Hannah Smith ran for school board in her Texas community on a platform opposing critical race theory. Smith won, earning nearly 70% of the vote last month.
“[T]he community turnout at this election really sent a message to our district and gave us a mandate going in to say, ‘We don’t want critical race theory in our schools,’” Smith says on the “Problematic Women” podcast.
As a lawyer defending religious liberty, a wife, and a mother of four school-age children, Smith says, she was enjoying life and had plenty to keep her busy. But she felt compelled to run for school board to try to stop the agenda of critical race theory, which she says would “radically change our school district.”
Now a school board member in Southlake, Texas, just outside Dallas, Smith says she is committed to keeping far-left ideology out of classrooms.
Smith joins the show to discuss how critical race theory is making its way into more schools across the country and what her priorities are as a new school board member.
Also on today’s show, we talk about Pride Month with Kelsey Bolar, a senior news producer at The Daily Signal and a senior policy analyst at Independent Women’s Forum. And as always, we’ll crown our Problematic Woman of the Week.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
Virginia Allen: I am joined by Hannah Smith, a religious liberty attorney and a newly elected school board member in the Carroll Independent School District in Texas. Welcome to the show.
Hannah Smith: Thank you so much for having me.
Allen: So, Hannah, you are an attorney, a mom, a wife; you have a lot going on. So to think, “OK, now I’m going to run for school board.” What was it that motivated you to say this is something I need to do?
Smith: You’re exactly right. I was really enjoying my life, just being an attorney and being a mom of four active kids and all of the fun things that they do. So life was really good. And then last August, there was a plan that was presented to our school board. It was called the Cultural Competence Action Plan, and it really got me involved in a lot of ways with the school board.
Just helping organize and fight back against this plan that wanted to radically change our school district was really, I think, what motivated me to consider running for school board.
Allen: Well, this wasn’t a close election. You won by nearly 70% of the vote. I think that really highlights what the values are of the parents in your community. What do you think that says about what parents actually want their students learning?
Smith: We do have a very conservative community, and we knew that if we turned out our base that we would win. But it was really a matter of communicating and educating our community about what was going on because there were a lot of people who had, by their own admission, just kind of fallen asleep. They just thought we’ve got these award-winning schools, we’ve got this awesome community, everything’s going well. I don’t need to show up at board meetings. I don’t need to be worried about what’s happening in the schools, right?
And then the CCAP came along, the Cultural Competence Action Plan, and it really motivated people to get more involved than they have ever been before. And you’re right. It was 70% to 30%, a 40-point spread, which was really amazing. I mean, the community turnout at this election really sent a message to our district and gave us a mandate going in to say, “We don’t want critical race theory in our schools. We don’t want the CCAP plan and we’re watching, and we’re going to turn out to make sure that this stays out of our schools.”
Allen: When we say critical race theory, what was it exactly that was being taught or that was being pushed in your school district specifically?
Smith: There was a 34-page plan. It was called the Cultural Competence Action Plan. It wanted to do a lot of different things. I had a friend of mine at FIRE, the Foundation for Individual Rights and Education, look at it. And I said, “Here are my concerns. What are you seeing? You’re the experts in this area.” And they said, basically, “This is the most radical plan we’ve seen anywhere in the country.”
It was full of “equity audits” of our curriculum, our communications, all of our policies and procedures. They wanted to change everything through the lens of race and equity. They wanted to implement micro-aggression tracking and punishment of subjective micro-aggressions, whether intentional or unintentional, to punish students for offenses like asking somebody, “Where are you from?” Because asking them where they’re from suggests that they’re not American and they’re an immigrant, and that’s offensive.
Things like that that were really going to chill speech between our students and prevent them from having the kinds of conversations that we want our kids to have to get to know each other better. They wanted to implement really invasive teacher trainings. So training teachers about equity and about critical race theory. We did some open records requests and we saw some of the trainings that they had already done.
And one of the slide decks that we got was an administrative retreat from 2019, where all of the executive directors and principals of our school district met together. And they had training about white privilege, white identity, white fragility, implicit bias, like all of the catchphrases for critical race theory type concepts. And one of the slides asked them to identify characteristics of white culture. So it would have done all of that.
