SOUTHLAKE, Texas — Nine months after officials in the affluent Carroll Independent School District introduced a proposal to combat racial and cultural intolerance in schools, voters delivered a resounding victory Saturday to a slate of school board and City Council candidates who opposed the plan.
In an unusually bitter campaign that echoed a growing national divide over how to address issues of race, gender and sexuality in schools, candidates in the city of Southlake were split between two camps: those who supported new diversity and inclusion training requirements for Carroll students and teachers and those backed by a political action committee that was formed last year to defeat the plan.
On one side, progressives argued that curriculum and disciplinary changes were needed to make all children feel safe and welcome in Carroll, a mostly white but quickly diversifying school district. On the other, conservatives in Southlake rejected the school diversity plan as an effort to indoctrinate students with a far-left ideology that, according to some, would institutionalize discrimination against white children and those with conservative Christian values.
Candidates and voters on both sides described the election as a “fork in the road” for Southlake, a wealthy suburb 30 miles northwest of Dallas. “So goes Southlake,” a local conservative commentator warned in the weeks leading up to the election, “so goes the rest of America.”
In the end, the contest was not close. Candidates backed by the conservative Southlake Families PAC, which has raised more than $200,000 since last summer, won every race by about 70 percent to 30 percent, including those for two school board positions, two City Council seats and mayor. More than 9,000 voters cast ballots, three times as many as in similar contests in the past.
Hannah Smith, a prominent Southlake lawyer who clerked for Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito, defeated Ed Hernandez, a business consultant, to win a seat on the Carroll school board. In a statement to NBC News on Sunday, Smith, who is white, said the election “was a referendum on those who put personal politics and divisive philosophies ahead of Carroll ISD students and families, and their common American heritage and Texas values.”
“The voters have come together in record-breaking numbers to restore unity,” Smith said. “By a landslide vote, they don’t want racially divisive critical race theory taught to their children or forced on their teachers. Voters agreed with my positive vision of our community and its future.”
Hernandez and other candidates running in support of new diversity and inclusion programs said they were not particularly surprised by the outcome in a historically conservative city where about two-thirds of voters backed President Donald Trump in 2020, but they were dismayed by the margin of their defeat.
Hernandez, an immigrant from Mexico, said he worries about the signal the outcome sends to dozens of Carroll high school students and recent graduates who came forward with stories about racist and anti-gay bullying over the past two years. To demonstrate the need for change, members of the student-led Southlake Anti-Racism Coalition collected more than 300 accounts from current and former Carroll students last year who said they had been mistreated because of their race, religion or sexual orientation.
“I don’t want to think about all these kids that shared their stories, their testimonies,” Hernandez said, growing emotional Saturday moments after having learned the election results. “I don’t want to think about that right now, because it’s really, really hard for me. I feel really bad for all those kids, every single one of them that shared a story. I don’t have any words for them.”
The fight in Southlake dates to the fall of 2018, when a video of white Carroll high school students chanting the N-word went viral, making national headlines. In the aftermath, school leaders hosted listening sessions with students and parents and appointed a committee of 63 community volunteers to come up with a plan to make Carroll more welcoming for students from diverse…