An Austin school board candidate is advocating ignoring state regulations that she doesn’t agree with.

Carmen Tilton, running for Austin Independent School District’s at-large District 9 trustee seat, recently told a public audience that the school district should “feel free to be a little rebellious” and not follow potential upcoming state laws.

Last week, Tilton was asked at a candidate forum what AISD should do if the state legislature passed laws related to sexual identity and behavior, such as the recently attempted Texas Privacy Act, which would have prevented men from being allowed in women’s public restrooms. Tilton said the district should do everything it can to prevent such laws, but that ultimately the district should decide for itself.

“If something is passed despite our best efforts, the next job as a school district is to dig in and find the loopholes,” said Tilton. “And at the end of the day, look to see if there’s any enforcement. If there’s not enforcement, feel free to be a little rebellious.”

Tilton was also asked about the school district’s role in sex education, a topic that has stirred controversy because of AISD’s proposed new curriculum. She said the district should do what it wants, even if it runs contrary to the Texas Education Agency state standards.

“I’m going to come at this a little bit differently with a somewhat radical idea, but hear me out,” Tilton began. “If our community is asking for a curriculum which does not promote abstinence as the primary be-all-end-all, but rather is much more inclusive of the real world which we all live in … we shouldn’t feel that we have to stick to what the TEA tells us to do because, as it turns out, the TEA doesn’t have much authority in that realm. It’s on paper, true, but its enforcement mechanism is nonexistent.”

Another candidate in the race had a different view on the topic. Sam Russo, who said he is the only candidate who has actually taught the Austin ISD sex education course, stated the district’s new proposed curriculum violates state law.

“I have personally gone through the 625 pages of this curriculum, and it does not follow state law regarding promotion of abstinence, not even remotely, nor does it discuss the age of consent,” said Russo. “It actually promotes behavior that’s considered sexual assault in the state of Texas … the curriculum is flat out not in compliance with the state of Texas nor compliant with what our district should be doing.”

Russo also said he is concerned the district’s leadership has shut out diverse parental input in general, specifically in the decision-making process of the new curriculum. He claimed that, rather than encouraging parental authority over what content their child opts in to, the district leadership has instead tried to usurp control and issue its own mandates.

“As soon as the district crosses that line and starts to say we’re the controlling authority, then all of a sudden parents no longer feel it’s a safe climate for them to engage freely,” he said. “They will opt out by leaving our district, and I feel that many have already done so.”

Russo said he is fighting for accountability and transparency on the board, to bring an attitude of inclusion and responsibility instead of defiance.

“We’ve lost thousands of students, and out of those I’ve talked to who are administrators, teachers, and former families, they’ve said it’s because they felt like they had lost the control to have access to parent their child.”

Early voting continues through Friday, with Election Day on November 6.

Jacob Asmussen

Jacob Asmussen is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard. He attended the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor and in 2017 earned a double major in public relations and piano performance.


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