ROUND ROCK — This school board can’t hide from parents anymore.
As a conflict unfolds across the country between school district officials and concerned parents, a fight in an Austin suburb school district includes many nationwide issues: racist and pornographic curricula in classrooms, questionable COVID mandates on kids, restrictions on parental access and rights over their own children, closed-off public meetings, officials’ abuse of power, and even domestic assault allegations against the superintendent.
But on Thursday evening, parents and citizens organized to speak out to the board.
The Recent Timeline
The latest story in Round Rock Independent School District (roughly 20 miles north of Austin) began last month when the school board arbitrarily restricted citizens from a public meeting about mask mandates and taxes—only allowing 21 seats in a room with a capacity of 375. The board directed district police officers to keep citizens out of the room and even directed them to arrest two citizens.
Furthermore, while the board blocked the public from the meeting hall, they voted to raise property taxes.
However, two board members—trustees Danielle Weston and Mary Bone—opposed the actions during the meeting and repeatedly admonished the board to allow the citizens and parents inside so they could resolve the conflict and proceed with the meeting. The board rejected the idea by a vote of 5-2.
In the days afterward, board president Amy Weir and the “Bad Faith Five” members planned a resolution to formally censure their colleagues Weston and Bone for not agreeing with their meeting capacity limits and trying to put those limitations to a vote. At the last minute, however, a district judge intervened and issued a temporary restraining order against the board to stop their censure plan.
Meanwhile, citizens said the board violated the Texas Open Meetings Act, and they sued the school district for their allegedly illegal tax increase.
Earlier this week, RRISD Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez announced he and the district would again restrict the number of seats at Thursday’s board meeting, which sparked numerous parents, taxpayers, and community organizations to act.
Citizens gathered and hosted a press conference outside Round Rock High School before the meeting Thursday evening.
“We just want to exercise our parental rights and our rights to be inside and participate in an open public meeting,” said Dustin Clark of RRISD Parent Coalition. “And right now, the superintendent intends to restrict the number of seats in this meeting, just like he did last month and the month before, when there is no reason to do it.”
“The Texas Open Meetings Act requires complete access for parents to any school board meeting, and we’re being denied that,” Clark continued. “There is no other gathering or event in this school district that is required to have a seating capacity. … There’s no other government meeting in this county that is restricting the number of people that can be inside of a room. So, why is it only happening here?”
“There’s only one unique spot in this entire district where this weird distancing policy has been applied … and that is that room where the board meets—and only when the board meets there,” said Jeremy Story, co-director of True Texas Project’s Williamson County chapter. “That’s how ridiculous it is … this is simply not a part of the Texas Open Meetings Act.”
Both of the above men were arrested and temporarily put in jail last month, after they spoke out against the district’s closed-off public meeting. A district spokesperson said they “coordinated” with the county sheriff to apprehend them, but released the men the next day.
“This doesn’t make sense to me, and it actually puts me in a state of shock to know that I am residing in a district [that is doing these things to us],” said Round Rock High School student Emma Ray at Thursday’s press conference.
“This move to limit seating when there is ample room in other RRISD facilities can only be interpreted as an attempt to usurp the right of concerned parents to freely petition their elected board of trustees, and ultimately hold district administration accountable for questionable policies,” said Michelle Evans of Moms for Liberty of Williamson County.
“Our community cannot continue to tolerate lawlessness and abuses of power by district administration.”
Inside the Board Room
As citizens entered the lecture hall Thursday evening, they saw dozens of chairs lining the room.
Then citizens and parents, one after another, got up to the microphone and testified to the board, calling them out on a myriad of issues.
“It took us coordinating a press conference today, Dr. Aziaez, for you to arbitrarily increase your arbitrary capacity,” Clark told the school board. “So two days ago, it was 50 seats; a month ago, it was 18 seats. And then when I spoke up about it, you had me escorted out and then arrested. So, is the seating capacity a real thing or not? I’m confused, because [now] we changed it to 70-something, while the rest of the district has no capacity.”
Another citizen pointed out that as of September 1, the Texas Open Meetings Act is now back in full effect, citing a statement from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton that “all Texas governmental bodies subject to Open Meetings must conduct [their] meetings in full compliance with the Open Meetings Act.”
