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Transcript: The Not-So-Silent Majority

The full episode transcript for The Not-So-Silent Majority


Southlake: episode 3

The Not-So-Silent Majority

Michelle Moore: If we don't take action tonight, we really have to think about: What message are we sending to the kids and the victims of discrimination that have come--

Mike Hixenbaugh: It's late in the evening on August 3rd, 2020. And the Carroll School Board is more than four hours into a virtual meeting. It's that early stage of the pandemic when everything is on Zoom, which is why you're gonna hear some buffering sounds and dogs barking in the background, as school board members try to navigate the biggest controversy to hit the city of Southlake, probably ever.

Moore: --and I'll just-- and-- and I'm just gonna lay it out here, because everyone is laying it out, right?

Hixenbaugh: That's Michelle Moore, the school board member who vowed to make changes after a video of students yelling the N-word went viral almost two years earlier.

Moore: In many cases--

Hixenbaugh: Now she's school board president. And tonight--

Moore: --gonna lay it out because everyone--

Hixenbaugh: --tonight is supposed to be the night she delivers on her big promise.

Moore: I am--

Hixenbaugh: But things are not going as she'd hoped.

Moore: I would've never imagined what has happened in this community in the last few days, over a plan that was really trying to create an environment that was safe and welcoming in our schools.

Antonia Hylton: Moore is talking about all the angry emails, phone calls, and text messages directed at board members and school officials that week, after the district released a copy of its proposed Cultural Competence Action Plan or CCAP for short. That's the 34-page document that Russell Maryland and Nikki Olaleye and more than 60 other volunteers spent 18 months working on as members of the District Diversity Council or DDC.

Their plan calls for a bunch of changes, including new diversity and inclusion lessons for students and staff, new hiring guidelines to bring in more diverse teachers, new rules to crack down on racist and anti-LGBTQ bullying, and a new director of Diversity and Inclusion to oversee the efforts across the district.

The diversity plan also includes a word that's new to many residents in Southlake, "microaggressions," a kind of catchall term for more subtly racist statements and actions that make a student of color feel uncomfortable, but are less obvious than, say, shouting the N-word.

Hixenbaugh: An example of one of those might be a white student telling an academically gifted Black classmate that she's, quote, "the whitest Black girl I know" (a real account from a Southlake student, by the way).

Moore: --and particularly the last--

Hylton: Under the plan, the district will start tracking those types of incidents and holding kids accountable for repeat offenses.

Moore: --for myself, I--

Hixenbaugh: It's that last bit, the idea that students could be held accountable as hard to define as microaggressions--

Moore: There have been blatant--

Hixenbaugh: --that's really got people angry.

Moore: There have been voices in our community that are trying to derail the efforts of the DDC, and I think to a certain extent, skew what we're trying to do and how the process works--

Hixenbaugh: You can tell from her comments at this August 2020 board meeting, Moore believes the people attacking the CCAP represent a small minority in town--

Moore: --public setting--

Hixenbaugh: --and that if most parents would just take the time to read the plan and understand it, they would see that the goal is simply to protect students.

Moore: You know, two years ago when that video went viral, I was unaware of the extent of what was going on. But two years later, I can't say I'm unaware that we have a problem. And there's no excuse for us as a board, I believe, to not take action.

Sheri Mills: Thank you for speaking from the heart, Michelle.

Hixenbaugh: That's board member Sheri Mills. She also served on the DDC and helped shape the plan.

Mills: I would like to move that the board receive the Cul-- I'm gonna cry-- the Cultural Competence Action Plan, and authorize the superintendent to begin an implementation under the--

Hylton: Another member seconds Mills' motion to receive and implement the CCAP. But then three others unmute their microphones and ask to pump the brakes, raising arguments like, "Shouldn't we spend more time studying the plan before we vote on it? Not every board member got to serve on the Diversity Council. What about all the messages from concerned parents? And what exactly is a microaggression anyway?"

