AUSTIN (KXAN) — A parent is accusing the Eanes Independent School District of “multiple violations” of the Texas Open Meetings Act after it hired a diversity consultant.
In a lawsuit filed by Christie Oates, she said board members and superintendent Dr. Tom Leonard spoke secretly about hiring Dr. Mark Gooden, a diversity, equity and inclusion consultant. Gooden, who was hired in Summer 2020, led a district-wide committee to help “create a shared understanding of DEI through racial equity leadership training to build capacity and support sustainability,” among other goals.
According to the lawsuit, which equates DEI to the much-debated term “critical race theory,” the school board didn’t mention any talks it had with Gooden in meetings. During the June 23, 2020 meeting, the lawsuit said Leonard mentioned Gooden in his report and that the district had been talking with him for more than six months prior. The lawsuit said there wasn’t any mention of that in “prior board agendas or meeting meetings or website information.”
“Parents were intentionally left in the dark,” the lawsuit says. “The public did not and could not have known the extent of EISD’s negotiations and discussions with their handpicked consultant, Dr. Mark Gooden.”
The lawsuit said there wasn’t any mention of Gooden, DEI, CRT or anything involving the subject on the meeting agenda for the date, and that no motions were made and votes weren’t taken. In the next board meeting, the board voted 7-0 to hire Gooden.
“Not surprisingly, no serious discussion, much less debate, occurred,” the lawsuit said.
Andy Taylor, Oates’ lawyer, issued a statement that said in part, “This consultant has led the district away from its long history of academic excellence and caused significant distraction and disruption to teachers, students and parents.”
“Our lawsuit alleges that the Eanes School Board and Superintendent have engaged in multiple violations of the Texas open meetings act, and the result of these violations was to secretly engage a CRT expert as a consultant to the district,” Taylor said.
KXAN previously reported on racism at Westlake High School, the only high school in EISD, around the same time district officials hired Gooden. KXAN’s investigation revealed years of alleged racism among students at the school, and members of the committee Gooden led thought his efforts were helping make Westlake more inclusive.
Ben De Leon, a committee member and a Westlake High School Class of 1997 graduate, told KXAN in Feb. 2021 that he was “committed to identifying issues and correcting them in a district developed in a historically segregated city.” Students and teachers and other district leaders are also on the committee.
An anonymous account on the social media platform Instagram documented the students’ experience with racism at the school, and that led KXAN to investigate the allegations.
Taylor said the lawsuit is meant to “hold the school board and superintendent accountable for their illegal actions.” It aims to void Gooden’s contract with the district and have “all curriculum and recommended trainings and content removed from the district.”
Eanes ISD declined to comment on the lawsuit.