need to learn that. We couldn't just do that with discipline, with a code of a conduct, that would just create resentment. What we needed to do was just truly understand too what's hurtful and what makes someone not feel valued too.

Hylton: Almand says he saw a similar dynamic playing out in Southlake. The town had grown more diverse over the past ten years, and many students of color and LGBTQ students didn't feel fully welcomed and supported at Carroll. As Almand put it, not part of the team.

Almand: When the majority understand that, they stop that behavior, and they don't tolerate it within that organization. And that I saw as a correlation to what that plan was really trying to do.

Hylton: Almand sees what's happening in Southlake as part of a bigger national shift. He says moderate voices like his are being drowned out. Paraphrasing a recent speech by former President George W. Bush, he said:

Almand: And every disagreement has become an argument, and every argument has become just this polarizing clash of cultures.

Hixenbaugh: Did you start to think differently about whether this was a job that you wanted to continue in?

Almand: Oh, yeah. I won't run for public office again. We're deterring lots of people from wanting to serve, I think, and that's gonna hurt us also. And that, you know.

Hixenbaugh: As for the future of Southlake, Almand says he's worried the fighting is only going to get worse.

Almand: I hope I'm wrong. I hope maybe there are still people willing to listen, there's still a large group that has just been given misinformation too that I think we should still keep clarifying their concerns. I don't think it's at rock bottom, but I'm optimistic too that someday they'll get there.

Hixenbaugh: Almand officially resigned from the board on July 30th. The election to determine his replacement will be held on November 2nd.

Hylton: But Almand isn't the only official in the Dallas/Fort Worth suburbs now contemplating their future in education. When we come back, we'll share our conversation with the first Black principal at nearby Colleyville Heritage High School, now suspended after residents accused him of pushing critical race theory.

Archival Recording: (POUNDING) The GCISD board of trustees meeting has entered open session at 5:03 p.m.. All trustees are present.

Hixenbaugh: On the evening of September 20th, 2021, parents in a suburban district that borders Southlake packed into their school board meeting room to defend the first ever Black principal at Colleyville Heritage High School.

Archival Recording: The abysmal and racist treatment he has endured at the hands of this administration is unconscionable, and nothing short of a witch hunt.

Archival Recording: By going through with this, his termination, you are teaching students it's acceptable and preferable to be intolerant, hateful, and fearful of others.

Hylton: They were talking about Principal James Whitfield who'd been accused by residents of forcing critical race theory onto his students. After Whitfield wrote a long social media post defending himself against the attacks, and accusing some of the community of trying to turn him into a, quote "CRT boogeyman," the district suspended him.

Hixenbaugh: At this September 20th meeting, the Grapevine-Colleyville School Board was planning to vote on whether to begin a formal process to terminate Whitfield's contract. All of the 35 residents who talked before that vote spoke in support of Whitfield, including one Grapevine resident who seemed to have been paying attention to the diversity plan fight in the town next door.

Archival Recording: What we have now is a reputation and tonight I ask the board to begin to work to fix that reputation, and foster an environment of inclusion and fairness. I'm gonna use Southlake as a verb, please do not Southlake my Grapevine. (BACKGROUND VOICES) Thank you.

Hixenbaugh: Ultimately, all seven board members voted to move forward with the process to potentially fire Whitfield. Afterward, the district superintendent addressed the crowd, and denied that the principal was being punished for his views on racism.

Archival Recording: This recommendation is not about Dr. Whitfield's race, it's not about critical race theory, it's not about certain individuals in our community calling for this resignation or his firing.

Hixenbaugh: The school district's head of human resources followed with a list of reasons why the district was recommending Whitfield's termination. Number one she said, Whitfield had shown deficiencies in his communication with district leaders including a few instances that were first brought to Whitfield's attention last spring.

Archival Recording: The second reason for the proposal is insubordination or failure to comply with official directives. Dr. Whitfield has diminished his effectiveness by dividing large sections of the community by continuing to raise-- (LAUGHTER)

Archival Recording: Please stay quiet. Please let's continue.

