Dispatches from Dallas: Special school edition for April 21

This is a special edition of the weekly feature produced by my friend Ginger, focused on school districts and the May election. Let us know what you think.

Welcome to a special schools edition of Dispatches from Dallas. A number of school districts have trustee elections or bond measures on the upcoming ballot, so this seemed like a good time to publish relevant news. Other districts have been in the news for other reasons. As always, if your area has any races, I encourage you to vote. Early voting starts April 22!

If you’re looking for information about Fort Worth and Tarrant County elections, you should check out the Fort Worth Report’s election page. We don’t have a great area resource like that on the Dallas side of the Metroplex, and certainly not without a paywall, but I’ll keep looking for one.

  • We’ll start with one of the best resources for voting in school board elections: The Book-Loving Texan’s Guide to the May 2024 School Board Elections. Currently we have details on Frisco, Denton, Grapevine-Colleyville, Keller, and Midlothian, with work in progress on Arlington and Mansfield. I note that a lot of options have been disabled on the document this time around, which suggests to me that security has become important. Read up on your local school board if only because it’s clear the other folks don’t want you to know who’s banning books.
  • Related: Here’s an analysis of how book bans correlate to Trumpism nationally. The numbers for Texas are pretty depressing.
  • Here’s a theme we’re going to see a lot of in news coverage: North Texas school districts struggle to shore up looming deficits. We’re past the wave of Millennial echo-boomers and enrollments are starting to drop. On top of that, pandemic funding has dried up though the needs the pandemic caused are still there. Plus, the Lege wants more money for vouchers, which means less for public schools. Y’all know this; it’s just good to keep it in mind.
  • Speaking of that pandemic money that’s going away in September, the Star-Telegram has a round-up of how Fort Worth-area districts are dealing with losing it.
  • And, on the subject of closures, the Dallas Observer has a good summary.
  • The SBOE has been considering a Native American Studies course for K-12 but they’re slow-rolling it and won’t consider it until at least June, too late for schools to offer the course in the fall. This choice, and the politics that surround it, are of a piece with the DEI bans at the university level. While they’re not on the ballot this time, keep an eye on your SBOE candidates. We don’t want to go back to the days when Mel and Norma Gabler were leading the SBOE around.
  • You may remember that the Legislature decided to allow chaplains to serve as counselors at Texas public schools last year. It turns out that the big school districts aren’t interested and that the only school to take the Lege up on that deal as of early this month is a charter school in Arlington.
  • Collin County’s favorite boy, Attorney General Ken Paxton, is having no resistance to his donors’ reactionary plans for Texas schools. You may recall he has been seeking injunctions against school districts statewide for electioneering, and earlier this month misdemeanor charges were filed against two Denton ISD principals that could result in fines of up to $4000 and a year in jail apiece if they’re convicted. Not having read the statute, I can’t say whether these principals were electioneering as the law defines it. I firmly believe in Wilhoit’s Law as a key point of modern conservatism, though, and this case demonstrates that public school teachers and administrators are now the sort of people bound by the law instead of the folks protected by it.
  • Frisco ISD was also targeted by Paxton for electioneering and and decided to settle. The latest thing I found on the suit was this news about additional filings from the AG’s office so it sounds like that still hasn’t been settled. Ominous bit from the AG’s press release: “While unable to criminally prosecute violators at this time, Attorney General Paxton is committed to using all available means to protect the integrity of Texas elections.” Emphasis mine.
  • In early March, the Brewer Storefront, the pro bono arm of a Dallas law firm, sent notices to eleven districts, including several in North Texas, about the use of at-large trustee places and how that may violate the Voting Rights Act. Our host posted about this a few weeks ago and the Star-Telegram has an explainer that covers some of the nuances that lawyers and jurors in such a suit would look at. The firm posts news releases about the Brewer Storefront’s work and as of this writing the last post is in mid-March. I’ll be keeping an eye on the districts in North Texas that received these letters and others with at-large voting to see what happens next.
  • Moving on to some individual school districts: Mansfield ISD has some election-related news so I’m starting with them. They have two trustee seats on the ballot but one of the trustee candidates is ineligible. The Star-Telegram’s endorsement of the remaining candidate has some additional details that make the politics of the matter clearer (the eligible candidate is a Democrat; the ineligible candidate, who wouldn’t talk to the Star-Telegram, is backed by “conservative groups”). In keeping with the note I mentioned above about at-large districts, I’ll note here that Mansfield ISD trustee seats are elected at-large.
