EducationElections 2021Local NewsAfter Critical Race Theory Controversy, Incumbents Unseated in Cy-Fair ISD School Board Election

Challengers defeated three incumbents after the state’s third-largest school district came under community scrutiny over allegations of Critical Race Theory elements in the curriculum.
November 3, 2021
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Following a year of heated controversy in the state’s third-largest school district, challengers have unseated three long-time incumbents for positions on the school board.

The winners in the Cypress-Fairbanks ISD (CFISD) election — Natalie Blasingame, Scott Henry, and Lucas Scanlon — were all endorsed by the Harris County Republican Party (HCRP), the Conservative Coalition of Harris County (CCHC), and business political networking organization BIZPAC.

Each position drew multiple candidates, and while none garnered more than 50 percent of the vote, CFISD holds plurality elections in which the candidate receiving the highest number of votes is declared the winner outright.

Responsible for educating over 116,000 students in northwest Harris County, the CFISD board drew community outcry after passing a “Resolution Condemning Racism” in September 2020 that called for an “equity audit” and pledged to “lead through policy and practice to eliminate racism, systemic racism, discrimination, injustice, and inequality in any and all its forms.”

The district then contracted with Millennium Learning Concepts for $75,000 to conduct the audit and “provide recommendations on how to alleviate the policies and practices that are contributing to inequitable experiences and outcomes for students.”

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Parents and community members flooded CFISD public meetings last year to protest elements of Critical Race Theory included in staff training and curricular materials. They were also frustrated to learn that the board only allows 10 people to speak at each meeting regardless of the number of residents who sign up. Speakers were chosen randomly, but parents complained that the board did not conduct the random drawing of names via a transparent process.

“I personally had multiple teachers come up to me and whisper that their whole school was voting for us, and we saw it in the numbers,” Scanlon, winner of the Place 7 seat told The Texan. “The teachers lost confidence in the board because the board and administration did not support them; that’s the feedback we heard.”

Incumbent trustee John Ogletree had also drawn public consternation over a series of social media posts that compared police officers to the Ku Klux Klan and included racially tinged comments about black GOP congressional candidate Wesley Hunt. Drawing five challengers, Ogletree garnered 32 percent to Blasingame’s 36 percent. 

In a statement to The Texan, Blasingame pledged to work with the board, administration, and teachers to enact the will of voters saying, “I commit to serve the students, families, staff, and community of Cy-Fair with love, compassion, excellence, and in unity to ensure our schools are factories of hope for all students.”

The Place 6 victor, local business executive and Municipal Utility District Director Henry, captured more than 49 percent of the vote to replace incumbent Don Ryan in a four-person race. 

“Our message was simple and resonated with the majority of our voters. They wanted change, support for our teachers, respect for family boundaries, focus on academics, transparency in our policies, and accountability,” Henry wrote in a statement to The Texan. 

While the Texas American Federation of Teachers union endorsed Ogletree, they had declined to support Ryan and instead endorsed newcomer Ryan C. Irving who took 17 percent of the vote.

Scanlon, an adjunct professor and consultant, defeated incumbent Bob Covey for Place 7 with more than 47 percent to Covey’s 31 percent. 

“I’m grateful for the team we built and came alongside us. We are three parents who looked at the cost of doing this race and the time it will take going forward; we three families said yes,” said Scanlon.

Ogletree has served on the CFISD board since 2004, while Ryan and Covey have served for 21 and 16 years respectively. The three incumbents ran as a slate with the support of the “CFISD Proven Leaders” PAC which advocates for district-run full-day pre-K and other programs. 

Following the election, CFISD Proven Leaders took to social media to thank volunteers and encourage the public to hold elected officials accountable.

Neighboring Houston ISD (HISD), which has been mired in controversy for several years, appears to be headed for runoff elections for places 1, 5, 6, and 7. Incumbents in those races are Elizabeth Santos, Sue Deigaard, Holly Flynn Vilaseca, and Anne Sung. 

Challengers earning a shot in the HISD runoff election are Janette Garza Lindner, Caroline Walter, Kendall Baker, and Bridget Wade. Walter, Baker, and Wade were all endorsed by the Conservative Coalition of Harris County, and the Harris County Republican Party endorsed Walter, Baker, and Wade, but had endorsed Greg Degeyter for Place 6.

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Holly Hansen

Holly Hansen is a freelance writer living in Harris County. Her former column, “All In Perspective” ran in The Georgetown Advocate, Jarrell Star Ledger, and The Hill Country News, and she has contributed to a variety of Texas digital media outlets. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Central Florida with a degree in History, and in addition to writing about politics and policy, also writes about faith and culture.