Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has sent a cease-and-desist letter to Lewisville ISD over its recent public advocacy for voting, calling it unlawful electioneering. Holliday and Brazosport ISDs also received letters.
In recent weeks, Lewisville ISD has been using its social media channels such as Twitter and Facebook to advocate that teachers and parents vote in the upcoming March 6 Democratic and Republican primary elections. While the district has been advocating for support of public education, it has not mentioned specific candidates by name.
The district has been vocal about its disagreements with the Texas Legislature with regards to private school vouchers, STAAR testing and accountability, education funding in general and special education limits that were recently declared illegal on a national level and that the district says it ignored anyway. LISD Superintendent Kevin Rogers put out a video on Feb. 2 to encourage the community to vote.
— Lewisville ISD (@LewisvilleISD) February 13, 2018
Paxton alleges that school districts used taxpayer resources to distribute messages to their staff and the public advocating for or against certain political candidates and measures, which is a class A misdemeanor. The letter does not name any candidates or measures that it accuses the districts of advocating for.
The letter referenced a tweet it alleges the district published:
“My office fully encourages Texas schools to educate their students on civic duties and assist them in registering to vote. But pushing faculty or others to vote for a particular person is a clear violation of the Texas Election and Education Codes,” Paxton said in a press release Wednesday. “These school districts must understand that they are responsible, as all state agencies are, for refraining from spending public funds on advocating for or opposing political candidates. The electioneering of these school districts is unacceptable and a poor example of the civic responsibility, integrity, and honesty that Texas educators should model for our students.”
The letter demands that the school districts remove the offending messaging, cease further offending communications and send a written reply to the attorney general by Friday, Feb. 16.
LISD Board President Angie Cox, who was named in Paxton’s letter, said the district would not take down the material. “We’re drafting a letter right now back to the Attorney General respectfully disagreeing with the response,” said Cox. “We haven’t endorsed any candidates — we were simply sending a message about voting, and I don’t see any harm in that.”
The district’s website and social media accounts still had the video that the Attorney General’s Office objected to as of publishing. Cox said it would stay that way for awhile. “We’re not taking it down right now,” she said.
Cox said the district would await a response from Paxton’s office. She said she had been in contact with the district’s attorney, Jeff Crownover about the demand.
District communications director Amanda Brim responded to The Lewisville Texan Journal’s inquiry Wednesday afternoon.
“Lewisville ISD believes a culture of voting is vital to the future of our state and country. The right to freely elect leaders is the very definition of American freedom and we are asking students and staff to vote and understand what impact a legislator may have on their daily lives. The district respectfully disagrees with the Office of the Attorney General on this matter,” Brim wrote.
She said that the tweet referenced in the letter was taken down on Feb. 7, one day after it was posted, when the district became aware their intent may have been misinterpreted.
“We dispute any characterization of the district’s get out the vote campaign as anything other than an effort to engage the LISD staff and community in their constitutional right to vote and advocate for themselves,” Brim said. “The district will reiterate again with staff that they alone can make the decision to support a candidate and measure, and the district does not wish to impose the beliefs of its Board or Superintendent.”