Male School Board Member: This is the most important, not just one of the important things, the most important thing that any one of us will ever work on. And I wanna get it right. I don't wanna have division in our community and have people upset and yelling at each other--

Hixenbaugh: In the end, after nearly an hour of debate, Moore and others proposed a middle ground, "Why not just vote to receive the CCAP, but hold off on implementing it? Then schedule board workshops to keep refining it. Let the community weigh in and learn what it's all about."

Moore: I honestly--

Moore: --like it's a symbolic motion to say that we're receiving it. I would like to see us come together as a board and at least, you know, agree to that.

Hixenbaugh: But one board member is really pushing back against that idea.

Matt Bryant: When you stated, "The march of progress is slow but unyielding," so, you know, if we move at a little slower pace than what you're advising, but in the effort to understand, an effort to feel, you know, this should be a 7-0 vote, is what this should be. This should be a unanimous vote.

Hylton: The board member's name is Matt Bryant. He's the same parent who asked Russell Maryland to join the Diversity Council and work on this very document. Now he doesn't wanna be forced to vote on the plan, symbolic or not.

Bryant: Again, Michelle, I'm a little lost on the value of having a vote. It's not really an appropriate time to have a vote on the process.

Hylton: He's cutting in and out, but he seems to be saying, "This is not an appropriate time to have a vote." But Moore and Mills aren't budging.

Mills: So, I think we owe it to the people who spent the past two years of their life, to vote tonight.

Hixenbaugh: With that, Mills moves to vote on the compromise idea: to simply receive the diversity plan rather than approve it and begin implementation.

Moore: I will second.

Hixenbaugh: Hundreds of Southlake residents are logged onto the Zoom, watching from their own homes as Moore begins the roll call.

Moore: So, place one, Michelle Moore, I vote yes. Place two--

Bryant: I'm not prepared to vote yes yet. I don't understand what we're voting on. So, I vote no.

Moore: Place three?

Mills: I'm Sheri Mills. Yes.

Moore: Place four?

Bryant: Matt Bryant. No.

Hixenbaugh: You can hear it in their voices and see it on their faces.

Moore: Place five?

Hixenbaugh: All the board members realize this is a big moment.

Moore: Place six?

Male School Board Member: I vote yes.

Hixenbaugh: But there's no way any of them realize just how significant this vote will be.

Moore: Okay. So, the motion passes 5-2.

Hixenbaugh: Those five board members hoped that by just receiving the diversity plan, rather than acting right away on its recommendations, could lower the temperature of the debate in town. Instead, the opposite happened.

Hylton: Minority and queer students who'd shared painful stories, felt betrayed that the board hadn't adopted the plan. As for the adults in the community who saw the CCAP as a threat to their kids? Well, they weren't about to sit back while this school board tinkered around with the fine print.

Hixenbaugh: And now those residents were building an army and preparing for war. From NBC News, I'm Mike Hixenbaugh.

Hylton: I'm Antonia Hylton.

Hixenbaugh: And this is Southlake.

Hylton: Chapter 3: The Not-So Silent Majority.

Hixenbaugh: Not everyone realized it at the time, but that virtual school board meeting in August 2020 galvanized a movement in Southlake. Two years earlier, when the first N-word video came out, it had been Black parents who were the most vocal.

Female Parent: You've got to change this curriculum. You've got to change the tone in this town.

Hixenbaugh: But the parents who weren't so sure about change, well, most of them hadn't signed up to serve on the diversity committee or come to speak at any special board meetings. And now they wanted to have their say.

Hylton: Within days of the CCAP's release, a new group emerged in Southlake, with the singular goal of killing the plan. It was called "Southlake Families PAC." And it was led by a former county Republican chairman and other connected conservative activists.

The group quickly launched a website with their own interpretations of what the diversity plan would do, painting it in more radical terms. The CCAP calls for age-appropriate diversity and inclusion lessons for students at every grade level.

Hixenbaugh: Southlake Families PAC said that meant the district would be forcing kids to comply with, quote, "social justice training," in order to graduate.

Hylton: The CCAP proposed creating volunteer diversity council at each school, made up of students and staff to help advise the district.

Hixenbaugh: The Southlake Families PAC website warned that amount to creating a quote, "diversity police," to be on patrol for unintentional microaggressions.

