An interview with District 1 Trustee Edwin Flores revealed board trustees of the Dallas Independent School District are responsible for the district mask mandate and the subsequent actions of school staff. That’s because the superintendent answers to the trustees.

DISD’s September 23 trustee board meeting became a flashpoint for two incidents. First, DISD police threatened citizen Tami Brown Rodriguez with arrest if she didn’t wear a mask or leave. The charge against her would have been criminal trespass.

Texas Scorecard sent inquiries to every trustee; only Flores replied. The following day, Texas Scorecard interviewed him for more than an hour. Our goal was to learn the following:

  • Who ultimately is responsible for the policy that unmasked citizens can be threatened with arrest if they don’t leave?
  • Who gave the order for Rodriguez to be threatened with arrest?

 

Mask Mandate

Currently, Dallas ISD mandates masks. We asked Flores if it is the board’s policy to threaten citizens with criminal trespass unless they mask or leave. “We do have a code of conduct for our meetings, and currently, because of the mask requirement, that would be part of the code,” he replied.

“The trustees approve the policy that says we have an orderly board meeting,” Flores said. “The superintendent sets the policy regarding masks for the school district.”

He explained trustees’ duties and who Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa answers to. “[Trustees] only do three things: We approve the policies of the district, we approve the budget, … and we hire and fire the superintendent.” Last year, the board extended Hinojosa’s contract for five years.

Flores explained what leads to police enforcement. “We do have procedures so that we have an orderly meeting, and the police follow those procedures for us to have an orderly meeting.”

As our questions continued, Flores claimed this situation is about maintaining order. “You’re assuming that this all has to do with masks,” he said. “We’ve had unruly behavior in the school board where people were throwing podiums, and we’ve had the Black Panthers come in with machine guns.” When asked, he later said “nobody rational would equate” Black Panthers and violence with not wearing a mask.

Tami Brown Rodriguez’ Arrest

We asked Flores if he gave the order to force Rodriguez to leave under threat of arrest, or if he knew who did. He replied, “I can answer that it wasn’t me, and I don’t know who did it.”

During the interview, we sent him our recording of Rodriguez being threatened with arrest and asked whether or not DISD police were following board policy. “They were following the code of conduct for our meetings,” he replied.

Flores said there was a process to follow if Rodriguez objected to DISD police’s actions. “If the citizen has a problem with it, we do have a policy that allows for a complaint to be filed,” Flores said. “That then triggers an investigation by the Office of Professional Responsibility of the school district.”

“Rest assured, I will not only be filing a complaint against DISD officers,” Rodriguez told Texas Scorecard. “The absolute arrogance of DISD to ignore [Gov. Greg Abbott’s Executive Order] GA 38, as well as Penal Code 39.03, and acting in an unlawful manner is far more problematic than the veiled attempt to arrest me for criminal trespass.”

Flores added he saw nothing on September 23, or during the two months prior, that was “different” in DISD police’s “behavior or professionalism.” We asked him who votes to approve the DISD police budget. “The school board does.”

Texas Scorecard asked Flores if he had asked school staff about the Rodriguez incident and launched an investigation of his own to determine what happened. “I can’t because we’re a policy board. … School trustees don’t get involved in operations,” he replied. “There are only two people who work for me, and that’s the superintendent and the board auditor, and they are the only people who I can ask to do anything.” He said he would “be glad to ask” the superintendent about the situation.

We sent a follow-up inquiry to Flores, asking if he had spoken with Hinojosa yet. “I have not received a reply from [administration],” Flores replied. “I will be glad to ask staff tomorrow when I am at our monthly briefing.”

While legislation to prohibit mask mandates from school districts was placed on previous special session agendas earlier this summer, Gov. Greg Abbott has declined to add it to the current agenda, meaning lawmakers are currently barred from acting. Only days remain in the third special session.

This article has been updated since publication.