FIRST ON FOX – Two Texas fathers who were arrested for allegedly disturbing meetings of the Round Rock Independent School District school board have filed a federal lawsuit claiming the district and its agents violated their rights under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
"The overall trend is basically a conspiracy among many of them to remove and restrain the civil rights of citizens whom they disagree with," one of the arrested fathers, Jeremy Story, told Fox News Digital on Thursday. "They ultimately have gone to great lengths to silence parents who disagree with them and ultimately to conceal their own malfeasance."
In the lawsuit, Story and Dustin Clark claimed the school district, five members of the board of trustees, Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez and members of the school district police force violated their rights under the First Amendment, the 14th Amendment and 42 U.S. Code 1983. They claimed the school board acted illegally in hiring Azaiez, in passing a tax increase and in arranging for their arrests.
Clark is a father of four children in RRISD schools. Story is a father of seven children who lives in the district but whose children attend school outside it.
The fathers alleged that the defendants violated their rights to petition the government for redress and violated their rights to exercise free speech without retaliation.
They also claimed the defendants violated their rights to due process by arbitrarily arresting them or having them arrested without probable cause, among other allegations. The suit also claimed the board of trustees "failed to operate openly, and violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by deliberating in secret and deciding that Azaiez should be hired in a later sham vote."
In the lawsuit, Story and Clark demanded a temporary restraining order and court injunctions to prevent the defendants from enforcing "arbitrary spacing rules at board meetings using the Limited Public Comment and pretextual COVID-19 seating rule to limit criticism." The proposed order would also void the contract between RRISD and Azaiez.
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, a spokeswoman for the school district, said it had not yet been served with the suit and declined comment. None of the other defendants responded to Fox News Digital's requests for comment.
The scandal and the arrests
The lawsuit centered on the arrests of Story and Clark on Sept. 17, 2021, on one misdemeanor charge each of hindering proceedings by disorderly conduct. The lawsuit called the charges "false" and "trumped-up," claiming they "did not constitute a basis for arrest because Plaintiffs were simply exercising their constitutional right to participate in the board meeting."
The charge against Story traced back to a board meeting on Aug. 16, 2021, in which Story attempted to voice concerns about Azaiez, whom the district recently had hired. The district temporarily suspended Azaiez in January 2022, after the Texas Education Agency recommended suspension due to accusations the superintendent faced from his former girlfriend. (The district reinstated him in March.)
The Travis County District Court previously provided Fox News with an application for a protective order against Azaiez. In that document, a woman who identified herself as Azaiez's girlfriend from September 2018 to December 2020 and then from February 2021 to June 2021 claimed that when she told Azaiez she was pregnant with his child, he demanded that she get an abortion, and when she refused, he assaulted her in her home, which put her in danger of a miscarriage.
Mary Nix, the attorney representing Azaiez, noted that "all applications for protective orders, including the one to which you refer, contain ‘allegations’ which are unproven and are not ‘facts.’ As I succinctly stated in a January 5, 2022 press release, we have objective evidence that the alleged assault, which is the genesis of this controversy, did not occur and we believe that evidence to be incontrovertible." In her Jan. 5, 2022, press release, Nix wrote that "the personal dispute between Dr. Azaiez and the third-party complainant was amicably resolved and there is a confidential settlement agreement. An agreed-upon civil restraining order was entered into by and between Dr. Azaiez and the complainant."
During the Aug. 16 meeting, then-board President Amy Weir cut Story off, warning him not to speak about a topic unrelated to the meeting's agenda. Story had referred to a "protective order" against Azaiez, and RRISD police escorted him out of the meeting.
Weir previously told Fox News that "there has never been an attempt to silence Mr. Story." She noted that, as per normal procedure, Story wrote on a card indicating what he would say at the meeting, and he wrote that "unlike the board, citizens are not required to speak on items on the agenda," thus indicating that "he was planning to speak on a topic not listed for the meeting," Weir said.
LaCoste-Caputo said, "At no time were speakers not allowed to speak in accordance with state law and board policy at a Round Rock ISD board meeting."
The charges against Clark traced to a Sept. 14, 2021, school board meeting in which RRISD set up 18 chairs in a room that accommodated 300 people and prevented members of the public from entering. "These actions seemed to be an effort to intimidate parents and control the optics by arbitrarily restricting the capacity of parents and community members allowed in the boardroom," Clark previously told Fox News Digital.
The school board passed a tax increase at that meeting, an increase that the lawsuit claimed was illegal.
Clark spoke up at that meeting before police removed him; they arrested him three days later.
"Mr. Clark came into the board room after seating capacity limits had been met, and was escorted out after he continued to shout at board members and other attendees, interrupting the board’s discussion and a public speaker whose turn it was to address the board," Weir previously told Fox News regarding the incident.
LaCoste-Caputo noted that the district had an overflow room where members of the public could watch the proceedings on a screen.
‘A landmark case’
Story told Fox News Digital on Thursday he hoped the lawsuit will become "a landmark case to reverse the loss of parental rights across the country and to give parents a voice back in their kids' education."
"We want our public education system to simply educate our children and when we send our children to the public school, we are not submitting to be co-parents with the federal government," he added.