Hylton: The plan called for evaluating staff based on their commitment to diversity and rewarding students who demonstrate excellence in the area of diversity and inclusion.

Hixenbaugh: Southlake Families PAC said the plan would, quote, "require students and teachers to take a cultural competence test that could be used to shame them."

Hylton: Those claims got lots of attention in town. Southlake Families PAC quickly gathered email addresses through an online petition and blasted out instructions on how concerned residents could make their voices heard. Most importantly, the PAC was saying people needed to show up at school board meetings and speak up during public comments.

Hixenbaugh: And that is exactly what they did.

Moore: I would like to call to order the general meeting of the board of trustees of Carroll SD on Monday, August 17th, 2020.

Hixenbaugh: It was two weeks after the vote to accept and continue working on the CCAP. And in Texas, things had started to open up. So, for the first time since the start of the pandemic, the Carroll School Board was meeting in person. This was the first chance for residents to tell board members, face to face, what they thought about the diversity plan.

Answer: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States---

Hixenbaugh: The Carroll School Board room is large and windowless, with rows of wooden seats, beige walls, and gray commercial-grade carpeting. Board members sit on a curved dais in high-backed leather chairs overlooking the audience.

Male School Board Member: A moment of silence, please.

Hixenbaugh: Before this space became the front line of Southlake's political revolt, public comments at these meetings usually took less than ten minutes. Maybe two or three people would sign up to speak. But this time, nearly 40 residents signed up, with dozens more in attendance. Others were waiting in the hall outside and listening on speakers in an overflow room, as Michelle Moore opened the floor for public comment.

Moore: Please refrain from booing or being disrespectful to any speakers that may share a different point of view than your own. Also, of course--

Hixenbaugh: One by one, parents approached the lectern facing the dais, removed their masks, and used their allotted three minutes to unload.

Female Parent: Basically, you want my child to believe that because he is white, everything has been handed to him.

Male Parent: I mean, what's wrong with our culture now? What's this Culture Competence Plan? I found out about the day before the vote. And maybe we're just all asleep or something else is going on. It made me very suspicious.

Female Parent: Wrong is wrong. Racism in reverse is racism. Shame! Teaching teachers to watch my color, how dare y'all? No teacher should ever look at my kid when they make a mistake and see the color of their skin or their dialect. They should look at that mistake and treat that kid with--

Male School Board Member: Ma'am, your time's up.

Female Parent: --the respect they deserve. Thank you very much. (APPLAUSE)

Hylton: The speakers were fired up, way rowdier than at any Carroll meeting before this. Parents have come to send a message: that they didn't believe schools had any business teaching their children what counted as racism, that the district shouldn't be writing special rules into the student code of conduct that treat racist taunts or microaggressions differently than any other type of bullying, and that by focusing so much on race the district was actually perpetuating the problem it claimed to be fighting.

Chuck Taggart: Is he tan enough for you?

Hylton: To illustrate the point, a dad named Chuck Taggert approached the lectern and held up a tablet showing a photo of his son.

Taggart: He's got brown hair. He's got brown eyes. He's got tan skin. I don't know if he's too tan or too white. Would it surprise you by looking at me that this boy is, he's European? He's also African. He's also part Asian. Well, what does that make him? Are we gonna start wearing half-yellow stars or quarter-yellow stars are the school?

Hylton: Taggart said that earlier that week he'd had to explain to his eight and 11-year-old children why their friends' parents were pulling them out of Carroll and sending them to Liberty Christian, a nearby private school, and how this whole CCAP process started with a video of some high school kids--

Taggart: --a couple years ago--

Hylton: --two years earlier.

Taggart: --"The N-word? What's the N-word, Daddy?" "Well, I can't tell you what the word is, 'cause it's a bad word." "Well, Daddy, we've never heard the N-word. What is the N-word?" And it occurred to me these kids had never heard the N-word, them and none of their friends. So, you know where they're gonna hear the N-word from? You. You guys. You guys are gonna teach my kids what the N-word is and--

Hixenbaugh: A little later, a white woman named Kathy Del Calvo stepped forward and told the board that she was worried about the message the CCAP would send to her grandchildren.