Archival Recording: Okay. Dr. Whitfield, I'll start over with that paragraph. Dr. Whitfield has diminished his effectiveness (BACKGROUND VOICES) by diving large sections of the community by continuing to raise issues of critical race theory when no one in the district administration has accused Dr. Whitfield of doing so, or even discussed it with him.

Hylton: In other words, the district was saying it wasn't Whitfield's past comments about racism that got him into trouble with his bosses. It was his public reaction to the anti-CRT attacks, and other shortcomings that predated them.

James Whitfield: Yeah. So, I'm James Whitfield, educator here in Texas.

Hylton: We spoke with Whitfield a day after that September 20th board meeting. By then his case had blown up in the national media.

Hixenbaugh: Well, Dr. Whitfield, we're talking to you, it's Tuesday morning. You had a busy night. Can you tell us a bit about what happened yesterday?

Whitfield: Yeah. It was a very long night. One of the really great things was, you know, 35 people showed up to speak in open forum. Every single one of them that got up to speak was in support of who I am, and what I aspire to be as an educator, so that was comforting to feel that level of love, and support, and encouragement.

Hixenbaugh: Whitfield says he's also gotten a lot of support from students. In September, more than 100 of them staged a walkout during school to protest his suspension.

Whitfield: One of the things that's been heavy on my heart over the course of this, 'cause I miss my kids, I call 'em my kids, they know how much I love 'em. And how much I miss being with them.

Hylton: Whitfield said he traces all of his troubles back to a July 26 school board meeting when a white parent and former school board candidate accused him of pushing critical race theory and called for his firing.

Archival Recording: Because of his extreme views, I ask that a full review of Mr. Whitfield's tenure in our district be examined and that his contract be terminated effective immediately. (CHEERS)

Whitfield: Prior to July 26, there's not a mention of me being put on leave, not a mention of anything non-renewal, anything like that. But after that, I was forced to defend myself. And when I'd ask for help, it would be met with some kind of, "Well, actually..." the gaslighting started to happen, right?

"Well, you're the one dividing the community." And so, I believe the district's saying that it's not tied to CRT or those comments made at the board meeting, there's no way you could disconnect those things from what's happening. You know, I felt like things were going, you know, in the right direction.

I had, you know, I'd just been in the district for three years and promoted, you know, two times over the course of those three years. But over the course of that year, you know, as I said before, I knew that things would be coming down the pipe in assuming that role, and being somebody that the community, certain segments of the community I should say, just weren't used to seeing people that look like me in those roles.

But we know how important it is for our students of color to see people that look like them in these positions, or other students that are in these spaces. So often who do they see that looks differently than them in positions, even as teachers, even in the classroom. And so, I knew it was a big deal to assume this position in such a district. And felt like we were making some headway.

Hixenbaugh: In a statement, a Grapevine-Colleyville spokeswoman reiterated that the school district's actions against Whitfield had nothing to do with his views on racism or critical race theory writing quote, "The decision to place Dr. Whitfield on paid administration leave resulted from numerous deficiencies and violations on the part of Dr. Whitfield over the course of the past year."

Hylton: Whitfield hasn't given up hope that he could be reinstated. The school board plans to hold a hearing to allow him to defend his actions before taking a final vote on firing him, though no date has been set yet. He's hired an attorney and says he plans to keep fighting. But as he watches residents go to war with each other over his job, Whitfield says he's worried about the message his case might send not only to his students, but to other educators in Texas and nationally.

Whitfield: People are going to watch the events unfold and especially educators of color, and they're going to see this and go, "There's no way I'm going to sign up to be subject to that kind of treatment. Yes, I love kids, yes that's in my heart, I've got a passion for it. But I'm not going to sign up for that level of treatment."

Hixenbaugh: Coming up, we'll bring in three other educators from around the country. Like Whitfield, all there have become the target of angry parents who've accused them of indoctrinating children. We'll be right back.

Hixenbaugh: All across the nation this year, there have been reports of teachers and school administrators coming under fire for supporting anti-racism programs, or for teaching about the legacy of racism in America, the kind of stuff that conservatives have branded critical race theory.

