Economy

Texas dads arrested for disrupting school board demand that charges be dropped after superintendent suspended

Two Texas fathers who were arrested for allegedly disturbing meetings of the Round Rock Independent School District school board called on the county attorney to drop the charges against them in light of the school board vote to suspend Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez following a Texas Education Agency (TEA) recommendation.

The fathers had voiced concerns about Azaiez and one of them was arrested after speaking the words “protective order,” referring to an order in a domestic case that led the TEA to recommend Azaiez’s suspension pending an investigation.

“The Texas Education Agency vindicated me last week by calling for an investigation into Superintendent Azaiez,” Jeremy Story, a father of seven children who lives in the district but whose children attend school outside it, told Fox News. “The TEA should expand their investigation into the errant board members who weaponized the police to silence me.”

The TEA did not respond to Fox News’ requests for comment.

The Williamson County Sheriff’s Office arrested Story, along with Dustin Clark, a father of four children in RRISD schools, on Sept. 17, 2021, on one misdemeanor charge each of “Hinder Proceeding by Disorderly Conduct.” The charge against Story traced back to an Aug. 16 board meeting in which Story attempted to voice concerns about Azaiez. During that meeting, then-Board President Amy Weir cut Story off, warning him not to speak about a topic unrelated to the meeting’s agenda. After he uttered the words “protective order,” RRISD police escorted him out of the meeting.

Weir previously told Fox News that “there has never been an attempt to silence Mr. Story.” Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, a spokeswoman for the school district, 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.”

Story told Fox News, “County Attorney Dee Hobbs is still trying to prosecute me. He should immediately dismiss the charges against both Dustin and me.” Ryan Deck, the attorney representing Story and Clark, told Fox News the county attorney has signaled his intent on prosecuting the charges.

“I was literally dragged off the public comments stand in the middle of my lawful speech,” Story added, referring to the events of Aug. 16. “I had caused no disruption and was quoting a resolution on the board meeting agenda regarding public safety and superintendent oversight. Amy Weir and four other board members secretly knew Superintendent Azaiez had a protective order against him.” He added that Weir “predetermined before I ever spoke to declare my comments non-germane” to the agenda.

As for the claim that the board members knew about the order against Azaiez, Story noted that current board President Amber Feller said (during the Jan. 6, 2022, board meeting) that she and other members had been “made aware” of the domestic dispute regarding Azaiez on July 14, 2021.

Story also noted that Feller allowed speakers to go off-topic in the Jan. 6 meeting – to an extent. According to public footage of the meeting, Trustee Mary Bone asked Feller, “Are we going to allow comments that are not on the agenda topics?” Feller replied, “I am trying to allow as much lenience as I can, as long as they are able to bring their comments back to the topics on hand.”

“As long as they are able to bring their comments back to the topics that are on our agenda, then yes, I will allow it,” Feller added. “If somebody is speaking to something completely off of our topic, then I will not allow that.”

Story told Fox News the apparent double standard of allowing people to speak off-topic on Jan. 6 while removing him mid-sentence on Aug. 16 constituted a “violation of equal protection under the law.”

“They let many speakers who were supportive of Azaiez wander onto non-germane topics in order to attack my faith and character as well as the character of parents throughout the district,” he said. “Apparently it is fine to wander on to non-germane issues as long as you are willing to attack me or others who are exposing these unlawful board members.”

Story even went so far as to suggest that Hobbs should investigate “the errant board members,” claiming that if he did not, he essentially would be “joining with the school board and superintendent’s illicit activities.”

Hobbs did not respond to Fox News’ requests for comment.

Danielle Weston, a board member who also expressed skepticism about Azaiez from the beginning, told Fox News board members would allow non-germane comments at the many school board meetings.

“Throughout these years, I have watched numerous citizens speak during public comments on topics not on the agenda in special and called board meetings,” she said, speaking in her personal capacity. “Prior to Aug 16, 2021, I had never witnessed a public speaker removed by the police while exercising their right to address the board during public comments.”

“I was confused and concerned when the board president ordered the removal of Mr Story on Aug 16, 2021, and my concerns about [Weir’s] order and the actions of those police officers have only grown since that date for both legal and community relations reasons,” Weston added. She said that in more recent meetings, other speakers have addressed topics not on the agenda – and didn’t get kicked out and arrested.

As for the domestic dispute, the Travis County Sheriff’s Office previously confirmed to Fox News that it had an investigation into Azaiez for alleged assault. Mary Nix, Azaiez’s lawyer, confirmed the domestic case but contested the language of a “protective order,” a term the TEA and the school board repeatedly used. 

“There is no protective order; There were no findings by the court; The matter has been amicably resolved; and REDACTED and Mr. Azaiez have agreed to a civil restraining order pursuant to a confidential settlement agreement – NOT a protective order,” Nix previously wrote in a letter to Fox News. Azaiez, through his attorney, declined to comment on this story.

The charge against Clark dated back to a Sept. 14, 2021, board meeting, where the meeting room that accommodates 300 people had only 18 chairs set up and RRISD police prevented members of the public from entering.

Clark repeatedly raised his voice to object to this situation, asking, “Why won’t you let the public in?” After a warning, Weir directed RRISD police to remove Clark. Weir told Fox News that Clark “was escorted out after he continued to shout at board members and other attendees.”

Clark also called for Hobbs to drop the charges against him.

“I’m calling for County Attorney Dee Hobbs to drop these charges because the [Round Rock ISD] police answer to the superintendent in their chain of command, and the police were likely directed by the superintendent to keep the public out of the Sept. 14 meeting due to a last-minute policy implemented by Dr. Azaiez,” Clark told Fox News.

“This restricted seating capacity policy was being applied nowhere else in the district – only in that board meeting room, during that meeting,” Clark said. “The board president and superintendent cited COVID safety as the justification for restricting the capacity to just 18 chairs, but they have not restricted the seating capacity since that incident, and right now we have more than double the daily number of new cases of coronavirus than were occurring at the time.”

Ryan Deck, the defense attorney representing Story and Clark, told Fox News that Hobbs offered to present the case before a grand jury, allowing Story and Clark to present their side of events as well. 

“It is absolutely abnormal, atypical for a misdemeanor case to be presented to a grand jury,” Deck told Fox News. He said Texas courts generally have used grand juries for felonies, not misdemeanors.

The board members aside from Weston, including Feller and Weir, did not respond to Fox News’ requests for comment.

Written by Tyler O’Neil 

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