ROUND ROCK — “I called you today because I want the community to understand what happened last night. It is very concerning.”
As parents across Texas speak out against their school districts’ recent harmful mandates, Danielle Weston, one of seven school board trustees in the Round Rock Independent School District, spoke out Wednesday about the troubling events at their public meeting the night before.
Weston, a former Air Force officer and mother of five with children in the district schools, told the Todd and Don Show the school board has gone too far with their authority and is now violating state law.
What is Going On?
“I really take seriously the rule of law, and I’m out of patience with some of these violations,” she began. “What happened last night was we showed up for our regular board meeting, and I was surprised to see that we had many members of the public who were refused entry into the meeting.”
She said 15 to 20 citizens were outside the meeting hall, and school board president Amy Weir unlawfully directed the district police to keep them out. Video of the parents outside, barred from the room by officers, has gone viral on social media.
“Now for some people who might not be aware, last summer, [Gov. Greg Abbott] allowed school boards, commissioners courts, city councils, [and] other elected bodies to suspend parts of the Texas Open Meetings Act. That’s how elected officials were able to participate virtually,” Weston explained.
“But all of those rules or all of that flexibility in suspending those provisions expired on September 1,” she continued. “So as of September 1, there’s no more flexibility in the Texas Open Meetings Act; none of that is up for debate or negotiation anymore. The public has a right to be in the meetings of their elected officials, and my colleagues, for whatever reason, just would not budge on this.”
The board had placed only 21 “available” public chairs in the hall, according to a district spokeswoman, even though Weston said she believes the large room’s capacity is more than 300.
Let the Public Inside
As the situation outside stirred, with parents questioning the police officers at the doors, Weston and fellow Trustee Mary Bone repeatedly admonished the board during the meeting to vote and simply allow the citizens and parents inside so they could all proceed with the meeting. The board rejecting the idea by a vote of 5-2.
Furthermore, Weston and Bone questioned the board on their authority to bar the public from the meeting.
“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 the radio interview. “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 eventually walked out of the meeting.
“I just want to say, due to the hostility directed at the public tonight and my concerns about violating the Texas Open Meetings Act, this is a failure of leadership,” Weston told board president Weir across the dais Tuesday night. “And I am leaving.”
Prosecute the Board?
Later on in the meeting, the school board—while blocking citizens from the room—voted to raise property taxes on citizens. The district, by the way, is running an estimated $30 million deficit due in part to dropped attendance.
On Wednesday, two district parents emailed several state officials, asking them to prosecute the superintendent and board (except Weston and Bone).
“Five of our 7 RRISD school board trustees are abusing their authority and what they deem as ‘safety protocols’ for the actual purpose of denying the public their legal right to attend their own public school board meetings,” wrote April and Justin Brinson in an email to the Texas Rangers, the Williamson County attorney, and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton.
“The meeting room was nowhere near fire code capacity, yet many numerous citizens who took time out of their lives to attend were refused entry. … Those who are comfortable with attending a school board meeting should be permitted to physically attend in person per their legal rights under the Texas Open Meetings Act.”
The board delayed action on their mask mandate policy, which is set to expire Friday, but they are scheduled to meet again on Saturday and will presumably discuss the issue.
Whether they block the public again remains to be seen.
Concerned citizens may contact the school board.
Citizens with related school board stories or concerns may contact firstname.lastname@example.org.