No Holds Barred In School Board Battles; Conservatives Threatened With Censures

In what is often being called Tea Party 2.0, public school taxpayer watchdogs and angry parents alike are locked in battle with left-leaning school boards across the country.

They’re at opposite ends on a variety of local district decisions, from mask mandates to transgenderism curriculum to soft pornography in reading lists. But the political reality goes much deeper than just those issues: it’s a microcosm of the struggles taking place at the onset of the Biden Administration as the radical left steps further and further away from the will of the electorate while the grassroots is speaking up at the most local of levels.

The Austin, Texas, area has made national headlines for its struggles, particularly in Leander ISD (just northwest of Austin where parents and taxpayers are protesting sexually explicit literature on reading lists), Lake Travis ISD (west side of Austin, also on literature content), and in Round Rock Independent School District (or RRISD, north of Austin) where things have gotten downright combative in a logjam of alleged and well-documented controversies.

Tonight, the only two conservative members of the seven-member RRISD Board of Trustees are the subject of two censure resolutions (here and here) to be considered by the board, with the liberal-progressive majority upset by their stances on COVID-19 policies and interactions with the public. This follows the arrests and possible criminal charges of two district residents accused of defying school police orders not to enter a meeting concerning setting a property tax rate for the next year.

How did circumstances escalate to the point of arrests, looming criminal charges, and censures? We look at the many layers of the situation brewing in this district of 51,000 Austin-area students below.

Monitored By State

The squaring off with the state of Texas began two years, as the RRISD grappled with a 2019 complaint against a former board president. Just last week, the complaint resulted in the placement of a Texas Education Agency monitor at the school district. As reported in Community Impact News:

“A Texas Education Agency Monitor has been installed at Round Rock ISD as part of a corrective action plan stemming from a complaint lodged against the board during the 2018-19 school year. TEA monitors report on the activities of the board of trustees or the superintendent. According to documents made public by the district Sept. 15, a complaint against the district from October 2019 found that previous board president Chad Chadwell did not recuse himself from discussion about a grievance against himself, alleging a conflict of interest and board overreach.”

Alleged Sexual Impropriety

RRISD resident and former Texas House of Representatives Republican candidate Jeremy Story accused newly hired RRISD Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez of covering up an affair, as also reported by Texas Scorecard. (The Hayride could not confirm any of this, but the fact is that it’s out there.) Story said much of the intransigence of the board stems with covering up for Azaiez. The board called the news of the affair a rumor while others pointed to the board and a lack of transparency in the hiring process.

While nothing official has come of this, the superintendent is now under the microscope by the TEA and an incensed public wondering just how he was hired in the first place.

Mask Mandates

RRISD was one of several districts targeted by Texas Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton as having gone against Gov. Greg Abbott‘s ban on mask mandates. RRISD immediately doubled down on its mask requirements, while others across Texas have complied with the governor’s orders.

A state legislative bill to ban mask mandates in schools and other public spaces failed to pass in both of the two special legislative sessions of the summer.

Tonight, RRISD trustees, in addition to the censure resolutions, will consider a “mask matrix” policy for the district, which is being opposed by the two trustees named in the censure resolutions, conservatives Danielle Weston and Mary Bone.

Tax Hikes

With the lack of transparency in the hiring process, district watchdogs were wanting to make extra sure their voices were heard and attended the tax rate hearing for the upcoming fiscal year on Sept. 14.

With the district running an estimated $30 million deficit due to attendance decline, there was plenty of skepticism to go around. Many found themselves locked out of the meeting during which trustees voted to raise the tax levy for RRISD taxpayers.

Resistance Mounting

RRISD Trustee Weston, a former Air Force officer and mother of five with children in RRISD schools, broke ranks and went public about the shutting out of those wanting to be at the Sept. 14 meeting. According to Weston, 15-20 residents were outside the meeting room before RRISD board president Amy Weir ordered district police to keep them out.

