grapevine-Colleyville ISD Photos of Dr. James Whitfield and his wife
A Texas high school principal is defending himself after he says he was told to remove an anniversary photo from Facebook following complaints from parents.
Colleyville Heritage High School's new principal, Dr. James Whitfield, is now speaking out saying he wishes he could've taken more of a stand in 2019 after his photo first stirred up controversy within his community, according to NBC affiliate KXAS.
The professionally shot images, which were provided to PEOPLE by the Grapevine-Colleyville Independent School District (ISD), show Whitfield and his wife Kerrie kissing and intimately positioned on the beach.
Whitfield explained in a Facebook post on Saturday that the photos were snapped 10 years ago while he and his wife were celebrating their 10-year anniversary in Mexico.
"I wish I had the conviction to say, 'No, I'm not going to take it down; that's a picture of me and my wife kissing on the beach; there's no reason for me to take this photo down,'" he told KXAS.
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In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for Grapevine-Colleyville ISD confirmed their request about removing the image, citing their concerns over Whitfield's "questionable" poses.
"When a social media concern is brought to the attention of the district, we have a responsibility to review it. Some of the photos the district received contained poses that are questionable for an educator, especially a principal or administrator," the statement reads. "As a new campus principal, we wanted to provide a smooth transition for Dr. Whitfield to Heritage Middle School, which is why we advised him of the concern and made a request for the photos to be taken down from Facebook."
According to Whitfield's Facebook post, concerns regarding the images first began after he was named principal of Heritage Middle School in June 2019.
While preparing to celebrate the new title with his wife, Whitfield — who did not respond to PEOPLE's request for comment — said he received a phone call from a central level administrator, expecting to be congratulated.
Instead, Whitfield said he was told to check his email for a forwarded message from the district's superintendent. When that email later arrived, he said it had his anniversary photo attached and read: "Is this the Dr. Whitfield we want as an example for our students?"
In a statement to PEOPLE, a spokesperson for the district disputed that a forwarded email was sent from the superintendent was sent and noted that no such message was written.
According to KXAS, wife Kerrie assumed the issue with the photos was that Whitfield was a Black man with a tattoo on his arm, which was inappropriate. Whitfield thought the problem was him being in an interracial relationship, the outlet reported.
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But Whitfield claimed he was only told by the district to take down the photos because the district didn't want "people to stir up stuff," according to his post.
"As I got off the phone my wife sat there in tears. I tried to do my best to console her as we both tried to grapple with what just took place," Whitfield recalled. "We hid the photo, no one from 'above' ever mentioned anything else about it, but the damage was inflicted on us in profound ways."
In addition to the photo complaints, Whitfield — who was named principal of Colleyville Heritage High School in May 2020, becoming the first African American to assume the role in its 25-year history, per his post — believes he has been the target of several other racially charged attacks.
The principal also claimed he was "vilified" for introducing critical race theory after co-leading a "Breaking the Barriers" presentation with two colleagues — one of whom had curated the program.
Critical race theory argues that racism is "not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice, but also something embedded in legal systems and policies," according to Education Week. KXAS reported that some parents felt Whitfield's teachings were promoting a belief that white people are inherently racist.
"This presentation has been used to vilify my colleagues and me," Whitfield argued in his post. "The fact that they know I am not the creator of this presentation and falsely label me as such is one piece of how race plays into their hateful agenda. Again, there was absolutely nothing wrong with the presentation, it was approved for us to present by the district."
The principal also claimed he was criticized after outwardly supporting the Southern Poverty Law Center, which helps fight structural racism.
"There are numerous examples of these sorts of racist threats and statements directed my way," Whitfield wrote in his post. "At the last GCISD school board meeting, an individual was allowed to speak my name in a public open forum (against the rules) and I can no longer maintain my silence in the face of this hate, intolerance, racism, and bigotry."
"I cannot ask people to speak up if I am unwilling to do so myself, and just because I am a school administrator that does not take away my rights and ability to be human and defend myself," he added.
Allegedly, one of the parents who accused him of teaching critical race theory was also the one who complained about his anniversary photos, KXAS reported.
The Grapevine-Colleyville ISD did not immediately respond to PEOPLE when asked about the principal's belief he was targeted by parents due to his race and his support for critical race theory.
In the wake of his post, a petition was created in support of Whitfield with hundreds of signatures, according to KXAS. People have also been showing their support by using the hashtag #IStandwithDrWhitfield on Twitter.
Sunni Roppollo, a mom whose children are enrolled at Colleyville Heritage High, told KXAS she sees no problem with the images and that Whitfield shouldn't have been censored.
"I think it's sweet. He's a happily married man. It's he and his beautiful wife, they have a beautiful family," Roppollo said. "I chalk it up to educators are held to a different standard, unfortunately. I think it's silly, I can't see why a husband and wife can't have a picture of them in a sweet moment."
In response to the community support, Whitfield tweeted on Friday, "There's SO much, but I am beyond humbled by the kindness, support, love, & encouragement being shown to me and my family."
"I know I'm not alone in these attacks - this is happening all over the country. But more & more people are saying ENOUGH is ENOUGH," he added. "Hate and #racism will not rule the day. Love will! Thank you for spreading love! Let your love shine so brightly & your positive voice be so loud that it drowns out the noise."