Texas' Round Rock Independent School District (ISD) school board met Monday to discuss a state agency's report on the superintendent, Dr. Hafedh Azaiez, amid scandal. The board will meet again on Thursday to discuss the same issue and may act on it.
The Texas Education Agency (TEA) had previously confirmed to Fox News that it had been investigating Azaiez amid claims of assault. Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, a spokeswoman for the school district, previously told Fox News that Azaiez does not currently face criminal charges, but the Travis County Sheriff's Office has confirmed it has an active investigation into Azaiez for alleged assault. Azaiez also faces accusations that he used school board police – both in Round Rock ISD and in his former posting at Donna ISD – to silence his critics.
Parents have expressed skepticism about the closed session meeting and are calling on the school board to publicly release the report.
According to the Jan. 3 meeting's agenda – which the Board of Trustees released earlier this week – "the Board will review the TEA Monitor’s letter regarding Round Rock Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez."
The board did not release the TEA letter in question, but the TEA did provide a memorandum to Fox News, which the TEA sent on Dec. 15. In the memorandum, TEA Monitor David Faltys recommends that the school board place Azaiez on leave and hire an external investigator. Azaiez, through his lawyer, Mary Nix, has contested some of the claims in that letter.
Faltys recommends that the board place Azaiez "on paid administrative leave pending the outcome of an investigation regarding the underlying conduct found in a protective order issued by a Travis County District Court" and "contract the services of an external investigator to conduct an investigation regarding the underlying conduct described above."
Nix made four claims in a letter sent to Fox News.
"There is no protective order; There were no findings by the court; The matter has been amicably resolved; and REDACTED and Mr. Azaiez have agreed to a civil restraining order pursuant to a confidential settlement agreement - NOT a protective order," Nix wrote. Fox News has requested a copy of the order to verify its nature.
The board discussed the TEA letter in closed session at the Jan. 3 meeting. The board adjourned before making any motions on the matter, but it placed the matter on the agenda for a Jan. 6 meeting. On Thursday, the board will consider the TEA recommendation to put Azaiez on administrative leave pending a third-party investigation, will consider hiring an external investigator, and will consider the appointment of a temporary acting superintendent. The board repeatedly referred to the order in question as a "protective order."
Danielle Weston, a board member who has previously expressed concerns about Azaiez and who voted against hiring him, expressed concerns about the meeting before it took place.
"I will say that in my opinion, the language on the agenda is not consistent with what is in the letter the TEA sent the board," Weston, speaking in her own capacity and not on behalf of the board, told Fox News. "I am surprised and disappointed to see this inconsistency and have repeatedly asked the board president (the party responsible for setting the agenda and language therein) to align the agenda with the contents of the letter. She has rejected my request."
Weston expressed concern about the meeting's timing, as well. While the regular school board meetings begin at 5:30 p.m., the Jan. 3 meeting had been scheduled for 2 p.m.
"I believe that scheduling this meeting at 2 p.m. has the net effect of denying real-time access to our community," Weston said. Weston, Clark, and others have accused the district of restricting public access to meetings in violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act, a claim the district has denied. In one particularly notorious Sept. 14 meeting, the school district only set up 18 seats for the public. The district includes several 6-A high schools, currently the largest classification in Texas, and over 51,000 students.
Parents who had expressed concerns about Azaiez welcomed the meeting, but they also echoed Weston's concerns.
"This board meeting is a direct result of many complaints from parents like myself, and an ongoing investigation by the Texas Education Agency (TEA)," Dustin Clark, a father of four children in public schools who got arrested for allegedly disturbing a school board meeting, told Fox News on Thursday. Clark and others had raised concerns about Azaiez when the school board was considering hiring him.
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, the district spokesperson, declined to comment on the Jan. 3 meeting.
"The 2pm time for this meeting appears to be an effort to suppress parent comments by conducting a meeting during normal working hours which would exclude most parents and teachers in the community who would otherwise be at work," Clark added. "Furthermore, the board has not attached the TEA letter to the agenda, and does not appear willing to make it available to the public."
"In the interest of open and transparent government, I call on RRISD board President Amber Feller and the rest of the board officers to make this document available to the public immediately," the father added. "The school board needs to be honest with itself and ask, ‘Will we continue to cover and condone domestic assault by our own superintendent?’"
Eric Norbut, a father of two who lives in Round Rock ISD but does not send his kids to public school, told Fox News that "typically, with an agenda item like this, the board will attach documents in question for public review."
"I have observed that five of our trustees routinely make efforts to hide information from the community, and I believe that's exactly what they're doing here," Norbut added. "I'm calling on the board to release the monitor's letter immediately."
Jennifer Flok White, a mother of two girls in Round Rock ISD schools, also called on the board to release the letter. "They are not being transparent and the RRISD community needs to know what is being alleged and if something has been found against Dr. Azaiez, what is being done about it?" White told Fox News. "We need to protect our children, teachers, staff, parents & community from this individual."
Jeremy Story, a RRISD resident father of seven homeschooled children who got arrested for allegedly disrupting school board meetings after he raised concerns about the assault claims against Azaiez, said the Jan. 3 meeting presents an opportunity for the school board to restore trust with the community.
"The board has an opportunity in this upcoming meeting to repair some of their damage by putting the Superintendent on unpaid leave or continue to cover up the serious allegations against Hafedh Azaiez," Story told Fox News on Thursday. "Even if they do put him on unpaid leave, I believe that five members of the board will continue to try to distance themselves from owning responsibility for creating this situation."
"They are truly responsible for laying the foundations of this disaster by hiring Azaiez in spite of community concerns and subsequent to that suppressing the viewpoints of two other board members who have tried to draw attention to this problem," Story claimed. "The unfaithful five board members topped all these wrongful actions off by arresting Dustin and I for speaking out against their misguided actions."
LaCoste-Caputo and Amy Weir, then-president of the school board, insisted in remarks to Fox News that the district and school board had not attempted to silence Story or Clark.
Neither Weir nor Amber Feller, who is currently the board president, responded to Fox News' request for comment by press time.
Feller did, however, respond to a parent, who requested that the board release the document before the meeting. She sent an email response to the parent, which the parent forwarded to Fox News.
Feller noted that the district has been closed since Dec. 17. "I had one staff member come into the office yesterday morning, for less than one hour, on her vacation time and without pay, to post for the meeting," Feller wrote. She added that different lawyers gave her conflicting legal advice regarding the letter before she received clarification from the TEA on Thursday afternoon.
"Due to the fact that no staff are in the office, there [is] no one available until Monday, January 3rd, to attach anything to the agenda," Feller added, clarifying that adding documents to the agenda is "not a function the Board is able to do themselves."