Under prior restrictions, school boards under the Texas Open Meetings Act could limit attendance — a restriction that ended on Sept. 1, according to Weston. Instead, the board placed 21 chairs in a room that could hold up to 300. A motion to allow the crowd inside failed 5-2 with Bone and Weston in support.

“I was trying to gain clarity, and so was Trustee Mary Bone. Why are you using law enforcement to do this, and where’s even your policy?” Weston said in a local radio interview as transcribed by a conservative news source. “They could not even produce anything for us or the community members in writing that would say that they have COVID protocols that limit the number of seats in that room. They couldn’t produce it. As a law-abiding citizen my whole life, I reached the point where I realized if I stay here, I’m participating in this. And I can’t do that.”

Weston and Bone later walked out of the meeting. The five trustees who ordered the closure of the meeting room are being sued by upset parents. Others attempted to walk in, defying school district police. Jeremy Story (mentioned above), a longtime chaplain of the Republican Party of Texas, reported that he received injuries while attempting to enter the meeting room (see featured image of this article) and being forced outside of the building.

Arrests Made, Timing Suspect

On Friday, Sept. 17, Story and fellow RRISD resident Dustin Clark were arrested following the dust-up at the Sept. 14 meeting. The timing meant that Story and Clark spent the night in Williamson County jail until a magistrate could be present to release them Saturday mid-day.

According to Story:

“The Superintendent and Board President didn’t want to hear what I was saying so, they had the police drag me out of the building. I shared how the board was violating the rule of law and threatening the safety of students, teachers and the public by attempting to squelch discussion of the fact that the Superintendent has a restraining order against him for family violence due to very credible allegations that he recently assaulted a pregnant woman he had a long time affair with after threatening her and the unborn child they created together. He did this, as per his own affidavit, after he learned from the Board President about this woman’s allegations. How can the Board President debate public safety while sitting next to a man who faces potential criminal charges and in which she and several other members of the board are complicit in by informing and empowering him to commit the alleged crime?
“Unlike any of the numerous others who had spoken during public comments, when I stood up to speak Amy Weir, Board President, threatened me with removal even before I stood up to speak. I offered to show her how what I was to speak on was germane to public safety and the rule of law and she refused. …”

Story said he was there to comment on the district’s defiant policies. Clark said he was not intending to discuss masks at the Sept. 14 board meeting, though had addressed COVID-19 policies at an Aug. 16 meeting.

“Tuesday’s actions at the school board meeting, and the arrests on Friday, had absolutely nothing to do with masks,” Clark said.

Threats And Reprisals

With the RRISD’s defiance now in high gear, board president Weir begins meetings laying out the consequences for those who are found to be disruptive.

Don Zimmerman, a former Austin City Council member and RRISD taxpayer, found his mic cut off several times as he spoke at a district workshop meeting Saturday morning (as Story and Clark were being released). Watch the video here. Zimmerman released a statement:

“If the Round Rock ISD ever wanted a first-rate civics lesson on how a constitutional republic like ours goes from representative government to outright tyranny, look no further than the events of the last week. The RRISD should show students footage of recent events, including that of how RRISD police and board members treated taxpayers and parents of the district, as required viewing […].
“Let’s show all the students what’s truly taking place at the top levels of their school district. If the next generation doesn’t learn from these mistakes and turn things around, then anyone who disagrees with the established authority will find themselves with the police outside their homes, or worse.”

What’s Next

Protesters are planning on attending tonight’s censure and mask policy meeting — a story that is already at the top of local news coverage. RRISD and its superintendent are going on two years’ worth of defensiveness, a post-Trump infusion of defiant attitudes on behalf of liberal school board members, and now legal threats against anyone deemed to have stepped out of line.

Bone (left, circled) and Weston (right, circled). Courtesy photo: RRISD.

While Atty. Gen. Ken Paxton is busy serving papers, a TEA monitor is on the premises, and a horde of upset parents fueled by recent efforts to oppose local school trustees is waiting out in the lobby, the RRISD admin find themselves in a losing position. Their only hope is to label Weston and Bone as “censured trustees” on all district websites, documents, and signage (see the text of the censure resolutions below) in hopes that mainstream voters will show them the door in 2021.

