ROUND ROCK — Amid a troubling series of events in their local school district, Central Texans are exposing corruption—and demanding action—from their school officials.
What’s Happening in Round Rock Independent School District?
At a public school board meeting last week in the northern Austin suburb of Round Rock, parents organized to again testify to the RRISD school board about one of numerous recent problems—and, again, the board trustees resisted them.
The main issue last week was the school board’s potentially dangerous free-for-all private room policy, where boys are currently allowed in girls’ private rooms. Texas Scorecard recently detailed the issue in a report, when, based on a series of tips, we interviewed a handful of district students, parents, and staff experiencing the unsecured locker room rule at the schools. Many of the interviewees also knew of school plans to place boys in girls’ hotel rooms during school trips. When parents brought their concerns to district officials—including administration, legal staff, and the school board and superintendent—they were disregarded.
“I had my solution early on, and I’ve been directed on what we’re going to do. And what we’re going to do is allow every student that identifies as a female to go into the female restroom,” one of the district principals told several of those community members.
The principal added he “hopes” nothing terrible like the recent Loudon County, Virginia, sexual assault—which occurred in a public school with a similar open private room policy—happens in Round Rock.
After the report, parents began circulating a petition last week, demanding the school board make a policy to protect all students. After just a few days, the petition has more than 600 signatures.
The private room issue comes amid other recent troubling stories for the seven-member RRISD school board and superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez, including abuse of power, domestic assault allegations against the superintendent, offering pornographic material to children, blocking parents from public meetings, and even arresting concerned citizens.
Regardless, parents again brought their concerns to the board last week.
Inside the Board Room
At the start of the meeting Thursday evening, the board began by trying a delay tactic commonly used by government officials: push the public comment time toward the end of the meeting.
The RRISD board normally schedules public comment first in their meetings, so students and parents can speak on whatever they want and then be able to leave, especially since the board meetings happen on a weekday night.
But not last week.
The board specifically decided to separate the speakers. They still let the students and citizens speaking on agenda topics go first, but those who wanted to talk about non-agenda topics (i.e., the parents concerned about the private room policy) would have to wait for a separate public comment time at the end of a packed business meeting.
Board Trustee Danielle Weston—one of only two who have publicly advocated for transparency and parental rights in the district’s recent events—challenged the decision.
“I was going to motion to move [the public comment periods together at the front of the meeting]. Would that be just a cleaner way of doing it?” Weston said.
Some board members disagreed, saying they didn’t want to get to their business too late. Board president Amy Weir and trustees Tiffanie Harrison and Cory Vessa said they would rather do some public comment, then their full agenda, then certain other public comment at the end of the meeting.
Weston’s attempt to do all of the public comment at the start—the way they normally do—failed by a vote of 3-4.
The board then proceeded to their work for nearly eight hours, all while citizens sat waiting in the room.
Citizens Speak Out
Finally, at nearly 2 a.m., the dwindled group of citizens still there was allowed to speak.
“You [the board] were going to be here the same amount of time no matter what,” said district parent Dustin Clark. “Instead, it felt like a waiting game to see how long you could wait us out to see how many would drop. I don’t see any point in waiting to the end. … Whoever voted for that, shame on you.”
“By pushing non-agenda public comments to the very end of open session, you missed an opportunity to include community concerns on near-future agendas, and our concerns should be priorities,” wrote district parent Michelle Evans of local organization Mom’s for Liberty in an email to the board. “You had the entire agenda to accomplish either way. Your actions have left stakeholders feeling marginalized and expendable.”
Evans added one of the trustees mentioned they should reach out to the community members who left to get their input, “but wouldn’t it just have been easier to let them speak in a timely manner?”
Parents also testified to the board about the original concern they showed up for—the free-for-all private room policy.
“You will be hard pressed to find any biological female who wishes to be seen naked by a biological male she does not have or plan to have an intimate relationship with,” said district parent Renate Sims. “Therefore, it requires consent. When you tell biological males at school they can walk into girls’ locker rooms at will, you take away girls’ consent. When your response to her distress about such consent violation is, ‘Find another bathroom or change at home,’ you violate her rights to advocacy, equal access, and protection. You marginalize her for expressing a legitimate and universal female need.”
Sims added she’s concerned their policy may violate the Texas Penal Code definition of indecent exposure.
“Doing nothing is no longer an option,” she said.
“Facilitating adolescent voyeurism reaches the threshold of criminality under indecency with a child,” testified Mike Williams, a current Republican candidate for Congress. “Have your lawyer figure it out for you; it’s not complicated. These things, y’all can fix. … It’s just four of you [board members] telling [the superintendent] to write a policy. It’s that simple.”
“Girls deserve the clear message that they deserve boundaries around their bodies,” Lindsay, another concerned citizen, told trustees. “How many young girls have to get raped or assaulted before we start protecting them? To simply live in a state of hoping something doesn’t happen is the equivalent of turning a blind eye. Looking away does not change reality. Girls are below the age of consent, thus they cannot consent to this—boys being in their changing room.”
“You relax safeguarding, [and] you open the door to any predator who wants to come in,” Lindsay continued, explaining that when department store Target enacted its free-for-all private room policy, the store experienced a 190 percent increase in “peeping Tom” incidents in the rooms.
“Take identity out of this issue, and what you have is a shocking reality that a lack of a bathroom policy allows for the victimization of female students, girls too young to legally consent to being exposed to male bodies or exposing themselves to males,” said Evans at the meeting.
“I implore you to protect girls and their bodies.”