The Denton Independent School District school board is accused of violating the state’s Open Meetings Act after it emerged from an executive session, which is closed to the public, and announced that the Robert E. Lee Elementary School would be renamed.
The discussion that was held behind closed doors in November was never posted on the board’s agenda. The district insists that standard language in its agenda posting extends to cover the name change on a school.
“That section refers to a current employee or somebody you’re looking to hire,” Joe Larsen an open records lawyer and board member with the Texas Freedom of Information Foundation, told the Denton Record-Chronicle. “This is the furthest thing from a personnel matter.”
Some elected officials and members of the Denton community are raising issues about how the renaming was discussed.
The Texas Monitor has found that other school districts have dealt with renaming Confederate schools with far more openness.
For example, the Dallas Independent School District, where school board members in September voted to rename schools that honor Confederate leaders Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, William Cabell, and Albert Sidney Johnston.
The Dallas district posted a full agenda item with documentation, including steps that would be taken to make the renaming happen. In public documents, the district contends that the Confederate names “are perceived as symbols of intolerance.”
North East Independent School District in San Antonio changed the name of a high school, also named after Lee, in an August meeting. The name change was posted on the agenda along with a publicly available handout.
Denton County commissioners for months have publicly posted on their agenda a discussion of the fate of a Confederate Soldier Memorial on the town square. The county has formed a committee to help decide the fate of the memorial.
In Denton County, the topic has touched off outbursts from members of the public in the meeting chamber. By not even mentioning the word “Confederate” on meeting agendas, the Denton school board has avoided such controversy.
Last year, district spokesman Mario Zavala told one news outlet that regarding the name of the school, “the topic has never come up.”
Violating the Open Meetings Act is often defensible due to the provision in the law that requires proof that the alleged offending body willfully violated the law.
Even then, it takes a hard push to get any attention to violations. When Rice University sold its student radio station to the University of Houston in 2010, trustees on both sides agreed to keep the item off of their meeting agendas.
There were no repercussions and the sale went through.
The Denton school trustees are scheduled to meet next Dec. 12.