Parents' Rally Accuses Round Rock ISD of Corruption
As tensions mount between conservative parents and the RRISD board, statewide figures join the fight
"End mask tyranny," "let the public in," and "fire [Superintendent Hafedh] Azaiez" were some of the signs held by more than 40 parents and others outside Round Rock ISD's administration building on Dec. 1. As district trustees convened inside for a closed meeting to "discuss the employment and performance of the superintendent," the crowd gathered to protest what they painted as a continued silencing of conservative voices.
These allegations began over the summer, as the school board discussed health and safety protocols, including mask and vaccination policies. Much of the vitriol has been directed at Azaiez, who took over in July after Steve Flores resigned in late 2020, in part due to conflicts with newer members of the board. One parent was kicked out of an Aug. 16 meeting after alleging that Azaiez had engaged in abusive behavior toward a woman. Later, as the board considered a districtwide mask mandate in September, two parents were kicked out and later arrested after they disrupted proceedings. Trustees then moved to censure two of their colleagues, conservative Trustees Danielle Weston and Mary Bone, for also disrupting board business; they have in turn filed suit against the other five trustees, in a case that's yet to have a court hearing after several postponements, most recently in late November.
After the rally, Azaiez addressed the concerns in a written statement, calling the removals necessary to conduct regular operations. "As passions have run high and frustrations have mounted over the past year, largely due to COVID-related issues, the Board of Trustees meetings have become increasingly raucous," he wrote. "Our board goes above and beyond what is required by the Open Meetings Act to ensure opportunity for public engagement." He also noted that in addition to allowing public comment during its regular monthly meetings, the board also held eight community forums in October alone.
The pushback from Round Rock parents has attracted political support from local groups such as the Travis County Taxpayers Union, part of a trend throughout the Texas suburbs. As school board meetings have become the front lines of the state's culture wars, statewide candidates have flocked to support conservative parents, whose complaints have been amplified in right-leaning media outlets including Breitbart, the New York Post, and Texas Scorecard.
"We are concerned about authoritarianism, totalitarianism, and tyranny from elected officials against parents," said Allen West, former chair of the Texas Republican Party, as he took the mic at the rally. For West, who's challenging Gov. Greg Abbott in the GOP primary this spring, the event was another opportunity to show his support for the party's rightward pivot. On Monday, the party launched a new Local Government Committee to work with county parties to back candidates for nonpartisan local offices, including school boards. As four board seats in Round Rock come up on the 2022 ballot, it seems the fight may be just beginning.