Kathy Del Calvo: My grandchildren are all minorities. Yes, all ten of them. They do not need to be treated special. They can stand on their own. We have taught them that their race or ethenticity means nothing. They need to put in the hard work to get whatever they strive for in life.

Hixenbaugh: Her husband, Leo Del Calvo, was born in Cuba. He approached the microphone wearing a green Carroll Dragon t-shirt and a Trump face mask around his chin.

Leo Del Calvo: --yes, like everybody here has said, we were asleep. Our fault. We're not asleep anymore.

Female Parent: That's right.

Del Calvo: We are not asleep anymore. You're gonna continue to hear from us.

Hixenbaugh: That line, "We are not asleep anymore," came up a lot. A few CCAP opponents refer to themselves in social media posts and at school board meetings as "Southlake's silent majority." Most of the people who identified as part of that camp, at least based on the people coming to talk at meetings, appeared to be white or Latino, but not all of them. Reginald Williams, a Black, recent graduate, wanted the board to know he actually had a great experience at Carroll.

Reginald Williams: Personally, I was never discriminated against. I was never, unh-uh (NEGATIVE), I was never felt like, or I was never made to feel like I was unwelcomed, not treated right or anything. But--

Hixenbaugh: But now he said--

Williams: --fourteen years--

Hixenbaugh: --he was worried about the board's plans for educating his younger white cousins.

Williams: Why would you make them learn that, because I'm a different color than them, that means we aren't equal, they don't love me the same?

Hixenbaugh: The CCAP doesn't say kids should learn that Black and white children aren't equal.

Williams: --don't see me as--

Hixenbaugh: But Reginald's comment was getting at a concern repeated by speaker after speaker, basically, that children should be taught not to see color--

Female Parent: --that's compassion--

Hixenbaugh: --and that instruction that emphasizes racial differences can only deepen rather than heal divisions. A Vietnamese American dad put it this way.

Male Parent: We're all humans.

Female Parent: Yes.

Male Parent: I don't want to be labeled as Black, white, yellow, gay, lesbian. I don't want to be labeled. My kids need to assimilate. This is a great place. Stand up. Do not cower to this period. (APPLAUSE)

Hixenbaugh: One of the final speakers of the night, after nearly two years of public comments, was a Marine Corps veteran named Guy Midkiff.

Guy Midkiff: Hi, Guy Midkiff here, a dragon parent.

Hixenbaugh: Even though the only camera here was for the school district's livestream, Midkiff keyed his remarks directly to a national audience.

Midkiff: First of all, I wanna speak to America, actually. This is a cautionary tale, ladies and gentlemen. And America, you need to listen to what's going on here tonight.

Hixenbaugh: Midkiff is an airline pilot. When he's not flying, he hosts a conservative podcast from his dining room table.

Midkiff: I represent many Southlake parents that are like-minded, their fear of being here tonight, because they are afraid that their children will be attacked by a local neo-Marxist group that goes about attacking our children and even grownups that dare come in the buildings.

Hixenbaugh: Midkiff was talking about SARC--

Midkiff: And I'm also concerned about--

Hixenbaugh: --the Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition.

Hixenbaugh: The group of students and recent Carroll graduates had been staging protests for days outside the district's main offices, leading to an incendiary confrontation with Midkiff, that one of the former students recorded.

Answer: --way to go. Hey, hey. Hoh, hoh.

Midkiff: You're hurting my feelings, guys.

Answer: --has got to go. Hey, hey.

Midkiff: I feel a microaggression.

Answer: Hoh, hoh. Righteous (CLAPS) (UNINTEL) has got to go.

Female Anti-racism Coalition Member: --you can't.

Answer: Hey, hey. Hoh, hoh--

Midkiff: This board has divided this community from the beginning of the DDC process. The excuse used to divide us was video clips of teens made off-campus, some not even from our community. They parroted offensive language commonly found in popular music. And from this, we have a systemic race problem that needs immediate action?

