Fort Bend’s New ISD Superintendent Discusses Critical Race Theory, Social Media Threats, and COVID Rules

Christie Whitbeck became the new superintendent of the Fort Bend Independent School District in September – a difficult time for education officials amid the pandemic.

Whitbeck was Bryan ISD Superintendent for almost five years and was previously at Fort Bend ISD as Assistant Superintendent for four years. Whitbeck recently sat down with the Chronicle to answer questions about his new role.

Q: Thinking back to back to school and parents’ concerns about COVID, do you think the district should have done differently?

Answer: I think the district handled it as best they could. What happened to all the districts in the fall of 2021, I think I would say… 2021 was more difficult for all of us than 2020.

Part of that is the ambiguity of the law, the governor’s orders going back and forth… so the schools were just sitting there in the middle, to be completely honest. It has become very political – and for us we need to depoliticize these issues because for us children are children. … We will have to be able to take a stand on things.

Q: With COVID and complaints about the so-called “critical race theory” and other issues politicizing public education issues in recent years, how can school leaders make the emphasis less? Politics ?

A: These are the children. Let’s deal with unfinished learning. Let’s take back what we need. Let’s bring them back the joy of learning, because it has really diminished during all of this. It’s so difficult for those who are in the schools and trying to do their job. We need to look to finding solutions, collaboration and less division. I will do my best (to achieve this). But at some point we will make the decisions and they will be what they will be.

Q: Do you have growing concerns about the increase in Omicron and student cases before the holidays?

A: I’ll look at the numbers. We also have to keep the children in school and teach them, because they are late and they have to go to school as much as possible. After the first of the year, with the new variant, we will make decisions and pivot as needed.

Q: With the recent news of threats against schools on social media, has there been an increase in violence on campus?

A: There hasn’t been an increase in violence, but what we’ve seen in recent weeks are issues with social media. I encourage parents to watch (their children’s devices). We have a very robust police force here … and we will go the extra mile to find it. We will prosecute whenever possible, both through the consequences of the district and the law.

(We’ve had) about 10 or 11 (threats) over the past few weeks, but they’re duplicated and sent over and over again. We have the impression that there are 20 times more than there really are.

Q: Are teachers seeing more kids doing more this school year due to mental health issues exacerbated by the pandemic? Has there been an increase in student discipline this year?

A: There is a structure in the school and a system and the children are out of sync. They lost it and they have to get it back. Depending on their family life and what they have been doing for a year and a half, it is different in each community. School districts across the country are facing increased discipline because they have just lost structure.

It is a societal problem based on a pandemic and it is one of the fallout. How can we re-educate our children to be in groups, to stand in line, to listen, to learn? This is all part of what we need to do and we are committed to doing it and supporting the teachers along the way?

Q: In these difficult times for teachers, many of whom feel overwhelmed, how is the district supporting them?

A: This is where I will rely on my principals to be our first line and be there to work with the child. Does the child need advice? Does the child need social services? Is it just a bad habit they’ve developed that they’re not accountable to anyone? There can be a lot of different reasons.

I tried to really listen to the teachers. There were some things that teachers were really stressed about that we backed off from or that can become optional. We were asking for what is called an artefact where the teacher must show proof of an assignment that he has given according to certain criteria. So we said, if it’s stressing you out, then we’ll make it optional.

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