  • Keller ISD has shown up in the news a lot over last couple of months. Enough, in fact, that I’m going to subdivide into topics for you:
    • You may recall that a Keller ISD engineering teacher quit during a school board meeting back in February. She explained why to WFAA after it happened.
    • If you don’t understand what happened with the evangelical film crew that filmed in one of Keller’s high schools without board permission, the Star-Telegram has you covered. See also: WFAA’s coverage. The episode aired this month and the Fort Worth Report has some details on what was aired and what was edited out, and why.
    • The Star-Telegram has some opinions about how Keller ISD failed to plan properly when it built an elementary school in 2007. Now they’re trying to keep an extended-stay motel from being built about 100 feet away from the school.
    • They also have a piece about rumors about a refugee shelter at an Islamic prayer center in Keller. If you click through, be ready to read some xenophobic immigrant talk right out of the MAGA playbook.
    • Back in February, students at Timber Creek High in Keller ISD were told they couldn’t perform a play about the murder of Matthew Shepard. The superintendent backed down after a backlash and the show will go on in May.
    • One of Keller ISD’s budgetary cutbacks is rolling up its advanced learning schools into one campus. The school that’s closing requires $10 million in repairs; the current budget deficit for the district is $27 million.
  • Similarly, last month, Richardson ISD trustees voted to close four schools over the next few years to deal with their budget shortfalls.
  • You may recall that Lewisville ISD suspended a teacher for wearing a tutu during school spirit day in February after Libs of Tik Tok and Governor Abbott went after him. An investigation found he did nothing wrong, but he resigned anyway. Worst part: it was the students who encouraged him to wear the tutu.
  • Libs of Tik Tok also went after a middle school teacher in Northwest ISD who advises the gay-straight alliance at the school. They made a fake bomb threat against this teacher’s home, y’all.
  • Sherman ISD was in the news last fall over a high school production of the musical Oklahoma! after the Superintendent banned playing roles opposite a student’s gender assigned at birth to force a trans student out of the production and as a side effect a bunch of cis students in gender-swapped roles. In February the production went on as originally planned, but last month the district suspended the Superintendent after a third-party investigation. And now the Board of Trustees will consider terminating his contract at their next meeting.
  • Crowley ISD has been at the center of a few news items recently. First, like everybody else, they’re in deficit to the tune of $16 million and are considering measures including job cuts to reduce it. Second, an incumbent board member repurposed a district video as an election ad on Facebook and her opponent filed an ethic charge against her last month. Third, the district is opening a new elementary school in the fall and named it Crowley Montessori Academy. Normally this wouldn’t be noteworthy but both “Grandmother of Juneteenth” Opal Lee and a well-known local Black educator were also considered for possible naming honors.
  • Last month Dallas ISD was supposed to consider renaming some campuses and the DMN explained how that might happen. I can’t find any record of decisions with a quick search, but I did find out that DISD is renaming a middle school after State Senator Royce West unless opponents who prefer the old name stop the change.
  • Fort Worth ISD is facing money woes: an arts charter school lost a major donor and may have to shut down and an underperforming sixth grade is being closed.
  • Dallas ISD, like every other district in north Texas, is facing money troubles and hard decisions. Earlier this month, the superintendent gave a State of the District address that called out both the district’s successes and the lack of funding from the Legislature (read: the GOP).
  • And in unrelated news here in Dallas, a DISD student at Hillcrest High has filed a complaint with the Department of Justice about antisemitic bullying in their school (warning for antisemitic language and bullying if you click through, obviously). And at Wilmer-Hutchins High School in far south Dallas, a student snuck a gun past the metal detectors and shot another student in the leg earlier this month. A community meeting to deal with concerns was held following the shooting; unfortunately what the community wants and needs costs money, and that’s not happening any time soon in Texas public schools.

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One Response to Dispatches from Dallas: Special school edition for April 21

  1. Ross says:

    The AG office website says the anti-electioneering statute is Texas Election Code 250.003(a). I am not a lawyer, but it seems pretty clear to me that the principals in question violated that statute when they used school computers to encourage staff to vote for certain candidates.

    Employees of any government entity in Texas would be well served to only use their personal email and social media to communicate voting suggestions and make sure none of those communications go out during work hours.

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