It would have also created a teacher evaluation mechanism where teachers would be evaluated based on how woke they are. And if they weren’t woke enough, they couldn’t keep their job. They wanted to do audits of the student clubs. And for me, this was really concerning because I’m a religious freedom lawyer and I’ve done work on college groups, on college campuses, where student religious groups were driven off campus because they weren’t accepting of certain political agendas or ideologies. And I saw that happening here with these student club audits. So it was just a wide range of things like that, that would just radically change our school district.
Allen: How does that specifically impact kids? I mean, you were talking about these requirements for teachers and obviously that’s frightening. Teachers have to meet the standard of wokeness, but what is the impact on children being taught these kinds of ideas within critical race theory?
Smith: That’s a really great question. And it’s really hard to answer because there’s so many different ways that kids could be impacted by this. Essentially critical race theory says that one race is inherently superior to another race. It also looks at things completely through a power-dynamic lens. So everything about society is looked at through the lens of who is the oppressor and who is the oppressed, right? It’s a very sort of neo-Marxist kind of ideology.
So when you start teaching kids that from a very young age, they start to recognize that what you’re really teaching them is they’re inherently bad, right? If you’re born with white skin, you’re inherently racist, you’re inherently an oppressor, and you’re inherently bad. And furthermore, that you are responsible for the sins of prior generations and what that has done to other people and other cultures.
And so that I think is really where it gets to be especially pernicious for our kids. We had a story that one of our parents told us in our group about their son came home from school one day and [he] said to them, “Mommy, I’m bad.” And she’s like, “What do you mean you’re bad?” And he’s like, well, he pointed to the color of his skin. He pointed to his skin. He said, “I’m bad.”
And so that in just a very simplistic way. This is a very young child and just a very simplistic way. I think it encapsulates why this is so bad for kids.
Allen: That’s frightening.
Allen: When did you become aware that your school district was teaching, promoting critical race theory?
Smith: Last August of 2020. There was a board meeting in early August when this plan was presented. There was a motion to accept the plan and to workshop it. And five members of our school board voted in favor of that motion to accept the plan and to do workshops on it. Two members voted against that, and it was after that board meeting in early August of 2020 that we realized that this was a huge problem, that there were elements of this plan that had already been implemented, even though the administration said it had not been implemented yet. And that we needed to get to work and arm ourselves with facts so that we could push back against the false narrative. So we started doing a bunch of open records requests, asking the administration to give us documents so that we could sort of formulate our arguments and formulate our defense against this plan.
Allen: We can both agree on the fact that there’s no place for racism in schools, of course.
Allen: Anywhere in communities, all people should be treated equally. After your [election] victory, though, NBC published a news story with the headline, “In bitterly divided election in Southlake, Texas opponents of anti-racism education win big.” So, Hannah, what is your response to this narrative that if you’re against critical race theory, you’re a racist?
Smith: That’s a really important question and I absolutely agree with you that there is no place for racism, discrimination, harassment, bigotry, bullying of any form. And that’s something that we said repeatedly on the campaign trail. We are all for enforcing our student code of conduct and making sure that kids that do things like this, bully, harass, whatever it is, that they are held accountable for those actions.
But what we don’t want is a system implemented that really brings a particular political agenda into our schools, right? So that NBC piece that you mentioned, it was interesting because they did an initial article, [NBC investigative reporter] Mike Hixenbaugh did, and it was really kind of a hit piece against our community. It talked about Southlake in terms of Southlake being a very racist community, that our kids were racist, that our school district was systemically racist.
And that was really alarming to so many people in our community. It actually had, I think, the reverse effect than what was intended by NBC. Because it mobilized our community to respond and to say, “This is just not true. This is a false narrative. And we are going to show up to the polls and reject that false narrative.” And so that second article that you mentioned, that headline that said, “In a bitterly divided victory,” it was funny because after that piece hit, [Fox News host] Laura Ingraham tweeted out that it doesn’t sound bitterly divided to me, it sounds like a landslide.
So it’s true that there were certainly racial overtones. We were called racist. That was really unfortunate. I responded by saying, “You know what, I’m not the racist you are.” Because you’re the one who wants to use race and ethnicity to achieve your equitable outcomes. So in fact, you’re the one who wants to look at the color of someone’s skin, not me.
