LEANDER—Leander Independent School District rejected a donation of pocket constitutions for the district’s 8th graders on the grounds that it violated district neutrality, before reversing their decision following public pressure.
The 917 Society is a non-profit organization that provides pocket constitutions to 8th-grade students nationwide. Due to its non-profit status, the organization does not “align with, endorse, or support any particular political candidate, organization, party, or platform.”
Local chapters of grassroots organizations—Citizens Defending Freedom and Moms for Liberty—received 17,000 pocket constitutions from the 917 Society to distribute to middle schools throughout Williamson County.
However, although they had distributed these pocket constitutions to schools in multiple districts across the county, Leander ISD initially rejected the donation.
In an email from LISD’s community relations coordinator to the volunteer organizing the distribution effort, the district claimed the pocket constitutions violated district policy.
The materials contain advertisements that would prevent the District from maintaining a position of neutrality on political or religious issues or would create an appearance of favoritism.
In response, CDF sent a letter to LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing demanding that the district cease its “viewpoint discrimination and attempt to suppress protected free speech.”
CDF attorney Jonathan Hullihan wrote, “As a public education institution in the State of Texas, rejecting copies of our foundational documents for use by LISD students is unconscionable, conducted in clear violation of LISD’s own policies, and most importantly, a violation of the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.”
According to Texas Education Code 29.907—which LISD is subject to—government schools should celebrate “Freedom Week” during the week of September 17th. The purpose of “Freedom Week” is “to educate students about the sacrifices made for freedom in the founding of this country and the values on which this country was founded.”
September 17 is Constitution Day, designated by the federal government in recognition of the day that delegates to the Constitutional Convention signed the document in 1787.
Tristan Chizick, one of the volunteers facilitating the donation, told Texas Scorecard, “I feel that Leander ISD’s refusal to approve this material is the only thing making this political.”
Texas Scorecard contacted LISD regarding their rejection and Assistant Director of Communications Daniel Cernero announced a reversal of their decision, stating:
Upon investigation and consultation with our general counsel, we have determined that there was some internal confusion and misapplication of district policy. The pamphlets will be made available to students, consistent with the time, place, and manner restrictions of district policy, specifically Policy GKDA (LOCAL) Distribution of Non-School Literature. We apologize for any confusion or misunderstanding.
Hullihan praised the reversal, telling Texas Scorecard, “We are thankful to Leander ISD for correcting this matter prior to Texas Celebrate Freedom Week and Constitution Day. We live in a strange time in American history when the US Constitution is viewed as divisive political speech and subjected to viewpoint discrimination. I would like to see our public discourse move back towards respecting everyone’s right to express their opinions under the Free Speech Clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, even if we disagree with opinions that may not be our own.”
“These documents represent what is best about the United States and are instrumental to the belief system that all Americans can rise above their circumstances to accomplish the goals they set forth,” said Hullihan, saying he is grateful the students will receive the pocket constitutions. “We live in the greatest country in the history of the world, and we need to ensure we pass the torch of liberty to the next generation no matter what political party or affiliation they may align with.”
Parents also celebrated the decision.
“Nothing is more important than our kids working towards and achieving their own American Dream!” local mother Perla Hopkins told Texas Scorecard.