By Bill Spinks
Racial tension between the Midlothian ISD board of trustees and the city’s small-but-vocal minority population tumbled messily out into the open during Monday night’s monthly board meeting, even as the board passed a resolution urging one of its own to resign.
In the meantime, other fault lines were laid bare.
The board voted 6-1 to request that trustee Tami Tobey reconsider her decision to remain on the board after photos surfaced June 1 of her wearing blackface at what Tobey said was a Halloween party in 2010. Tobey was the lone vote against.
But the embattled Tobey refused to step down, telling members of the audience that God told her to stay.
Tobey said she will remain on the ballot and tacitly issued a challenge to the MISD electorate to vote her either up or down. She will face a three-way race on Nov. 3 to hold her Place 6 seat against David Thomas and Will Marks.
"I’m not resigning today," Tobey said to applause from a few in the audience. "November, you can hold me accountable."
Tobey implied that she at the time of the photo was not aware that what she did was wrong, and that children in MISD were never taught likewise.
"This country was founded on change," Tobey said, over shouts from the public attendees. "We’re sending a message to our children that there are some things that are unforgivable. We preach in our schools that we can be reconciled. We go out to these kids and do extra and we pull them up by their bootstraps and we tell them they don’t deserve this, you deserve restorative discipline."
A marathon meeting that ended at 1:49 a.m. was extended by often-strident public input, both in person and in submitted statements, against Tobey. The speakers present at Monday’s meeting were given wider-than-normal latitude while facing the customary 5-minute time limit.
Tobey insisted that 2010 was the correct date of the photo, refuting initial published reports from the alt-weekly Dallas Observer that the photo dated from 2012. Tobey herself made a motion to amend the original motion to correct the date, and also moved to amend the original motion to use the word "blackface" instead of "painted face."
Board president Matt Sanders read into the record several submitted comments voicing opposition to racial bias, and an equally sizeable number of citizens also spoke publicly. Nearly all of them vehemently urged Tobey to resign, and several — both African-American and white — provided unconnected anecdotes of instances of bias within the school.
Sanders cited Texas state agency standards for removal of a school board member, of which he implied Tobey met none. Nevertheless, Sanders presented the resolution requesting that the board member resign, and every one of her board colleagues voted for it.
Trustee Andrea Walton submitted an amendment to the original resolution that stated in part that racism and white privilege exist in MISD, and called herself out by name for tolerating those behaviors in the district. Walton also brought up what she has alleged before: the underreporting of disciplinary actions in the district.
"It’s unacceptable that we have a goal that tolerates after repeated attempts the reduction in safety reports in each classroom from each child to each teacher whether it’s bullying or it’s safety, and that’s MISD," Walton said. "And I propose an amendment in that language."
Walton’s amendment passed by a 4-3 margin, with trustees Walton, Gary Vineyard, Heather Prather and Bobby Soto in favor and Sanders, Tobey and board vice president Carl Smith voting against.
"Whatever happens in the future with regards to Mrs. Tobey’s decision is her decision," Sanders said afterward. "We have work to do, as a board, as a community, as leaders, as staff, and we’re committing to that. So please, keep the information coming to us. That’s the only way we can fix this, is to learn."
Later in the meeting, Walton sought documentation of student resource officer activity on campus as part of a pulled consent agenda item, but assistant superintendent KayLynn Day said the SROs report to their sergeants at the Midlothian Police Department and the state of Texas ties the district’s hands as far as reporting on-campus incidents.
• The inaugural Jean Coleman Award for excellence in reading education was awarded to second-grade teacher Bethany Liles of LaRue Miller Elementary. The annual Servant Leader awards went to MISD employees Tom Calvert, Deborah Johnson and Judi Fiorenza.
• Assistant superintendent for finance Jim Norris presented the proposed budget for the 2020-2021 school year. The property tax rate will be voted on at a future meeting, but Norris insisted that the district’s tax rate will go down and recommended an option where the rate decreases by 7.35 percent. The board later approved this budget option.
• Options for a flexible schedule for certain students at risk of dropping out of school were presented. The districtwide LEAP Academy program has graduated numerous students who were unable to attend school in a traditional way.
• The board passed a resolution to support supplemental pay in November for up to $1,000 for full-time personnel and $500 for part-timers, if funds are available.
• Dena Petty, founder of Mentors Care, provided a report on their work with MISD students as well as other districts across Ellis County.
• Heritage High School expansion construction contracts were approved, and Joe Miller with Pogue Construction reported to the board that Dieterich Middle School and the MILE are on track to open on time in August.
• The board approved keeping the original 2020-2021 calendar, with two weeks built-in at the end of the school year in case the district must close school buildings due to a renewed COVID-19 outbreak.
• Trustees heard information on the 2020-2021 student code of conduct that will be acted upon in July.
• A Junior ROTC program for MISD is not practical for the immediate future, MISD director of secondary learning Nikki Nix told the board. Currently there are only 18 students interested across the entire district and the amount of classroom time lost while traveling between campuses makes a program infeasible over four years of high school, Nix said.