Hixenbaugh: In closing, Midkiff mentioned a post he'd seen on social media, apparently showing a Southlake student or a recent graduate stomping on an American flag. We haven't been able to find the clip, but lots of Southlake parents were talking about it.

Midkiff: And that's a reflection of our school system not teaching our American history and her parents. My buddy Mike Milns , in 1986, crashed a CH-46 helicopter. He's in 26,000 feet of water! She stands on his grave when she does that. You understand me? She stands on his grave! That's all I have to say. (APPLAUSE)

Hixenbaugh: There at the end, Midkiff was getting at something important: about how people in the "silent majority" crowd were thinking about the CCAP. This wasn't just about local school policy. Midkiff and the people he said he was speaking for appear to see it as part of a bigger battle, between people who love this country and those who think it's racist at its core.

And the anger you heard in his voice, there was a lot of that going around last fall in Southlake. As Carroll students returned to in-person classes, conservatives in town were fully engaged and ready to do whatever it took to take back control of their schools.

Hylton: Over the past nine months we've tried to reach dozens of Southlake residents and officials who've spoken against the diversity plan, including all of the speakers you heard at that August 2020 board meeting, at least 45 in total. But almost no one was willing to talk to us. When I approached parents outside a Carroll School Board meeting, I got a lot of this. Hi, I'm Antonia with NBC.

Male Parent: Hi.

Hylton: Would you be willing to do a short interview about your thoughts on the competency plan?

Male Parent: Where is this gonna--

Hylton: This is for NBC News.

Male Parent: Honestly, I don't really trust it.

Hixenbaugh: Those who did talk, for the most part, didn't want to be recorded, not by us at least. Several told us they didn't trust a pair of reporters from a mainstream media outlet to tell their story without painting them all as racists. At some point (I'm not sure when) Southlake Families PAC actually blocked me on Twitter, and nobody with the group has ever returned any of my messages.

Hylton: I did, however, manage to get a dad to talk about why he was so outraged by the CCAP.

Juan Saldivar: Okay, my name is Juan, J-U-A-N, Saldivar. That's S-A-L--

Hylton: Juan Saldivar is Mexican American and a former Army officer. He has a daughter in elementary school in Carroll.

Saldivar: --but, you know, the media in general has an approval right around Congress's. So, I'm gonna protect myself by having her film this--

Hylton: I can't stop you from filmin' it.

Saldivar: --nothin' against you guys--

Hylton: Despite his mistrust, Juan agreed to speak with me outside a Carroll School Board meeting last winter--

Saldivar: --the problem that I have with--

Hylton: --with someone filming, to ensure his words weren't taken out of context.

Saldivar: So, the action plan, when you read it, you start to very quickly find out that the "cultural competence" definition is nowhere in the plan. And in those 34 pages, you find "equity," "equity," "equity," "microaggression," never defined, "microaggressions" defined as "verbal," "non-verbal," "intentional," "unintentional."

In other words, it's in the mind of the beholder. And so, I know that the opponents, if I give them the benefit of the doubt, you know, they want a plan because they have their life experiences. But I also have mine. I mean, I grew up as a child in the '70s and the '80s as a Mexican American.

And I was called all kinds of names. And I was in a lot of fights. And I will tell you that I was getting it from both sides. I was getting it from white children and Black children. So, does that mean that I'm supposed to assume that there's systemic racism in the Black community? No, I reject that. So--

Hylton: I've spoken to several Black families over the last couple of days. Many of them are considering leaving town over this. When you hear that, does that not make you think there might be something systemic going on?

Saldivar: I think that every incident should be investigated to the fullest to find out exactly what's going on. But no one has any basis to make assumptions about what is in another person's heart.

Hylton: What kind of accountability do you wanna see in the wake of racist incidents involving students at the school?

Saldivar: So, the first part is: Well, I already know that the student code of conduct calls for consequences for behaviors. It's not about bein' racist. That is a problem. But it's not systemic, right? When you say "systemic," that means it's kind of in the air, it's structural.

