MISD’s Fain stays as supporters rally

School board takes no action against DEI director as critics assail trustees

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror
Chalisa Fain

An ongoing controversy over the Midlothian ISD’s director of diversity, equality and inclusion came to a head last Monday night, July 19, in lengthy discussion of the contract of DEI director Chalisa Fain by public citizens.

However, consideration of Fain’s position was not on the agenda, and her status as DEI director remains unchanged.

Dozens appeared before the board to speak at its regular monthly meeting, mostly in support of the director. Even though board president Gary Vineyard insisted on a 2- to 3-minute time limit per speaker, it took nearly two hours for all citizens to be heard. The meeting, which began at its new official start time of 5:30 p.m., adjourned at four minutes before midnight.

A small group of locals, which has taken the name Respect Midlothian 1888, has been lobbying the board since May to either terminate Fain, who is African-American, or force her resignation as DEI director because of some of her personal social media posts which they objected to. The group held a rally outside of the L.A. Mills MISD Administration Building before the board meeting.

This group accuses the district’s administration of misconduct and breach of policies, procedures and handbook, and claims lack of accountability in human resources, administration and school board. The group also accuses the district of incorporating so-called “Critical Race Theory” into its curriculum, which school officials have denied.

Pastor Ron Shull of Gateway Church in Midlothian provided some of the most heated comments, claiming that “the anti-biblical positions of the radical left are being vigorously promoted and adopted” in schools.

This time, however, forewarned by publicity of the movement against Fain, numerous backers of Fain from all races came out to speak in her support.

Speakers pointed out that Critical Race Theory was never intended to be developed as a curriculum, and the Texas Education Agency has not approved it to be taught. Other supporters said it appeared Fain was being made a scapegoat by association because of a spread of belief among conservatives that public education is being infiltrated by leftist teachings.

Demetrius “Pastor Mac” McClendon of Midlothian’s ONE Church said that he was dismayed by the rhetoric, and that history must be adequately taught. McClendon said the district needs a DEI director to hold the district accountable for fairness.

In 2020, MISD trustees faced racial tensions after photos surfaced of MISD board member Tami Tobey, who is white, appearing in blackface at a Halloween party. Tobey, however, survived the blowback and was able to win re-election to another three-year term in November. Tobey was not physically present at last Monday’s meeting but participated via telephone.

Largely in response to the blackface controversy, Fain was hired last August as the district’s first-ever DEI director.

After the public comments, Vineyard thanked district patrons for their civility in making their presentations.

Trustee Richard Pena was absent as he continues to battle a persistent case of COVID-19. Board members and several in the audience wore “Praying for Pena” T-shirts in Pena’s honor.

Mentors Care renewed

The board narrowly approved a contract renewal for the Mentors Care program after several speakers voiced support of the program in public comments, including Midlothian Police Chief Carl D. Smith and former board members Duke Burge and Wayne Sheffield. Several other former board members were also present in the audience in support.

In a curious outcome, the final vote was 2-1 with three abstentions. Trustees Matt Sanders and Vineyard were in favor and Eduardo Gonzalez was against, while Andrea Walton, Bobby Soto and Tobey abstained. Because of board rules, the vote in favor carried.

Supporters cited the success of Mentors Care in reversing declines in graduation rates and other measures and improving the lives of troubled students.

Shelle Blaylock, MISD’s assistant superintendent for curriculum, said the memorandum of understanding with Mentors Care states that volunteer background checks are paid for at the rate of $1 per volunteer. Blaylock added that the MOU spells out conduct standards for volunteers.

Sanders said the Mentors Care program has been in place for 14 years and has impacted at-risk children over that time at a minimal cost.

Other items

• The approved consent agenda consisted of previous meeting minutes, budget amendments, solicitation of bids for school supplies, an agreement with Texas A&M AgriLife Extension, the purchase of technology items for the Heritage High School Phase 2 and retirement pay for 2021-2022 retirees.

• Four items were pulled from the consent agenda and approved separately: the quarterly investment report, requisitions over $50,000, approval of gifts and donations and a bid solicitation for athletic supplies and apparel. Among donations accepted was a $6,090 gift from Adam Rope State Farm for pick-up tags for individual elementary campuses.

• New stipends for fine arts feeder pattern coordinators were presented to the board as an information item by assistant superintendent KayLynn Day.

• The board discussed a possible change to current policy to state that buildings and facilities may not be named after board members. Walton, who supports the policy change, said this honor needs to be preserved for educators. Sanders said a naming committee is already in place to vet candidates and that he trusts the committee’s judgment.

• Gonzalez was nominated as a delegate and Soto as an alternate to the Texas Association of School Boards convention in September.

• Safety upgrades for a number of older MISD campuses were approved upon recommendation by district school resource officers.

• Following an executive session, the board approved the promotion of Becki Krsnak to the position of Executive Director of Curriculum and Instruction.