EducationLocal NewsCypress-Fairbanks ISD Instruction Includes Critical Race Theory, Parents Claim

Parents say ideas derived from critical race theory are being presented to teachers and students in the state’s third-largest public school district.
June 25, 2021
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Ayse Indemaio says administrators at Bridgeland High School in Cypress-Fairbanks ISD (CFISD) where her child is a student had planned to show a controversial video on “implicit bias” earlier this year that included discrimination against white males.

The video, produced by the Center for Leadership and Ethics at the University of Austin, includes results from the Implicit Association Test (IAT) on “unconscious bias.” A speaker in the video says that “anyone — to be blunt — that is not a white male” may feel the effects of implicit bias.

Although, after parental outcry, the high school did not show the video, Indemaio says the district has refused to provide transparency on how that material was selected or by whom. 

“I was not given transparency. Something is wrong here and I want answers.”

Indemaio joined approximately 100 other parents and community members who attended a CFISD board meeting Thursday night to express concerns over what they say are elements of critical race theory (CRT) in the district’s schools, but few were allowed to speak due to the board’s public comment policy.

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While district rules allow guests to address the board on agenda items, public comments on non-agenda items are limited to only 10 speakers per meeting. Most in attendance were not permitted to speak.

CFISD General Counsel Marney Collins Sims interrupted Indemaio saying she could not speak during that segment since she was not addressing an agenda item, but members of the audience repeatedly called out, “Let her speak.” 

In response to Indemaio and others, board members insisted the district does not use any instructional materials labeled “critical race theory,” but concerned parents say some materials do contain ideas similar to those in CRT.

Judi Duhon, a grandparent to CFISD students, did speak and said a Black Lives Matter protest video had been shown to district third graders. She also noted that Professor Tyrone Howard, a proponent of CRT teaching in K-12 schools, had been included in last year’s CFISD teacher training programs and suggested the board audit teacher training materials. 

“All we’re asking in summary is for a public policy to be implemented to prohibit CRT and the tenets thereof in Cy-Fair ISD.”

Not selected to speak, Tram Ho, parent of a sixth grader, told The Texan she was concerned over a required reading assignment that she says portrayed police as racists who shoot an 11-year-old girl of mixed race. Ho says at the minimum parents should have been notified about the introduction of sensitive and controversial topics.

“Is this an isolated incident or is it an indication of a new direction that Cy-Fair ISD is taking? I’d like to find out,” said Ho. 

During the public comment period on agenda items, the board gave state Rep. Jon Rosenthal (D-Jersey Village) time to speak about the budget, but he primarily used the opportunity to repudiate CRT concerns.

“I also did not notice in the budget anything about critical race theory which is been grossly mischaracterized for political purposes to create an emotional wedge issue,” said Rosenthal. 

His remarks drew groans and protests from the crowd with some audience members shouting out that he was not following board rules for speaking.

Sims intervened saying since Indemaio had not followed the rules, Rosenthal could continue. 

Rosenthal called most characterizations of CRT “horse manure,” and defended the material as examining the role of race in public policy and societal structures, but said it was not taught in K-12 schools.

Trustee Don Ryan noted that the video referenced by Indemaio was never actually shown, but also defended the school as a “No Place for Hate” (NPFH) campus that promoted anti-bullying materials from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).

According to a handbook provided by the ADL, schools with the NPFH designation must participate in at least three schoolwide activities to “enhance understanding of diversity, bias, social justice and inclusion,” and are expected to notify ADL “when any incident of bias, bullying, discrimination or harassment occurs.”

CFISD’s District Improvement Plan published earlier this year notes that staff and administrators have been receiving training with ADL materials and that the district will seek to expand implementation of NPFH to all campuses.

Ryan, who has served on the board for 21 years, explained that the district was pursuing an “equity audit” to address academic achievement gaps.

Last September, the board approved a “Resolution Condemning Racism,” that commits to “policy and practice to eliminate racism, systemic racism, discrimination, injustice and inequality,” and states that the district will engage an “outside entity to conduct an equity audit” to lead to the creation of new “equity policy/policies.”

Trustee John Ogletree spoke at length about the diversity of the district and insisted that no student had been taught “critical race theory.”

“We’re not partisan or political,” said Ogletree. “We affirmed the resolution about racism because it was the right thing to do.” 

He claimed CRT was merely something taught in law schools, not by CFISD teachers.

“This supposed concern tonight over critical race theory is a non-issue with us.”

Remarks from Ogletree and other trustees often drew jeers and boos from the audience, and on one occasion Sims instructed CFISD to eject one parent saying, “Pick her up.” The crowd loudly objected, and Sims did not press the issue.  

Trustee Bob Covey, who was recently re-elected as an officer of the Texas Association of School Boards, said “I was elected to this board in 2005. And in all of that time I have never been as disappointed as I have been tonight.” 

“Then it’s time for you to go!” shouted one audience member.  

The CFISD equity audit is expected to be completed later this year.

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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.