The Austin Chronicle

Round Rock Superintendent Put on Leave

Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez's paid leave is pending the results of an external investigation over abuse, fidelity allegations

By Morgan O’Hanlon, January 14, 2022, News

A group of conservative Round Rock ISD parents celebrated the district's decision last week to place Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez on paid leave as a small victory. For months, these parents have sought Azaiez's removal over allegations of infidelity and abusive behavior in his personal life. On Jan. 6, RRISD trustees deliberated in closed session over a letter by a monitor appointed by the Texas Education Agency (in response to discord among the trustees themselves), recommending Azaiez be placed on leave pending the findings of an external investigation. But many parents have argued over the course of several board meetings, noisy protests, and countless Facebook posts that he should be fired outright. As for the five trustees who defended his position? They should resign, critics say.

When trustees reconvened Jan. 6 in open session, board President Amber Feller explained her reluctance to adhere to the recommendations of the TEA monitor. "I teach a class every other week on abuse, neglect and exploitation; I take very seriously the responsibility of protecting vulnerable populations," she said. However, numerous troubling facts and circumstances surrounding the allegations have led her to doubt their validity. "I have asked numerous times that this board be allowed access to the information that TEA and our monitor used to make these recommendations. My requests have been repeatedly denied." Feller said she voted in favor of the motion to place Azaiez on leave, which passed 6-1, with comfort in her belief that paid administrative leave is not an adverse employment action.

There's no doubt that the accusations have been co-opted by an increasingly vocal group of Round Rock conservatives to their political advantage; it's still to be determined whether Azaiez did anything wrong. Although a protective order was filed ex parte against him, he reached a settlement agreement with the other party. Whether or not abuse occurred, facts of an extramarital affair are outlined in the original petition for the protective order. But should a superintendent's personal life be put under the looking glass when it comes to employment?

Raquel Martinez, an activist "watchdog" in Donna ISD in the Rio Grande Valley, where Azaiez served as superintendent before Round Rock, called in during the board meeting to say yes. Regardless of the validity of the allegations, Martinez told the Chronicle, the standard to which supportive trustees are holding Azaiez is different from what an educator would face in a similar circumstance. "I don't care if you're Democrat or Republican, or you wear a mask or you don't wear a mask – that's your business," she said. "If this had been a teacher, that teacher would have been suspended."

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