Yes, it boils down to politics. Clark was correct in that his and Story’s arrests were not about mask mandates or any of the other individual issues facing the board. It’s much deeper than that.

We’re betting on the watchdogs and angry moms next election to elect a few more Mary Bones and Danielle Westons next round.

***

Censure resolution text

MARY BONE:

WHEREAS, the Round Rock ISD and Texas Education Code entrusts the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees with effective, lawful, and ethical governance of the District to further the District’s mission and goals; and

WHEREAS, Round Rock ISD Board Policy BBE (LOCAL) states that although there may be dissenting votes or opinions, which are a matter of public record and are protected by law, each Board decision shall be an action by the whole Board binding upon the District; and

WHEREAS, state laws, including Texas Penal Code Sections 38.13, 42.01, 42.02, and 42.05 and Texas Education Code Section 37.105, establish that disruptions of meetings or on public property are criminal offenses that permit law enforcement to remove individuals who continue to disrupt a public meeting after being warned to cease their disruption; and

WHEREAS, the Texas Open Meetings Act only permits a board to deliberate on items posted on an agenda; and
WHEREAS, Trustee Bone’s repeated failure to follow the Board President’s ruling and the decision of the Board of Trustees regarding social distancing led or contributed to the disruption of the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting; and

WHEREAS, Trustee Bone repeatedly insisted on calling for a vote on spacing rules for the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting even though this matter was not on the agenda; and WHEREAS, these actions by Trustee Bone undermined the orderly governance of the District; and

WHEREAS, given her position as a District Trustee, Trustee Bone’s disruptive actions at the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting brought unwanted and negative media and public attention to the District.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that due to the urgency caused by Trustee Bone’s disruptive conduct of repeatedly arguing after rulings by the Board President and a vote by the Board of Trustees regarding the conduct at the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting, the Board of Trustees waives Board Operating Procedures steps K(1) & K(2) related to the process to censure a Trustee; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, as a public censure is the only option available to the Board to reprimand a Trustee and to make clear for the record that the Board in no way condones her actions as described above, the Board of Trustees does hereby publicly censure Trustee Mary Bone for leading or contributing to the disruption of the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting in violation of Texas Penal Code Sections 38.13, 42.01, 42.02, and 42.05, Texas Education Code Section 37.105 and potentially causing the Board to violate the Texas Open Meetings Act; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Trustees does hereby publicly state that Trustee Bone’s disruptive conduct as described above is in no way representative of the standards of conduct that the Board expects of its members and is a disappointment to the Board; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Trustees does hereby publicly admonish Trustee Bone that she will be referred to as “Censured Trustee Bone” on all District communication and on the Round Rock ISD website; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Trustee Bone shall be prohibited from holding a Board officer position, having her name appear on high school diplomas, using District funds for the performance of her official duties without Board approval, and visiting all Round Rock ISD properties in her official capacity as a Trustee without Board approval with the exception of Board meetings; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any reference to “Censured Trustee Bone” shall only be removed by a majority vote by the Board of Trustees; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board determines that each action and matter described above is sufficient basis for this censure.

DANIELLE WESTON:

WHEREAS, the Round Rock ISD and Texas Education Code entrusts the Round Rock ISD Board of Trustees with effective, lawful, and ethical governance of the District to further the District’s mission and goals; and

WHEREAS, Round Rock ISD Board Policy BBE (LOCAL) states that although there may be dissenting votes or opinions, which are a matter of public record and are protected by law, each Board decision shall be an action by the whole Board binding upon the District; and

WHEREAS, state laws, including Texas Penal Code Sections 38.13, 42.01, 42.02, and 42.05 and Texas Education Code Section 37.105, establish that disruptions of meetings or on public property are criminal offenses that permit law enforcement to remove individuals who continue to disrupt a public meeting after being warned to cease their disruption; and

