Over the past year, the Round Rock ISD board of trustees has been the subject of numerous controversies that caused the district to make national headlines.
Issues include the appointment of a Texas Education Agency monitor, disputes over COVID-19 policies and allegations resulting in the superintendent being placed on leave.
In early 2021, officials and parents began clashing over the district’s mask policies, which led to lengthy regular and special meetings so the board could discuss the matter.
Then in late spring 2021, controversy continued over what some within the district saw as an expedited hiring process for new Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez, who was eventually hired in June.
In August, the Texas Education Agency assigned a monitor, David Faltys, to RRISD based on a complaint levied against former Board Member Chad Chadwell from 2019.
At a Sept. 14 regular meeting, two district parents challenged seating restrictions imposed by the district due to COVID-19 safety protocols. They also voiced disagreement over procedural steps centered on the district's tax rate. Both parents were arrested three days later on misdemeanor charges for disruption of a public hearing.
Around that time, trustees Mary Bone and Danielle Weston faced censure, or formal condemnation, over disruptive actions at a board meeting involving their opposition to the seating policy at public hearings.
In November, Bone and Weston began appearing on national media platforms to voice their disapproval of the arrests and characterize their pending censure as an overreach of power.
RRISD officials have still not taken action on the censure of Bone and Weston.
Most recently, RRISD officials voted Jan. 6 to place Azaiez on administrative leave—pending the outcome of an investigation into underlying personal conduct described in a Travis County District Court—and for the board to engage an independent investigator.
The string of controversies, capped by the decision to place Azaiez on leave, has resulted in many residents publicly stating they have lost faith in RRISD.
“2021 has made RRISD national news,” district parent John Cagy said at a Jan. 3 board meeting. “This is not good notoriety. ... We are not known for our stellar achievements in academics or for bringing up the lowest-performing students out of the muck and leading them to a bright future.”
The latest controversy
The decision to suspend Azaiez came after the board received a Dec. 15 memo from Faltys, who recommended placing Azaiez on leave.
On Jan. 6, the board voted to suspend Azaiez and selected Daniel Presley, RRISD senior chief of schools and innovation, as acting superintendent while the district searched for someone to fill the role in the interim, pending the results of the investigation into allegations of assault.
Presley was also acting superintendent from November 2020 to July 5, 2021, when Azaiez took over.
Though state, county and RRISD officials have released minimal details involving costs and possible implications for Azaiez, community members have made clear they feel the situation is detrimental to the district.
Cagy said the investigation is just the latest of a long list of reasons the district is now known nationwide in a negative light. He called on the board to fire Azaiez, saying the controversy was only doing more damage to RRISD.
Even district parents who have in some ways come to Azaiez’ defense said ongoing discussion in a public setting is making matters worse.
During a Jan. 3 special meeting, RRISD parent Ginny Guston recommended the board and district administrators focus on their jobs and education, and let law enforcement do their jobs.
“If law enforcement finds credible evidence to charge Dr. Azaiez, then that is when a suspension for him should be considered,” Guston said. “Dr. Azaiez at least has been willing, unlike any superintendent before him, to meet with parents to listen openly to their concerns and goals.”
The RRISD board concluded its search for a superintendent on May 21, 2021, voting 5-2 to nominate Azaiez as the sole finalist out of 48 candidates.
Bone and Weston voted no, citing procedural missteps in the hiring process and a lack of experience, respectively.
After a 21-day waiting period mandated by the TEA, on June 14 the board voted 5-2 to hire Azaiez. The district highlighted his multilingual background and track record of expanding science and math offerings for middle school students.
One month later in July, a complainant filed a petition for a protective order in a Travis County District Court alleging physical assault and infidelity.
Over the course of several RRISD board meetings since then, many people have addressed the board and called for trustees to take action against Azaiez based on the order.
The Travis County Sheriff’s Office confirmed that while Azaiez has remained under investigation since the July report filing, no arrests have been made and no charges related to the assault allegations have been filed against him.
A representative from the TEA also confirmed the agency has been investigating Azaiez since September, but withheld information regarding the source of the investigation and the number of any pending complaints against him following an information request.
When the board voted 6-1 to place Azaiez on administrative leave, Place 1 Trustee Jun Xiao was the lone “no” vote, but he has not responded to requests for comment on why.
Xiao announced Jan. 28 via social media he plans to resign at the next board meeting in February. He said in the announcement it was a long-delayed decision but provided no further comment when asked for a follow-up statement.
The TEA recommendation
At the Jan. 6 RRISD meeting, board president Amber Feller said her repeated requests to the TEA for the information that led Faltys to issue his recommendation have so far been ignored.
She said she had effectively been told by TEA officials to take the recommendation at face value.
On Jan. 6, Feller said she approved the recommendation because she did not view the measure to place Azaiez on leave as an adverse action, and because she was told to do so by TEA officials.
“I will be making my vote tonight without all of the relevant facts that we, as his employer, should be entitled to,” she said at the Jan. 6 meeting.
Feller said the only comfort she garnered from the decision came from the fact that administrative leave is not an adverse employment action, and at the conclusion of the board’s investigation, Azaiez should be able to return to work if there is no finding of wrongdoing.
During a Jan. 20 RRISD board meeting, officials consulted with the investigator and the board’s legal counsel, but made no public motions.
The board also considered an item in closed session to select an interim superintendent to fill the role if the investigation leads to his firing.
The board again took no action and did not discuss any implications surrounding a potential interim superintendent hire.
Jenny LaCoste-Caputo, RRISD chief of public affairs and communications, told Community Impact Newspaper the board selected an investigator Jan. 6 but did not provide the person’s name. The investigator also began working on the case the week of Jan. 10.
LaCoste-Caputo said the motion authorized Feller to review resumes provided by the board’s attorneys and select an investigator.
So far, no parties involved in the investigation have divulged specific dates pertaining to coming action.
Lawyer Mary Goodrich Nix, who represents Azaiez, told Community Impact Newspaper the protective order against her client was allowed to expire in December, and that Azaiez had agreed to a private restraining order with the complainant in a confidential settlement agreement.
“The Travis County Court never issued any findings of an assault in the temporary ex parte protective order, which are routinely issued by the court based solely on the complainant’s allegations, without the knowledge or the ability of the accused person—in this instance, Dr. Azaiez—to refute the allegations,” Nix said in her statement.
Nix also said the claims of abuse against Azaiez have already been investigated by the TEA and the district’s investigation is a “waste of tax dollars.”
“There is no need for the Round Rock ISD, at the urging of the TEA, to waste taxpayer dollars to conduct a duplicative investigation of an alleged assault, about which the TEA has been investigating since September 2021,” Nix said.