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Eanes ISD incumbent board members beat well-funded opponents, who challenged diversity, equity and inclusion initiative

Eanes ISD incumbent board members Jennifer Champagne (back row, second from left) and James Spradley (far right) beat challengers in the May 1 local election. (Photographers of Westlake)

After a contentious and expensive election, which saw candidates face off over a new diversity, equity and inclusion initiative, two Eanes ISD school board members have defended their seats.

Place 4 incumbent James Spradley beat Nigel Stout, with 55.47% of the vote, and Place 5 incumbent Jennifer Champagne beat Jen Stevens, with 54.45% of the vote. Both Spradley and Champagne were board members last summer, when the initiative was created in the wake of George Floyd's murder, and have expressed support for the effort, which included hiring an outside consultant to review the district's practices.

In Travis County, 171,243 ballots were cast, by 22.55% of registered voters. More than 10,000 people voted in each of the Eanes ISD school board races.

In addition to being ideologically fraught, the races were also well funded. Stevens led the pack with $129,409.50 in political contributions, according to her latest campaign finance report, filed on April 23. Despite nearly quadrupling Champagne's funds, which stood at $33,767.85, Stevens lost. Similarly, Stout outraised Spradley, $32,128.05 to $11,224.45.

Stout told the Austin American-Statesman that the diversity, equity and inclusion initiative raised concerns among some parents "that there's politics in the classroom that is getting in the way of core curriculum." He has also said he wishes to increase the board's ideological diversity. "The current 'go along to get along' attitude of the board is not fostering excellence in our district," he told Community Impact Newspaper.

Stevens raised similar concerns—and drew criticism from her opponent and Eanes ISD parents, about her behavior. During an April 18 candidates forum hosted by the Westlake Chinese American Parents Group, Steven was asked about a July Facebook post in which she referred to COVID-19 as "some stupid China-made virus," as reported by the Statesman.

Despite pushback from some corners about the district's ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion efforts, there is support for the initiative. Last June, a group of students, alumni and families formed Chaps for an Anti-Racist Eanes, sending a letter with more than 800 signatures to the school board and district administrators.

The group's organizers cited the @racismatwestlake Instagram account, which formed in the wake of Floyd's death and details anonymous reports of racism at Eanes ISD. (Similar accounts have emerged at school districts, private schools and colleges around the country.)


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