Round Rock ISD Boils Over as Superintendent Fate Is in Limbo

Board of Trustees punts its final decision

Right-leaning trustees Mary Bone, pictured, tried and failed to add an agenda item to allow the termination of Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez in the next meeting. (Image via Round Rock ISD)

Parents from both sides of the ideological chasm that's riven Round Rock ISD are anxious for a resolution to the scandal and political uproar within the 48,000-student district, which has garnered national attention from right-wing media outlets. But the RRISD Board of Trustees has punted its final decision on the fate of RRISD Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez until a special called meeting on March 8, ensuring that temperatures will continue to rise for another two weeks.

The district originally said that the final report of a Texas Education Agency investigation into accusations against Azaiez would be revealed earlier this month; the superintendent is accused of having an extramarital relationship (which is tacitly confirmed by court filings) with a woman whom he later subjected to abusive behavior. But a motion during the Feb. 17 meeting by Trustee Amy Weir postponing the matter until March 8 passed 5-2, so independent investigator Anne Dixon could be present to answer questions on her findings. As is typically the case in RRISD, the two nays came from right-leaning Trustees Danielle Weston and Mary Bone, who called for the report to be submitted immediately. "We have the draft report," Bone complained. "This is a failure of leadership."

Weston and Bone have pushed hard for Azaiez's resignation along with the conservative culture-war agenda (lifting mask mandates, banning critical race theory, etc.), but they aren't the only ones who want an end to months of speculation. Wanda Griffin, who lives in the district, said during the meeting that she's hopeful the findings will clear Azaiez's name and allow him to resume leadership (he's been on administrative leave for a month).

Besides business related to the Azaiez scandal, the board agenda at its regular meeting Feb. 17 was filled with items addressing low employee morale, staff shortages, underpaid teachers, and student mental health – the same challenges being weathered by Austin ISD and other school districts across the state. Although speakers during the meeting were starkly divided by politics, everyone in attendance made clear the district needs strong leaders at its helm now more than ever. Bone then tried and failed to add an agenda item to the next regular board meeting on March 24 allowing trustees to terminate Azaiez's contract. Although that attempt caught the other five trustees off guard, the fact that board members have already seen Dixon's findings may suggest what's to come in less than two weeks' time.

No matter which side RRISD residents are on, no one doubts that the drama is taking energy away from a focus on student success.

The infighting between trustees, which to this point had mostly taken place in closed session, continued throughout both last week's regular meeting and yet another special called meeting Tuesday, Feb. 22. After coming out of closed session at the end of the former, Bone and Weston accused Board President Amber Feller, Weir, and Trustee Tiffanie Harrison of multiple transgressions, including abuse of power, and called for independent investigations into their actions. "I don't even understand what she's talking about," said Trustee Cory Vessa as she abstained from a vote to allow questions on Bone's motion. That motion by Weston failed in a 1-4-2 vote; the rest were blocked by the board's counsel as not being germane to items on that meeting's agenda.

On Tuesday, in perhaps the most shocking exchange of the night, Bone accused the other five trustees of silencing her and Weston's voices, which she compared to the need for representation by BIPOC and other marginalized communities. "You guys sit up here and say you're all for minorities but you're not; you're for the minorities that agree with you," she said. To which Har­ri­son, the board's sole Black member, replied: "I cannot believe what I just heard." (Bone, Weston, Vessa, Feller, and Weir are all white women; the seventh trustee, Dr. Jun Xiao, has announced his intent to resign but will still be on the board when it makes its decision on Azaiez on March 8.)

At the special called Tuesday meeting, which was announced over the weekend, three complaints were filed against trustees, including Weston, whom Kathryn Kyrish suggests be censured for violating district policy. Documents obtained by Kyrish under the Texas Public Information Act appear to show that Weston attempted to have Kyrish, who's serving a three-year term as an appointed public servant on the School Health Advisory Council, removed from her position following her criticism of Weston on social media. It was unclear against whom the other two complaints were filed. Although the RRISD trustees had previously voted to censure both Weston and Bone, they were blocked from doing so via a temporary restraining order granted by Williamson County District Judge Betsy Lambeth, who was holding a hearing in the case Wednesday afternoon as the Chronicle went to press.

No matter which side RRISD residents are on, no one doubts that the drama is taking energy away from a focus on student success; Feller said that of 27 agenda item requests over the last several meetings, only one had to do with student outcomes or academic achievement.

"We need to remember what we're here for," she cautioned.

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