Matthew Hawn: My name's Matthew Hawn and I taught social studies and coached baseball in Sullivan, County Tennessee. And I am currently suspended for teaching about white privilege.

Hylton: In June, the Sullivan County Board of Education voted to fire Matthew Hawn, who's white, after parents complained about some of the assignments, he'd given in his contemporary issues social studies class. There were a series of complaints from parents, but the one that got the most attention was when Hawn asked students to read and discuss an article by Ta-Nehisi Coates entitled, "The First White President," which links the history of white supremacy with the rise of President Donald Trump.

Hawn: I just wanted to introduce my class to, you know, one of the preeminent journalists in the United States Ta-Nehisi Coates.

Hylton: School district leaders have denied Hawn's characterizations about why he was punished saying in public statements that he was disciplined for failing to provide students with a conservative perspective to counter the Coates article and other reading assignments on racism. A district official declined to provide additional comment because Hawn is appealing his termination.

Brittany Hogan: I'm Brittany Hogan, I'm the former director of educational equity and diversity for the Rockwood School District.

Hixenbaugh: Six hundred miles away in Missouri, Brittany Hogan was the only Black woman serving as a district-wide administrator in a mostly white, suburban school system called Rockwood. As the district's director of diversity, Hogan had been working with Terry Harris, her boss, and the only other Black administrator on diversity, equity, and desegregation programming.

Hogan: Over the past year, Terry and I have both experienced an extreme amount of racial trauma at the hands of community members trolling us on social media, calling my office telling me that I'm ungodly and immoral, that my work was against the word of God.

Hixenbaugh: Hogan says she first started to see parents publicly turning on her work after the school introduced an illustrated children's book called Ron's Big Mission about the racism faced in the 1950's by Ron McNair, the second Black American to go to space. Around September of 2020, the CRT accusations started to fly, and soon as steady stream of angry parents were showing up at school board meetings.

Archival Recording: Just because I do not want critical race theory taught to my children in school does not mean that I'm a racist, dammit.

Hogan: And it eventually led to some indirect threats that were serious enough that security had to be placed on the side of our homes. And so, by the time April rolled around, I decided that I no longer wanted to stay in Rockwood, that I had to choose myself. And that leaving Rockwood would be the best thing for not on my physical safety, but my mental health.

Hylton: Her old boss Terry Harris has also had thoughts about leaving public education this year. He told us he's sticking with it for now.

Terry Harris: Physically I'm still in the system, but emotionally I've taken breaks as well. I mean, it gets to you emotionally, it gets to you from a health standpoint. I mean, it's a lot.

Hylton: We brought James Whitfield the suspended Texas principal into our conversation with the fired Tennessee social studies teacher, and the two Rockwood administrators.

Whitfield: Yeah, I'm honored to be here with you guys today.

Hixenbaugh: We started by talking about the case that was freshest in everyone's minds, the vote from the night before to move forward with a formal process to fire Whitfield.

Hylton: I want to hear, Dr. Whitfield, your reaction to the word insubordination.

Whitfield: When I heard that word, you know, it's not the first time I've heard that word in this particular scenario, and, you know, there's a lot of other words that were used, "disrespectful." But insubordination really stuck out. And what resonated with me is this notion that just because people give us and say certain things to us about the way they feel about things, that we're supposed to just take that.

So, insubordination for me, it came when, you know, I finally had an opportunity where I had to stand up for myself. And in doing so, it's the typical, "Well, we don't like the way you're doing it," right? "So, we're gonna try to police that instead of doing what we should have done in the beginning, and have your back, so that you didn't have to go out here and defend yourself."

Hixenbaugh: Here's Brittany Hogan:

Hogan: The insubordination, the disrespect, it's the same language that we find in discipline that is often used to describe Black and brown kids a lot of the time. The things that we say that are these cultural nuances that no one can put a label on what it means to be disrespectful or subordinate, but it's the way that they describe Black kids. And here now this is the way they're describing this Black man. And so James, like, my heart aches for you. Because I understand what it's like when you feel like you are very alone, and the support is limited.

