Eanes ISD superintendent defends diversity project

Eanes ISD may be small but the nearby skyline of Austin, according to school Superintendent Tom Leonard, is a reminder of something important. They're part of a bigger and growing community.

"We are a subset of the world, anything that happens in the United States, happens in Eanes," said Superintendent Leonard.

To address that, Eanes ISD last year hired a consultant Dr. Mark Gooden to help create a diversity, equity and inclusion program

"DEI is absolutely a political agenda," said parent Justin Jacobs.

Tuesday night parents packed into the school board meeting to oppose extending Gooden's contract. "Eanes has adopted a political ideology with the DEI agenda of Dr. Gooden," said parent Brian Talley.


Parents fear the program is actually Critical Race Theory known as CRT. State lawmakers this year with House Bill 3979 passed legislation that prohibits school districts from adopting it. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the legislation into law on June 15, which will go into effect in September. 

Superintendent Leonard told FOX 7 they are not breaking that law. "The new law that’s passed doesn’t affect us because we are not shaming anyone, we are not trying to make anyone feel guilty for who they are or anything of that nature we are not doing that," he said.

The program he envisions is more about awareness and guidance, rather than a curriculum.

"No we are not teaching a class on diversity, we are in our classrooms right now if something happens, I want them prepared for that, I also want when kids come in and asking questions about this that and the other thing, what’s going on in the world. I want our teachers prepared," said Leonard.

Many parents at the board meeting are not convinced.

"If you say again, you don’t think Dr. Gooden is teaching CRT, go look at Zoom, go read about him, do your homework, go to every video he's spoken, look at his ... this is what he does," said Megan Floreani.

"If you all truly believe in your hearts that us, parents of Eanes, are not capable of handling the topics of race and sexuality with our children in our homes, you are mistaken," said Christie Oates.


Superintendent Leonard says he understands some people will never believe DEI is not CRT.

"When people say, are you for or against DEI, I will say this to people, I am for treating others the same way I'm being treated, I believe in that, that’s what I believe DEI is," said Leonard.

Others believe the program has a darker purpose. "The accused is isolated, made uncomfortable, intimidated, interrogated, and forced into a confession, the repentance and lastly punishment, this sounds a lot like communist China, this is happening to my son now and I'm sick of it. You people need to wake up, this is happening in our schools right now, stop it," said Susan Tipton-Hines.

A few at the meeting supported the decision to renew the DEI contract.

"Because Westlake has a racist past it’s important to make clear that we are making an active effort to move forward," Westlake student Elizabeth McCall said.

Another support told the Board that other school districts in the Austin area have already put in place a DEI program. "For a District that prides itself for being innovative we are behind the ball," said Maggie Suter.

The district last year authorized spending about $170,000 to the DEI project. A dollar amount for the extension has not yet been set. It’s unclear when a final version of a DEI program will be presented to the community.