I’m advocating, actually, a colorblind approach, which is consistent with the Civil Rights Act of 1964, where everyone has equality of opportunity, but we don’t mandate equitable outcomes.
Allen: So of course you want to go in now and remove all that critical race theory teaching and agenda out of the school district. Do you anticipate that that’s going to be a hard fight in your district?
Smith: We’ve successfully stopped the implementation of the CCAP. There was some training that was conducted, as we found through the open records requests. It’s really wonderful that we have a brand new superintendent that was just hired in January and he has come in to help heal this divide and to help move us forward as a district. I think he rightly recognized that there were some key administrators that were at the forefront of this fight to implement CCAP that probably were not well-suited continue their job in our district. So we have four administrators that are now no longer working for our district, that were at the forefront of CCAP, which is a huge victory as well.
So I think CCAP is on hold. Those administrators are gone. And I think what we need to do now on the board is just … It’s sort of like a game of whack-a-mole. Like as soon as something pops up, we just hit it back down again. And at our very first board meeting, we actually had an agenda item that dealt with a curriculum issue. I did some research on it and it looked like there was going to be some social, emotional learning component to it that looked like it was involving a company that made statements that they were going to revamp their curriculum through race and equity. So I raised the issue and we’re dealing with that now, but it is really a game of whack-a-mole. You have to just be really attentive and fight back.
Allen: Now is there a program or curriculum that you all are advocating for, to kind of take the place of critical race theory? I mean, is there a good way to actually talk about this in schools, knowing the people?
Smith: That is such a great question and last fall, I actually did do some research on that because I thought, “Well, if we’re going to say no to this, we have to have an alternative.” Because there has to be some training, I think, to help our teachers and our students understand what’s involved with our student code of conduct, what it prohibits, and how they can be more educated on what they can and cannot do.
And so we did find actually a woman. Her name is Karith Foster, and she has a program called Inversity. She calls it an alternative to diversity equity and inclusion. So Inversity is a way that she addresses the topics of stereotyping. Everyone’s stereotypes, we sort of make stereotypes about people. And how do we do that? And why do we do that? And how can we avoid those kinds of stereotypes?
But she’s a former comedian. So she uses humor and she uses storytelling to talk about some of these hard questions and issues in a way that’s not using identity politics. It’s not shaming anyone. It’s just helping us think about how do we all get along and celebrate each other’s differences and uniqueness in a positive way.
We actually did a webinar with [Foster] for our community, which is really fun. And she’s working right now with the Plano Independent School District, as well as the Lewisville [Independent] School District. So she might be a viable alternative.
Allen: That’s encouraging. Now, were you surprised … that even in a very conservative state like Texas, and a conservative part of Texas, that critical race theory was being pushed?
Smith: I was really surprised. Our family moved here from the Washington, D.C., area because we wanted to raise our kids in a conservative area of the country, right? Tarrant County is one of the most red counties in north Texas and Southlake itself is one of the most conservative communities in the area. So we were really surprised that they would try to do this in such a conservative place.
I think what they probably thought was “If we can succeed in Southlake, we can succeed anywhere. Now, if we can get this passed in one of the most red cities in Texas, then we can do it anywhere. “And that’s why we really had to stand up and fight back, because we knew that we were sort of the tip of the spear.
Allen: What would be your advice to other parents who are either aware that this is happening in their school district or maybe that as you’re talking are thinking, “Oh, I wonder if it’s happening in my child’s school, I’m not sure”?
Smith: I would say first sort of form a group of like-minded parents. Whether it’s a Facebook group or a WhatsApp group or an email group list, whatever, just get organized and find like-minded people. And then I would say that you need to start doing some open records requests. You need to start asking for things from your school district, ask for documents that involve teacher training, ask for documents that involve surveys.
Students are surveyed about a lot of things at school and there’s some hot button issues that they may be asked by their administrators or teachers. And the parents need to know what those surveys are and what’s in them. So teacher training surveys. I would also ask for funding: How are you planning to fund these various initiatives? I would do a lot of open records requests to get information.
And then I would just say educate yourself. There’s a lot of nonprofits that already exist. National nonprofits that have websites online that have a lot of really great resources to help you know what to do and how to fight back. And I would just encourage them to do that.
Allen: Hannah, thank you so much for your time. So appreciate it.
Smith: Thank you so much for having me.
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