Board members of the Dallas Independent School District refused to face citizens last week, and segregated the masked from the maskless. Citizens oppose the district’s mask mandate, believe Gov. Greg Abbott is not doing enough to fight defiant local governments, and state that true “local control” is where citizens—not local officials—rule.

Last Thursday evening, roughly 20-40 citizens attended Dallas ISD’s school board meeting to speak against the mask mandate.

“Immediately upon opening the meeting, they requested that every single person in the room had to be wearing a mask, or they would be escorted out of the room,” Nathan Roberts told Texas Scorecard. “A significant portion of the people were like, ‘Absolutely not,’ and so the cops did, in fact, escort everyone out of the room.”

The elected board members then went into hiding. “They went immediately into closed session,” Ashlyn Furte said.

Around two and a half hours later, citizens could finally speak—but with restrictions. “They would only let us, one at a time, go into a separate room in which they had some video equipment set up. And they would only let us address the school board individually [and] remotely,” Furte said. “Not only did we not get to hear what other parents, and teachers, and stakeholders have to say, we individually didn’t even get to address the board in person.”

Furte said seven Dallas police officers were in charge of ensuring only one citizen entered this room at a time. “It seemed incredibly … out of line for a school board meeting.”

Mike Hook believes these restrictions dissuaded some from speaking. “I would surmise that we were whittled down from about 40 to about 10 speakers,” he told Texas Scorecard. “Their tactic largely worked, and this is not okay.”

According to Roberts and Hook, DISD also segregated those unmasked from those wearing masks while they waited to speak. “They [allowed] people who had masks to sit in rooms that were air conditioned, guarded by policemen,” Roberts said. “They would not allow anyone that didn’t have a mask to be anywhere but to linger in the hallway.”

“It was hardcore segregation,” Furte said.

DISD board members did not respond to inquiries about last week’s meeting before publication.

“I think it’s important to just have people understand that the school board is running amok. They will do what they want; they will change the rules to suit them in any way that they want,” Roberts said. “As just a taxpayer and a member of the Dallas community, it’s enormously frustrating to have witnessed that.”

But even the district’s superintendent was recently seen unmasked. In Austin this past weekend, DISD Superintendent Michael Hinojosa was photographed in the Texas Legislature without a mask.

‘Local Control’

Gov. Greg Abbott mandated masks in 2020, before banning such mandates this year. Local officials have opposed Abbott’s ban, pushing instead for the “local control” to mandate masks. Richardson ISD also announced they were joining a lawsuit against Abbott’s ban, with Board President Karen Clardy stating, “This action is about local control.” The Texas Association of School Boards also recently wrote a letter to the Texas Supreme Court and an article advocating for “local control.”

But citizens in DISD disagree with these officials’ definition of the phrase.

“Local control in America is about government of, by, and for the people,” Hook said. “We will not accept a governance of, by, and for the government. That’s not the way it works in America.”

“I don’t believe that health choices should be mandated at all, at any level,” Furte said. “It should be an individual’s choice.”

Roberts compared that with what local officials are doing. “[For them] it is about compliance and control and bowing down to those in power.”

Reining in Local Officials

We asked these citizens if they think Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton, and the Texas Legislature are doing enough to rein in these local officials.

“I don’t,” Roberts said, adding he thinks it’s hard to control Dallas from Austin. He compared Abbott’s actions to how Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) is dealing with school district mask mandates. “If they’re going to defy … you’re not going to get a paycheck.”

“I think that Paxton appears to be trying and truly fighting. I don’t believe Abbott is doing enough,” Furte replied. “I don’t think Abbott is fighting hard enough at all. I think it would be so easy for him to say the exact same thing that DeSantis did in Florida.”

“Dan Patrick … I think has the American burn in his belly. I think Ken Paxton does, [too],” Hook said. “Greg Abbott seems a little tepid here and there.”

Robert Montoya

Born in Houston, Robert Montoya is an investigative reporter for Texas Scorecard. He believes transparency is the obligation of government.