ROUND ROCK — Amid stories across the country of rogue and corrupt school administration, Central Texans are experiencing—and exposing—a similar mess in their local school district.
Round Rock Independent School District is located in the northern suburbs of Austin, in a community long considered safe and far enough away from the notoriously “weird” and liberal capital city.
However, troubling stories have recently surfaced about RRISD officials—such as abuse of power, domestic assault allegations and investigations, allowing boys in girls’ private rooms, offering pornographic material to children, blocking parents from public meetings, and even arresting concerned citizens.
Local parents are now waking up.
What is Going On?
The primary characters in the district’s recent tumultuous episodes are the RRISD school board and recently-hired Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez.
Azaiez is currently under investigation by the state government, and five of the seven school board trustees have sided with him against concerned parents.
The latest series of events began this summer, when those five school board members controversially selected Azaiez as the district’s new superintendent. Community members objected, testifying that the board did the “entire superintendent search in closed session,” rushed the decision, and didn’t provide reasons why they chose Azaiez as the sole finalist.
Only two Trustees—Mary Bone and Danielle Weston—voted against hiring Azaiez, echoing concerns they lacked both a public forum and the superintendent a consistent work achievement.
Less than two months later, Azaiez began facing serious allegations of domestic assault—and the five board members are facing allegations of covering it up.
The September Incident
As community member began asking questions, their concerns grew into outcries at a September board meeting, when Azaiez and the five trustees arbitrarily blocked citizens from the public forum on mask mandates and taxes—only allowing 21 seats in a lecture hall that has a capacity of 375. Azaiez and board president Amy Weir directed district police officers to keep citizens out of the room and even threatened to remove those who were not sitting in one of the board’s 21 approved chairs (i.e., anyone standing along the wall or sitting on the floor.)
A crowd of parents outside the lecture hall questioned police officers at the doors, while the two trustees Bone and Weston inside the room again spoke out against the board’s actions, questioned their authority to enact such a rule, and repeatedly admonished them to allow citizens inside so they could resolve the conflict and all proceed with the meeting.
The board rejected the idea by a vote of 5-2.
On top of that, the board also ordered officers to remove two parents who tried to testify against the board’s arbitrary meeting restrictions.
Bone and Weston then walked out of the lecture hall.
“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, a former U.S. Air Force captain, said on the dais during the meeting. “And I am leaving.”
Furthermore, after that, the board—while still barring the public outside the room—voted to raise property taxes (setting a tax rate that will hike the average homeowner’s school bill from $4,053 to $4,080).
Still more, several days later, district officials “coordinated” with the Williamson County Sheriff’s Office to arrest those two parents, throwing them in jail overnight.
The incident made national headlines — but that was only the beginning.
The “Bad Faith Five”
The board’s other five members, dubbed the “Bad Faith Five” by a group of parent activists, include recently-elected Tiffanie Harrison and Dr. Jun Xiao, Amber Feller, Cory Vessa, and board president Amy Weir.
Ironically, Trustee Harrison, who voted to keep the public out of the September meeting, stated on her campaign website that one of her top priorities was transparency to the public.
(Additionally, according to campaign finance records, Harrison is notably supported by far-left Democrat State Rep. James Talarico and Joyce James, a controversial teacher of racist ideologies at the Austin Police Department.)
Trustee Jun Xiao, meanwhile, recently had a noteworthy email exchange with a district parent over the September incident. Xiao, responding to the parent’s detailed concerns that the board was unduly prohibiting access for citizens, simply said public meetings were not “theater shows”:
“Board meeting is to get business done, not a theater show. You can enjoy a packed party with your maskless friends privately.
Another snapshot of the members is Trustee and board Vice President Feller, who has already demonstrated questionable behavior while in power. In the fall of 2019, while her son was taking the SAT at a district high school, Feller was accused of trying to “intimidate … or see[k] special favors [from]” the College Board test administrator.
(The administrator filed a grievance against the trustee, though the RRISD board rejected it reportedly because they did not have the power to enforce the requested relief.)
Notably, Feller also works for a counseling organization called Bluebonnet Trails Community Services, and just a few months after she got elected in 2018, the RRISD board gave Feller’s organization a taxpayer-funded contract for new mental health services at district schools.
However, those five current board members, despite their individual behaviors, have the recent controversial actions in common: they all voted to hire superintendent Azaiez, all voted to keep the public out of the recent public meeting, and all face questions of covering up the superintendent’s assault allegations.