A Tense Exchange
The public comment period continued with citizens testifying on the current domestic assault allegations against Superintendent Dr. Aziaez, as he sat at a table directly across from the audience.
The allegations claim Dr. Azaiez demanded his mistress get an abortion and threatened her with violence and being discredited by the RRISD board when she refused. Furthermore, it’s alleged that Azaiez assaulted her after she approached RRISD trustees.
“Mid-July, three months. That’s how long a temporary restraining order has been in place claiming this man, our superintendent, as a clear and present danger to a woman,” began citizen Shauna Kinningham.
Board president Amy Weir quickly interrupted.
“Miss Kinningham, this is a personnel matter. This isn’t the forum for that; we do have a grievance process.”
The audience chimed in. “It concerns the safety of our children,” one said.
“I have a point of order,” interjected Trustee Weston.
“What is your point?” Weir asked.
“My point of order is that there is no limitation on being able to name us as trustees or director level-and-above officials in our school district during public comments for any reason,” Weston stated.
“I am not disagreeing, I am just saying that there is a better format for this if there’s a grievance that needed to be filed,” Weir replied.
“So, she can proceed? We can finish this, right?” Weston asked.
“Please go ahead,” she said.
“As a mother and a parent, I’m shocked [by these allegations],” Kinningham continued. “This man has a job that affects over 40,000 children in this district, and contact and power over female administrators and teachers. What possible excuse, can this board … have to ignore this?”
“I’m going to shine a light on communications that provide context for the [Temporary Restraining Order], one trustee’s disregard for a fellow professional, and a troubling sequence of events,” another woman testified, with several others holding up posterboard signs of screenshots.
A text sequence on June 28: The married, Superintendent demands that his girlfriend get an abortion. The superintendent threatens the girlfriend, “I’ll make you pay.” The superintendent shows his intent, “You will lose this baby.”
On July, 5, the girlfriend reaches out to [Board Trustee] Cory Vessa regarding the superintendent’s behavior. On July 6, Cory Vessa rejects the girlfriend’s outreach. On the evening of July 6, this pregnant woman would be physically assaulted. Hence, the temporary restraining order. Thank you.
Trustees Weston and Bone tried in August to call for a board meeting on the allegations, but the rest of the board denied the request.
“Sadly, you [the board] knew. People knew about this and hid it,” one citizen said.
“I started paying attention here after this board made news last month, and I have to say that what I see happening here is shocking,” another citizen testified. “Corey Vessa, is it true that a concerned member of the community made you aware of the allegations against the superintendent and you deflected them only days before the alleged assault? To the trustees, I would like to know, have you held any formal meetings to discuss these allegations?”
“These are very serious allegations against the only employee that you oversee, and it has been four months that you’ve known about this. For the safety of our children and the female staff, why haven’t you at least put him on administrative leave?”
Citizens also testified on pornographic books available to children at school libraries—such as the nationally contentious “Lawn Boy” and others that one parent said “include X-rated pornographic pictures and illustrations and or text descriptions of sex acts. Other issues testified on were the district’s multimillion-dollar deficit because of rapidly declined enrollment, and district officials limiting citizen speakers to only 1 minute to testify, while many other districts allot 2 or 3 minutes.
The Bottom Line
However, amid all of the nationwide conflicts over schools boards and education, one point remained clear in Round Rock on Thursday night: This issue is ultimately about parental rights over their children.
“As we’ve seen in recent weeks, school board meetings are beginning to fill with concerned and vocal parents and other stakeholders who want nothing more than to be an active participant in their children’s school lives and the way our schools are run,” said Michelle Evans of Mom’s for Liberty, whose organization is about “empowering parents to stand up for their rights, especially as they relate to the education of their children in public schools.”
“We represent the rights of our children. Not the school board, not the state, not the federal government—we do,” said Dustin Clark of the Round Rock Parent Coalition. “And unfortunately, what we’re seeing is the temperature turned up by school boards, board of trustees like ours and others across the nation. And then the National Association of School Boards and even the Department of Justice calling parents like us—who want to participate in these meetings and talk about our concerns—domestic terrorists.
“If anybody is terrorizing our community, it’s these school board members who think they can tell us we can’t be inside of an open public meeting.”