WHEREAS, the Texas Open Meetings Act only permits a board to deliberate on items posted on an agenda; and
WHEREAS, Trustee Weston’s repeated failure to follow the Board President’s ruling and the decision of the Board of Trustees regarding social distancing led or contributed to the disruption of the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting; and

WHEREAS, Trustee Weston repeatedly insisted on calling for a vote on spacing rules for the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting even though this matter was not on the agenda; and

WHEREAS, Texas Education Code Section 11.151 establishes that the Trustees of the District constitute a body corporate, and as a body corporate, the Trustees (1) have the exclusive power and duty to govern and oversee the management of the public schools of the District and (2) may adopt rules and bylaws necessary to carry out the powers and duties of the body corporate; and

WHEREAS, Texas Education Code Section 11.1512, establishes that there is to be collaboration between the Board of Trustees and the Superintendent, and that it is the Board of Trustees of the District that has the powers and duties specified in the Texas Education Code; and

WHEREAS, Texas Education Code Section 11.1512 provides that while an individual Trustee may request information from the District in the Trustee’s official capacity, the District has up to 20 business days, and in some cases up to 30 business days, to provide such requested information; and

WHEREAS, Section 2(b) of the Superintendent’s contract states the Board of Trustees will “direct the Superintendent consistent with requirements of applicable law and policy”; and

WHEREAS, Trustee Weston’s repeated demands, including but not limited to those of September 13 and 16, 2021, that the District provide information on an accelerated or shortened timeframe are failures and/or intentional refusals to comply Texas Education Code Section 11.1512; and

WHEREAS, Trustee Weston intentional and continual refusal to comply with Section 2(b) of the Superintendent’s contract by insisting that the District provide information on an accelerated or shortened timeframe, including but not limited to demands made on September 13 and 16, 2021; and

WHEREAS, these actions by Trustee Weston undermined the orderly governance of the District; and

WHEREAS, given her position as a District Trustee, Trustee Weston’s disruptive actions at the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting brought unwanted and negative media and public attention to the District.

NOW, THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that due to the urgency caused by Trustee Weston’s (1) disruptive conduct of repeatedly arguing after rulings by the Board President and a vote by the Board of Trustees regarding the conduct at the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting and (2) repeated attempts to demand information from the District in violation of the Texas Education Code and the Superintendent’s contract, the Board of Trustees waives Board Operating Procedures steps K(1) & K(2) related to the process to censure a Trustee; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that, as a public censure is the only option available to the Board to reprimand a Trustee and to make clear for the record that the Board in no way condones her actions as described above, the Board of Trustees does hereby publicly censure Trustee Danielle Weston for leading or contributing to the disruption of the September 14, 2021 Board Meeting in violation of Texas Penal Code Sections 38.13, 42.01, 42.02, and 42.05, Texas Education Code Section 37.105 and potentially causing the Board to violate the Texas Open Meetings Act; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Trustees does hereby publicly state that Trustee Weston’s disruptive conduct as described above is in no way representative of the standards of conduct that the Board expects of its members and is a disappointment to the Board; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Trustees does hereby publicly censure Trustee Danielle Weston for insisting that the District provide information on an accelerated or shortened timeframe, including but not limited to demands made on September 13 and 16, 2021 in violation of Texas Education Code Sections 11.151 and 11.1512; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Board of Trustees does hereby publicly admonish Trustee Weston that she will be referred to as “Censured Trustee Weston” on all District communication, and on the Round Rock ISD website; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that Trustee Weston shall be prohibited from holding a Board officer position, having her name appear on high school diplomas, using District funds for the performance of her official duties without Board approval, and visiting all Round Rock ISD properties in her official capacity as a Trustee without Board approval with the exception of Board meetings; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any reference to “Censured Trustee Weston” shall only be removed by a majority vote by the Board of Trustees; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Board determines that each action and matter described above is sufficient basis for this censure.

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