I reject that. If it was true that it was structural, I would not be where I am today. The bottom line for me is this: The school district, the school system, does not have the authority over my child to implement things that are beyond what the curriculum should call for. As a parent, that authority comes from me.

Hixenbaugh: Conservative parents like Juan were on a mission to reclaim that authority. And they were just getting started. On August 30th, two weeks after that first in-person board meeting, the leaders of Southlake Families PAC threw themselves an official coming out party.

Things had been moving fast. Leigh Wambsganss was one of the PAC's organizers. She'd been a leader in the local Tea Party chapter and is married to former Southlake mayor, Andy Wambsganss. She would later refer to the time between the initial CCAP vote and the August 30th party as "27 days of building an army," at least that's what she told the National Review, a flagship news site of the Conservative movement. Again, nobody from Southlake Families would speak with us.

Hylton: The gathering was held just outside Southlake at First Baptist Grapevine. More than 400 people crowded into the sanctuary. And according to Wambsganss, many more were turned away because of COVID capacity rules.

Hixenbaugh: The event was part organizational meeting, part pep rally. And the guy tapped to fire up the troops that night? Texas GOP Chairman Allen West. West is a Black man, retired Army officer, hard-line conservative. He represented southeast Florida for two years in Congress, but in 2014 he moved to Texas, where he eventually got involved in Republican leadership. In a recording of the event, he opens by talking about his own upbringing and what it says about what's possible for a Black person in America.

Allen West: When you see me, what do you see? Do you see a victor, or do you see a victim?

Hylton: This is a running theme throughout the speech--

West: --look at me, you're lookin' at someone--

Hylton: --the choice we all have, between being a victor or a victim. And right now, with this fight in Southlake, West says the Left is trying to lead students of color to make the wrong choice.

West: And with a good quality education, you can achieve whatever heights that you want. But if we start to listen to the soft bigotry of low expectations of the Left, if we start allowin' them to have that platform that says, "You cannot achieve an American Dream; all you can be is a victim," if we continue to allow them to shame our white brothers and sisters in believin' that somehow, you're racist? Give me a doggone break.

Hylton: With only two months until the 2020 Election, West explains that the fight over diversity in Southlake is actually part of a bigger left-wing plot. Democrats, he says, are trying to do in Texas what they've already done in Virginia and elsewhere: take a solidly conservative state and turn it blue. Their path for achieving this goal, it cuts right through the north Texas suburbs, and it starts right here at the local level.

West: The most important elected position in the United States of America is school board. If you're not investin' in makin' sure that your children are gettin' a quality education instead of an indoctrination, and the way that that continues on, if we don't control of these school boards. The Left is very strategic in what they are doing.

Hixenbaugh: This dangerous liberal shift, West says, is already well underway in Texas, thanks to newcomers.

West: Because of the influx of people from California, Illinois, New York, and New Jersey that did not understand the lesson that God told Lot when he was destroying Sodom and Gomorrah--

Hixenbaugh: It's worth pointing out--

Hixenbaugh: --Southlake is one of those towns where pretty much everyone you meet came from someplace else, many of them from outta state. That's one of the main reasons it's gotten so much more diverse over the years.

West: When you have these neighbors and friends of yours that are comin' from these places, you need to go up to 'em, tell with a nice smile on your face, maybe bring 'em a pecan pie, look at 'em eyeball to eyeball and say, "Welcome to Texas. Welcome to Southlake. Now why are you here?" (LAUGHTER) Huh? (APPLAUSE)

"If you are here to be a part of this great state, its history, its legacy, welcome on in. If you are here to be a part of the state that made the United States of America energy independent, welcome on in. If you are here to be a part of a state that understands what the Second Amendment is all about, (CHEERING) because as long as you're armed, you're a citizen, (APPLAUSE) if you are disarmed, you're a subject, you can be here in Texas. If you don't understand that, go back to where you came from." (APPLAUSE)

Hylton: At that line, "go back to where you came from," practically everyone in the room jumped to their feet and cheered. That day the donations flooded into Southlake Families PAC. According to a financial disclosure filed with the state: $2,000 from Dana Loesch, a former NRA spokeswoman who lives in Southlake, $500 from Guy Midkiff, another $200 from a prominent lawyer and Dragon mother, Hannah Smith, who would later run for school board herself.

