Home / Dallas News / Colleyville principal’s critical race theory controversy spurs free speech lawsuit against district

Colleyville principal’s critical race theory controversy spurs free speech lawsuit against district

A judge declined to issue a temporary restraining order against Grapevine-Colleyville ISD on Monday after a Grapevine Republican Party precinct chair claimed board president Jorge Rodriguez and the district violated his free speech rights.

Mitchell Ryan’s lawsuit states that he was prevented from speaking at length about Colleyville Heritage Principal James Whitfield during an August board meeting. The district has a policy prohibiting speakers from identifying district employees and other people by name during the open public forum, and Ryan mentioned Whitfield by name.

U.S. District Judge Mark T. Pittman of the Northern District of Texas said there wasn’t enough proof that a policy to limit speech was unconstitutional, according to the Fort Worth Star-Telegam.

The move comes on the same night trustees for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD met for a regularly scheduled school board meeting, one week after a special meeting moved the group one step closer to not renewing the contract of the embattled principal.

In the lawsuit, Ryan said he tried to speak in support of Whitfield but Rodriguez would not allow him to continue. Rodriguez asked Ryan to stop using Whitfield’s name, to which Ryan asked if the president was trying to keep him from speaking.

GCISD spokeswoman Kristin Snively said the policy about not using names has been in place since 2004, with few changes.

Ryan has retained Austin-based Tony McDonald as his attorney. McDonald is the general counsel for Empower Texans, a statewide conservative political group that endorses Republican candidates with hard-line conservative views.

Ryan did not speak during the public forum of Monday night’s meeting, despite his attorney’s assertion last week that he had planned to.

According to a copy of the lawsuit posted on the Facebook group Colleyville Citizens for Accountability, Ryan sought “nominal damages, actual damages and injunctive relief to remedy unconstitutional restrictions of Mr. Ryan’s rights protected under the First Amendment.”

The lawsuit says Ryan “has been and will be prohibited from addressing the board regarding Principal Whitfield’s efforts to promote critical [race] theory at Colleyville Heritage High School.”

It also states that Ryan opposes critical race theory and is vocal about “Whitfield’s efforts to promote” it, and that the board can reasonably expect Ryan and others to share their opinions about the matter.

In a July 26 board meeting, former school board candidate Stetson Clark invoked Whitfield’s name multiple times in an effort to allege that the principal, who is on paid administrative leave, was responsible for introducing critical race theory into the district.

The district and Whitfield have said numerous times that critical race theory, an academic framework that probes the way policies and laws uphold systemic racism, is not taught in GCISD. After months of back-and-forth, Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law a bill that aims to further ban critical race theory from Texas classrooms, even after educators and advocacy groups fought against the move for months.

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