Hixenbaugh: Parents protesting at school boards this year have often talked about how diversity programs and lessons on the legacy of racism in America might affect white children, specific the fear that white kids will be made to feel ashamed of their heritage.

Hylton: In your school systems, have you seen lessons, writings, about Black history or by Black authors get introduced, and actually seen white kids go home feeling guilty, and anguish? Have you seen that material have a negative impact on their academic experience?

Terry Harris: No. No, not, not at all.

Hixenbaugh: Terry Harris.

Terry Harris: Some white kid coming to school saying I feel bad about being white, now? No, not at all, not even remotely close. You know why? Because white kids are friends with Black kids. White kids are fascinated with other kids of color. White kids are in schools with kids who are part of the LGBTQIA community, right?

They're sitting next to these individuals. And I hold kids dearly. Kids can do some crazy things, but at the end of the day, I think they're extremely empathetic. And kids don't want to see other kids hurt. They don't feel bad about this, they're not coming home and saying, "Mom, I feel like I'm a racist now."

That is not the case, it's not real. These young, white kids are wanting to know what's happening in this world, how did we get here, and how do we fix it. And these young kids of color are wanting to sit with white kids to tell that story. The young people are wanting to talk. It's the adults who are gettin' in the way and trying to prevent the conversation from happening because the adults are fearful of shame, blame, and guilt.

Hylton: Matthew Hawn says his case shows what's on the line in this fight, not just for students of color, but for white students too.

Hawn: My school system is 98%-99% white. And what I try to do in my class is to get students to understand these perspectives. Like, they don't have to agree with the perspective of Ta-Nehisi Coates or Kyla Jenee Lacey, that's not what I'm looking for in a grade. But they can at least understand their perspectives, and now all of a sudden, we're saying, "Well, that perspective is no longer allowed."

Terry Harris: I think teachers across the country should be specifically concerned with Matthew's story. The notion that we're questioning the professionalism of teachers, I think that we should be concerned with that, right? I think that teachers are professional enough to be able to say, "Okay, here is a thought here, here is a thought here," and then encourage students to make a decision about what they think either way.

And find another thought that maybe we haven't thought about. If this is happening to Matthew and his small school district in Tennessee then, you know, dammit, it's coming to New York, and LA, and Chicago, and St. Louis, and we should all be concerned about this movement.

Hylton: All four educators said they'd been listening to our podcast on Southlake and connecting their own experiences to key moments in the series. Harris recalled the moment when Raven Rolle, a Black Carroll senior, confronted a white classmate who'd been arguing in class that the n-word wasn't offensive.

Archival Recording: Well, to me it's just a word, so it doesn't offend me.

Raven Rolle: It's not just a word. Don't even say that. Do you know what that means? How are you gonna look at me in my face.

Archival Recording: Hold on, Raven.

Rolle: And tell me that that is just a word?

Terry Harris: But that the student and she's meeting in the principal's office, I think about this James, that principal or that student is meeting in your office. You're the principal behind that desk with that white student talkin' about these different issues, and she's crying, and she's upset, and she has the language but she cannot get the language out because she's so emotionally engulfed by this issue.

And what she really needed, James, Dr. Whitfield, she needed you to be the principal, or she needed Brittany to be the administrator, to be behind that desk, that can breathe with her and say, "I got you. You're safe. Say what you need to say." And then that other student, the white student in this case, needed a teacher like Matthew to be able to say, "Wait, pause. Just listen to her. Understand where she's coming from."

And then being able to then help that student understand that perspective. So, what this really is about, it's about perspectives. Whose perspective gets to be told, whose stories get to be center, whose stories get to be uplifted, and what is that gonna mean for our school system moving forward.

Hixenbaugh: Whitfield said he was heartbroken listening to Em, a queer high school student pleading with her principal to do something about the boys who sent her Instagram messages mocking her gender identity. He listened to that episode the morning before the school board voted to begin his termination process.