Hixenbaugh: In total, according to the filings, Southlake Families PAC raised more than $35,000 that day alone. And the cash kept flowing afterward. Within days, the PAC had more than $125,000 in the bank. The group had momentum. It had motivated wealthy supporters.

And now it had money to spend, so much money that when all was said and done, members of the Carroll School Board wouldn't know what hit them. Three days after that Allen West speech, the Southlake Families PAC started putting that newly raised money to work. With the PAC's financial backing, a Southlake mother named Kristin Garcia filed a lawsuit against the Carroll School District, alleging that board members had violated the Texas Open Meetings Act before voting to receive the CCAP.

Hylton: Through a public records request, PAC supporters had gotten copies of all the school board members' text messages. And what they showed was: In the hours leading up to the August 3rd CCAP vote, Board President Michelle Moore had texted the same message to two different groups of board members, outlining her plans to address the controversy at the start of the board meeting and floating the idea of accepting rather than approving the plan. Only two board members were left off the text threads, the two who ended up voting against the plan.

Hixenbaugh: The lawsuit accuses Moore and the other four members on the text chains of forming what's called "a walking quorum." That's when you get a majority of an elected body together in smaller groups to hash out plans before a vote. In doing so, Garcia's lawsuit says the school board illegally conducted important public business in secret, and therefore the whole CCAP vote was illegitimate.

Hylton: Garcia, by the way, is the adult daughter of Leo and Kathy Del Calvo, two of the regulars at Carroll board meetings last fall. They'd become some of the most vocal opponents of the diversity plan and leaders at Southlake Families PAC. Garcia and her lawyers declined to talk to us. At one point, I approached her outside a Carroll School Board meeting. Miss Garcia, would you be open to talking to me--

Kristin Garcia: No, thank you.

Hylton: --about the lawsuit or the--

Garcia: No, thank you.

Hylton: --competency plan?

Hixenbaugh: The school district and board members filed a response to the lawsuit, denying any wrongdoing. And Carroll's interim superintendent issued a statement, calling the suit, quote, "an attempt to discredit and derail the district's diversity and inclusion efforts."

But district officials clearly had gotten the message. Within days of the lawsuit, the board announced plans to add new community members to the Diversity Council, to revise the CCAP under a new, slower timeline. But that didn't seem to persuade many people.

Opponents learned that some aspects of the CCAP, like teacher diversity training, had already been implemented at Carroll, outside of the District Diversity Council process. And they found out that the district had made changes to the student code of conduct after the 2018 N-word video, including new rules explicitly banning racist slurs at the high school and new protections for students bullied for their sexual orientation. So, convinced that the district wasn't being transparent about its plans, angry parents kept showing up at school board meetings.

Male Parent: --let's not take one set of children and punish them because their skin is supposedly white. You know what white is? White is the color of that screen behind you. I'm not white. Not a single person in here--

Hylton: But at one board meeting on September 14th--

Male Parent: --is unfair--

Hylton: --a few of the Black parents who'd spent two years demanding changes--

Male Parent: --we've lived in--

Hylton: --came to let the members know they weren't happy either, but for the opposite reason.

Female Parent: You don't like the word "microaggression"? Then let's call it what it is, abuse. My children have been abused for years.

Hylton: Russell Maryland, the ex-NFL lineman, walked up to the lectern waving a stack of papers at the board--

Russell Maryland: --this is almost--

Hylton: --a printout of student accounts of bullying, collected by SARC--

Maryland: --the school system--

Hylton: --the Student Anti-Racism group.

Maryland: In my hands, I have the pandemic here. The pandemic: hundreds of racist, bigoted, homophobic, sexist testimonies. That's the pandemic. Our mission in the DDC which I was a part of for 20 months, 20 plus months, was not to make parents happy; it was to protect our kids from hatred, bigotry, discrimination, and the non-responsiveness that has gone along with this.