The Board Tries to Retaliate
In the days after the September incident, RRISD board president Amy Weir and the “Bad Faith Five” members planned a resolution to formally censure their colleagues Weston and Bone for challenging their arbitrary meeting restrictions.
The board was set to censure them at a late September meeting, but at the last minute, a district court judge intervened and stopped their plan, issuing a temporary restraining order against the board.
On top of that, citizens acted too.
Two district parents emailed several state officials and asked them to prosecute the superintendent and “Bad Faith Five.”
“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.
Citizens also sued.
“NEWS! The Round Rock ISD Board’s ‘Bad Faith Five’ members, who have violated open meetings laws, wrongfully arrested parents, engaged in illegal content-based public speech censorship, and attempted an unlawful ‘censure’ against the 2 best Trustees, have been sued in Williamson County Court [Thursday] for approving an illegal property tax increase,” posted Don Zimmerman, who filed the lawsuit. Zimmerman is a former Austin City Council member and current executive director of the Travis County Taxpayers Union.
Parents Speak Out
In October, Superintendent Azaiez — despite the backlash from citizens — announced he and the district would again restrict the number of seats at an upcoming board meeting, which sparked even more parents, taxpayers, and community organizations to rally.
On the evening of October 21, Citizens gathered and hosted a press conference outside Round Rock High School before the board meeting.
“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 the 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 also the ones arrested and temporarily put in jail after the September meeting.
“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 the October 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,” she added.
Inside the Board Room
As citizens entered the lecture hall that evening, they saw dozens of chairs — many more than before — lining the room.
Then citizens and parents, one after another, got up to the microphone and called out the board on a myriad of issues.
“It took us coordinating a press conference today, Dr. Azaiez, 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.”
Allegations and Investigations
The public comment period continued with citizens testifying on the current assault allegations against Superintendent Dr. Azaiez, as he sat at a table directly across from the audience.
The allegations claim Dr. Azaiez had a mistress and demanded she get an abortion, and when she refused, threatened her with violence.
After she approached RRISD trustees this summer, Azaiez allegedly assaulted her.
Soon after, a judge issued a temporary restraining order against Azaiez, and in early August, Trustees Bone and Weston requested an immediate special board meeting to discuss the matters.
However, the rest of the board denied the request.
“[D]espite repeated requests, we have been denied. Even now, no meeting has been scheduled,” wrote Bone and Weston in an August press release.
“Criminal accusations against the superintendent that came to the entire board in a 7/23/2021 e-mail are worrisome,” the trustees continued. “First, all persons in our country are innocent until proven guilty. Second, the well-being of our students, staff and community are more important than anything else. Third, given the credibility of the accuser, these accusations cannot be ignored.”
“In our view, the failure to promptly schedule and hold a board of trustees meeting to discuss and address this matter can only mean that our high level of concern and sense of urgency is not universally shared among all seven trustees.”
In early September, the Texas Education Agency flagged Azaiez’s license.
“The State Board for Educator Certification has received information that could potentially impact your Texas educator certificate(s),” read an TEA email to Azaiez, obtained by Texas Scorecard. “The Educator Investigations Division has opened a case file to review and investigate this information. The allegations are as follows: Assault.”
“Due to the allegations, an investigation notice has been placed on your certification record.”
Texas Scorecard also sent four open records requests to RRISD to further investigate these matters, but the district appealed three to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to “withhold certain information,” while they requested clarification for the fourth.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office has also confirmed they too have an active investigation into Azaiez.
Citizens Confront Trustees
Citizens also had comments on the matter during the October 21 meeting.
“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.
Trustee Weston raised a point of order that the law allows such public comments, and Weir eventually backed down.
“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.
“Sadly, you [the board] knew. People knew about this and hid it,” one citizen said.
“These are very serious allegations against the only employee that you oversee, and it has been four months that you’ve known about this,” another citizen testified. “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 brought up 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.
Not the Only Potential Assault
If those series of events weren’t enough, the school board and superintendent are also allowing a potentially dangerous environment at the local schools—and ignoring concerned parents and students.
In an early November report, Texas Scorecard interviewed a handful of district students, parents, and staff experiencing a free-for-all locker room rule in the district’s schools—where boys are allowed in girls’ private rooms. Many of the interviewees also knew of school plans to place boys in girls’ hotel rooms during school trips.
Even worse, when parents and students brought their concerns to district officials, 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.
