The man slated to head the Texas City Independent School District made headlines last year for controversial comments about then-President Barack Obama, raising concerns among residents about his selection.
The Texas City Independent School District voted unanimously Tuesday night to name Port Neches-Groves Superintendent Rodney Cavness sole finalist for the position. The school board now has 21 days to finalize his contract.
Trustees reached Wednesday defended the selection and said the board was aware of the comments before picking him to lead the district. Cavness had brought them up during his interview and told trustees he regretted the comments, said Hal Biery, vice president of the school board.
In an interview with a Beaumont-area news station last year about Obama’s directive to schools requiring educators to let students use bathrooms according to their gender identity, Cavness responded by calling Obama a failure and declaring “he ain’t my president.”
“I got news for President Barack Obama,” Cavness told a TV news reporter.
“He ain’t my president and he can’t tell me what to do. That letter is going straight to the paper shredder. I have 5 daughters myself and I have 2,500 girls in my protection. Their moms and dads expect me to protect them. And that is what I am going to do. Now I don’t want them bullied … but there are accommodations that can be made short of this. He is destroying the very fiber of this country. He is not a leader. He is a failure.”
The Daily News was unable to reach Cavness at his office Wednesday.
It’s not common for leaders of public school districts to wade into politics in such a polarizing manner. And residents and former educators in the district immediately took to social media to express their concerns.
Former City Commissioner Dedrick Johnson questioned the school board for its unanimous selection of Cavness.
A school district leader needs to show respect toward all students, Johnson said.
“In a time of significant transition and needed progress ... this is a PR nightmare and possibly a step in the wrong direction,” Johnson said on Facebook.
“It’s hard to support school leadership when the leader vigorously denounces valid national leadership. Yes, we have a right to our opinions but there are some character flaws that are glaring here.”
Cavness’ comments raised concerns about how he would handle students bullying or insulting each other, Johnson said in the post.
“Our district has a serious problem in handling bullying, which is largely based on hate, lies and rumors,” Johnson said. “I have a problem with his brazen slander of the POTUS and a gross mischaracterization of a minority population, while he himself occupied a public leadership position that had a great and direct influence over school children.
“I welcome Dr. Cavness to our area with a great deal of reluctance and will invite him to meet with local leaders and concerned parents to further elaborate on his comments.”
A former assistant principal of Levi Fry in Texas City called the selection troubling.
“Is this the same individual who said last year that “Barack Obama ain’t my president” (false) and “he can’t tell me what to do” (true) Troubling. He was approved unanimously? Wow,” Jesse Hoke said on Facebook.
“To be fair, I just wish him well.”
Cavness brought up the statements during his interview with school board leaders, who were already aware of it through their research, trustees said.
“There was a situation at a school in his district that they had already handled before the issuance of the president’s letter,” said Dickey Campbell, the school board president.
“Dr. Cavness explained to us that he and the district did the right thing by the students but he said he did not say the right thing. He regrets saying what he did. He said he learned a lesson from it. Dr. Cavness was very genuine and all seven of us were satisfied with his explanation.”
Cavness had otherwise impressed trustees with his track record and had been fully vetted, Campbell said.
“His leadership in all areas is outstanding,” Campbell said. “He has a heart for kids. He makes academically sound decisions. He is a leader who believes in teamwork and supporting his team. He is a hands-on, visible leader. I think that when people see what he can do in our schools, they will know, like the board knows, that he’s an influential superintendent that is going to make a positive difference in Texas City ISD.”
The board trusted Cavness’ ability to work with students and employees with different political views, Biery said.
“That’s never been a problem for him,” Biery said, adding he had talked to several references. “He sought other people’s opinions and listened before he made decisions.”
Cavness has continued to speak publicly against allowing transgender students to use the bathroom of their gender identity. According to news reports, he traveled to Austin in March to testify in favor of the so-called “bathroom bill” state lawmakers are considering.
The bill proposes rules that would require people to use bathrooms in Texas schools and other public buildings that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate. It has been criticized as being discriminatory against transgender people, who might not identify with the gender on their birth certificates.
Cavness’ 27-year education career began in Beaumont Independent School District as a teacher and coach, according to the Texas City school district. He was an assistant principal in Silsbee and Beaumont school districts and principal at Beaumont’s West Brook High School.
Before moving to Port Neches-Groves school district, he was the superintendent in Evadale Independent School District from Jan. 2007 to Aug. 2010, the Texas City school district said.