We did this because why? Because you asked us to. You asked us to. "We need safety for students." Stop punting down the road. Y'all act like you're NFL kickers. You're punting this down the road. Don't pause. Let's go. Let's get after it. We need it. Stop BS-in'.

Moore: Thank you. (APPLAUSE) No applause.

Hylton: Robin Cornish came, too. She wanted board members to know she hadn't forgotten the promises they made to change the culture at Carroll. She opened by invoking her husband's legacy, 12 years after Frank's death.

Robin Cornish: Twenty-seven years, five children that were abused. Five. And a husband, a Black man, who selflessly gave to this community, for some of these people for it to be today, and his plaque was defaced with racial epithets. So, I'm pained, and I'm saddened, and I'm angry. So, with that said, I asked you to seek out a superintendent that is not only committed to academic excellence but to cultural competency, and who can say, "Black lives matter. (CLAPS) They matter."

Cornish: Thank you.

Moore: --please, no applause. Thank you.

Hylton: It wasn't just Black parents speaking in favor of the diversity plan. Several white residents wanted the board to know they supported it, too. One of them, a 20-year Southlake resident named Don Casey, had been a senior vice president at American Airlines, where he said the types of training programs outlined in the CCAP are standard for all employees.

Don Casey: --which lead to better--

Hylton: The diversity plan wasn't just about protecting minority kids, Casey said. It was about preparing all students to function in the real world.

Casey: We think of ourselves as leaders in Southlake. We have aspiration for our children to be leaders. Diversity and inclusion is a fundamental part of future strategy of businesses today. So, I encourage you, right, the train has left the station. Okay, please don't leave our students behind. Thank you.

Hixenbaugh: But what Casey was saying there about how diversity, equity, and inclusion programs have become standard across many aspects of American life? That's exactly what conservatives were now speaking out against. Last fall, many were beginning to believe that, while they'd been focused on voting for Republican political leaders, unelected liberals had quietly taken control of America's institutions, spreading what many on the Right were now seeing as a Marxist ideology for years: in the form of HR trainings, centered on race, gender, and sexuality, at universities, in corporate America, in the military.

And now it seemed to many in Southlake that public school bureaucrats were trying to force the same stuff on their children. One local voice more than any other was working to reach the world with that message, a Dragon dad who also happened to work at American Airlines.

Midkiff: Hey folks, welcome to Wise Guy Talks. I am the wise guy, Guy Midkiff.

Hixenbaugh: Midkiff is the pilot you heard from earlier at the school board meeting. He hosts a podcast talk show with episode titles like "White Men Don't Have Balls" and "We the Sheeple."

Midkiff: The name of today's show is about a story that I recently published on critical race theory. And it's called "The Trojan Horse Came to Town." So--

Hixenbaugh: Not that phrase, "critical race theory." It's an academic study of racism's pervasive impact on society, typically taught at the university level. Before 2021, it's not a term that came up very often at local school board meetings. But that was about to change. Midkiff and many other conservatives started to see that once obscure legal concept as something much, much darker, something that should frighten parents everywhere. And Southlake, Midkiff said, was the warning shot.

Midkiff: There's a simmering battle brewing here in Southlake, Texas. It is a classical battle between good and evil, light and darkness, truth and deceit, perception and reality. So goes Southlake, so goes the rest of America. And--

Hixenbaugh: "So goes Southlake, so goes the rest of America."

Hylton: Surprising as it sounds, Guy Midkiff and his allies were about to get their wish. America was about to start paying attention. And the same brawl that broke out in this seemingly idyllic town was about to spread all over the country.

Hixenbaugh: That's next time on Southlake. From NBC News, this is the third of six episodes of Southlake, a series about belonging and backlash in an American suburb. If you like what you've heard, please give us a five-star rating and review on Apple Podcasts. And be sure to tell your friends and follow on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you're listening right now. Southlake was written, reported, and hosted by me, Mike Hixenbaugh.

Hylton: And by me, Antonia Hylton. The series is produced by Frannie Kelley. Our story editors are Julie Shapiro and Michelle Garcia. Production help and fact-checking by Rachel Yang. Sound design 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.