Whitfield: Like, I literally broke into tears when I heard this young person saying that, "I did not feel safe in my school." And to think, wow, like for that student to be in that space, and then what broke my heart even more is when she apologized at the end.

Em: And it's, like, "Oh, just tell us if it happens again." But it's, like, how many agains have to happen to other people, you know. (CRYING) Like, it's just annoying, I'm sorry.

Archival Recording: It's okay, I'm sorry that you're getting upset.

Whitfield: That really hit me because so often while you are the one that's being victimized, it's being framed as such to you that by the time you're done with the conversation, you're so beat down that you just leave and say, "Well, I'm sorry." And you just put your head down.

And you walk out the door and you feel so defeated. So, I felt in that moment how long are we gonna continue this treatment of our young people, this treatment of people of color, other marginalized communities, to where they're left to be the ones walkin' out the door sayin', "I'm sorry, but essentially I'm the one that's been attacked and victimized in this whole situation."

Hylton: You know, I think there's a lot of question in each of your communities about healing, and unity, and how people come together after a really divisive and awful year. Do you see any possibility of healing, restorative justice, coming back together here? Or is that something you're really going to do just for yourself on an individual level?

Hawn: I guess I'm more focused on myself at this point. Doing things like this, and just hearing Dr. Whitfield, and Brittany, and Terry, your all's stories, I'm sittin' here shaking my head goin', "Yeah, that's exactly what happened to me." And so as awful as it is, it has been helpful for me to hear that I'm not alone in this.

Hogan: I agree with Matt. I'm in the space of doing my own healing. And taking a pause from the traditional educational setting, but knowing that the work was always bigger than my time there at the school district. That the work continues, that I will continue, that I will continue to be a voice that speaks about the things because this work matters. And if I care about how the children are, then I have to continue to show up for them every day.

Whitfield: Yeah, and I think it's the same for me. Trying to be in the space where I take care of, you know, myself and my family, there's been a lot of trauma inflicted over the course of this time. So really thinking about healing, and unity of the overall community, while I love (LAUGH) those people I'm just really tryin' to take care of.

You know, I've got a nine-year-old here at the house who, while I'm trying to mask it, he can tell that dad, like, they can see it. They can see it in our faces, and so he's clung ever close to me over the course of the last couple months. And so just trying to work on that healing.

But I'm hopeful that maybe while it's a difficult time for us right now, our young people can lead us into brighter days, and show us that we are capable of so much more than what we've exhibited throughout the course of this time. And when I say we, I mean, we're all in this together.

Terry Harris: Yeah, I would say for me, we can't go back to normal, right? You know, if the school board decides to reverse that decision and say, "Hey, we're gonna bring you back next year and you're gonna be the principal, and we're gonna give you a tenure contract," right?

Like, that's wonderful, and that's great, but at some point, we're gonna have to sit down and talk about what happened to him. Like, what happened? Like, how did we get here? How I feel about it, and what I need in order to heal. But at some point, if you're not willing to do that, then I'm going to have to move on and control my own healing.

Hixenbaugh: Whitfield said he hopes hearing these stories will inspire people to support educators after what's been a difficult year.

Whitfield: I'm hopefully that the work that we're doing, you know, the awareness that we're bringing to the issue would help people to not feel alone, like, several of us in this space right here. There are people that see you, we hear you, we value you, and you are important. Because ultimately, we need people that are on fire for kids. And if we're not there to support them, if we're not, you know, screamin' and showin' up in defense of them, then we're gonna lose those people.

Hylton: To everyone who's followed along with this series, thank you. We would love to hear what you think about the reporting. To share your reactions or to tell us about what's happening at your local school board, send us an email at

Hixenbaugh: Southlake was written, reported, and hosted by me, Mike Hixenbaugh.

Hylton: And by me, Antonia Hylton. The series is produced by Frannie Kelly. Our story editors are Julie Schapiro and Michelle Garcia. Production help and fact-checking by Rachel Yang. Sound designed by Seth Samuel. Original music by Ali Shaheed Muhammad. Bryson Barnes is our technical director. Reid Cherlin is our executive producer. Madeleine Haeringer is our head of editorial.