“Could we ever have a problem that you spoke about earlier [like the Loudon County sexual assault]? Obviously, anything’s possible. I hate that it would,” the principal continued. “I never thought our kids would follow Instagram or TikTok the way they do. Could that happen? Sure. I don’t want it to. I hope it never does. I hope we’ve educated our kids enough at home to know how to behave appropriately and make right decisions, but kids are kids.”
“But here’s the question: Is hope enough?” replied one student, anonymously known as Lauren.
The concerned parents also contacted numerous other district officials, but with little results. They emailed the school board and superintendent Azaiez, but in the several weeks since, only Trustees Bone and Weston ever responded.
“At Stone Bridge High School in Loudoun County, Virginia, where the school board’s policy on ‘gender expression’ provides a similar environment as presently experienced at RRISD schools, a ninth-grade girl was allegedly raped in a school bathroom by a so-called gender-fluid male student wearing a skirt,” wrote anonymous parent Julie to the school board. “Please take the time to craft, with parent input … a district-wide policy and action plan to address this dilemma.”
Will These Officials Do Something?
“Yesterday Trustee Bone and I both inquired to the superintendent, in writing, about this,” replied Trustee Weston to the parents. “I seek to protect our students’ safety and do not want what happened in Loudon County to happen here.”
“There needs to be something written. There has to be something that is an actual rule or policy somewhere, because when you just throw it up in the air and say, ‘Well, we don’t really have anything,’ and you’re flying by the seat of your pants, people can get away with whatever they want,” student Lauren said.
“I think that they should make it that the women’s locker room is solely for people that are biologically women,” another anonymous student Heather said. “And that’s not to alienate anyone. It’s just that one out of every three girls gets sexually assaulted in their life before they become adults, and this is super true, especially in public schools.”
“There’s no bathroom monitor. It’s not like the rule itself is just going to make sure all the crime goes away, but the rule is really a statement of truth and a statement of our morals,” anonymous student Jonathan said. “If we write into the rulebook that biological males are allowed to pick whatever bathroom, it opens up the door for a lot of bad actors to prey on our kids.”
“I’m super concerned about it … because it’s getting really bad,” one district staff member, called Olivia, told Texas Scorecard.
“I just don’t think that parents realize there is not a rule; there are no protections in place,” she concluded. “Fathers of daughters, are you okay with this?”
Citizens’ Petition — And The Board’s Response
After that report, parents began circulating a petition demanding the school board make a policy that protects all students. After just a few days online, the petition collected more than 600 signatures.
Parents also again brought their concerns to the board, showing up to a November board meeting to testify on the issue. The five board members, however, responded with a delay tactic commonly used by government officials: they changed their normal meeting schedule and pushed the open public comment time toward the end of their packed meeting, despite objections by Bone and Weston.
The board then proceeded to do their work for an unusual nearly eight hours, until they finally allowed the dwindled group of citizens to speak at close to 2 a.m.
“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.”
Is The Board Finally Noticing?
In early December, after nearly four months of turmoil and public outcry, the board finally met “in consultation with legal counsel to discuss the employment and performance of the Superintendent,” according to their posted agenda.
However, the board scheduled the meeting as a closed session gathering—behind closed doors and not allowing any public comment.
In response, parents and statewide political candidates gathered outside the RRISD administration building for a press conference.
“I’ve been watching what’s been going on in Round Rock, and it has been shameful,” said Trayce Bradford, current Republican candidate for Texas lieutenant governor. “[The board is] weaponizing a service. They are supposed to be in a role as a service, and they have weaponized that against you the parents.”
“For some odd reason, this scourge, this cancer is not just in Virginia. It’s not just in California or some other place. It’s right here, just up the road from the capital of the Lone Star State,” said Lt. Col. Allen West, current Republican candidate for governor. “And I would have never thought that we would be in Texas concerned about authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and tyranny from elected officials against parents.”
“I would say that these five board members and this superintendent who have committed all these acts are unfit to be leaders in this district and should resign immediately,” said district parent Jeremy Story.
As of early December, the board has not yet announced any action on their superintendent’s employment, and it is unclear whether they will or what will be the result of the TEA investigation.
The Bottom Line
Amid all of the nationwide conflicts over schools boards and education, one point remains clear in the current events of Round Rock ISD: the five school board members and superintendent are ignoring parents.
“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, one of the citizen speakers at the recent board meetings. Her organization, Moms for Liberty, is about “empowering parents to stand up for their rights, especially as they relate to the education of their children in public schools.”
Story also summarized the recent events in the district.
“The public needs to ask the question, ‘What is the Round Rock ISD Board hiding?’”