After a brief discussion, Brownwood school trustees adopted a policy offered by the Texas Association of School Boards as an alternative to the model document included in the state’s Religious Viewpoints Antidiscrimination Act.
Dr. Sue Jones, superintendent, recommended adoption of the TASB policy. She said she talked with officials in the offices of both state Sen. Troy Fraser and state Rep. Jim Keffer, and was told that a statement on the issue is expected soon from the Texas Attorney General’s office. However, Fraser’s office, she said, pointed out that the attorney general’s responsibility is to represent the State of Texas.
“That tells me we are responsible for ourselves,” Jones told the board during its noon meeting. “As you know, the district pays TASB to develop policies.”
Jones said she spoke with Rhonda Crass, a partner in the Fort Worth law firm of Henslee, Fowler, Hepworth & Schwartz, L.L.P.
“We deal with Henslee, Fowler and Hepworth on personnel issues, although we try to avoid having personnel issues, and they believe the TASB policy meets the law’s requirements,” Jones said.
Jones added that the policy could easily be amended as more information becomes available, but taking action would allow the Brownwood ISD to comply with the state law that requires districts to have a student expression policy in place before the start of school this year.
Trustees called Friday’s meeting at its August session last week to see if additional information about the policies would materialize. Jones said nothing new has developed.
The 80th Texas Legislature passed House Bill 3678, the Religious Viewpoints Anti-discrimination Act, this spring. The bill’s advocates claim it is designed to protect students’ ability to express themselves religiously at school events. Its detractors claim it is a legislative endorsement of religion in public schools and further erodes the separation of church and state within the confines of schools, and that it may be unconstitutional at a national level.
Many of the state’s more than 1,000 school districts have been grappling with how to implement the policy and avoid litigation.
The Texas Association of School Boards’ Policy Service, to which 1,036 Texas school districts subscribe, drafts sample policies for its member school districts to aide them in implementing various and sundry state regulations. In many cases, TASB policies are adopted by school districts with minimal changes. However, at the Aug. 13 board meeting, trustees were told that TASB offered its alternative with the recommendation that districts consult their own legal counsel.
“The TASB policy provides a little more freedom for students, but I find it ironic that you have to be qualified first,” trustee Mark Bradshaw said before making the motion to accept it.” His motion passed unanimously.
Under the policy, Jones said, events at which student speakers may provide introductions include pep rallies, and that the top three ranked students academically would be eligible to speak at graduation.