Though Monday’s school board meeting at the Round Rock Independent School District (RRISD) ended without a vote, the board decided on Thursday to temporarily replace the district’s leader until a police investigation runs its course.
The school board met at 2 p.m. on January 3 to discuss a recommendation by a Texas Education Agency (TEA) overseer that the board place Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez on leave pending a local law enforcement investigation. The monitor also recommended that the board hire a third party to investigate him as well.
On Thursday, the board voted 6 to 1 to accept both recommendations. Trustee Jun Xiao was the lone nay vote for both motions. The board then voted unanimously to appoint former superintendent Daniel Presley as interim superintendent.
Police are investigating Azaiez for assault after a woman claiming to be his mistress successfully obtained a protective order against him. Her declaration in the order describes a scuffle with Azaiez at her home after she refused his request to abort their unborn child.
The board heard nearly two hours of public comment on Monday before entering closed session to discuss the TEA memo. Just before leaving closed session around 7 p.m., the board posted a new meeting to the district’s page for Thursday to discuss the same topic but also consider finding an interim superintendent.
Most of the 30 citizens that spoke in person said that Azaiez should resign, be placed on leave, or be fired. Most of the seven citizens that spoke virtually supported Azaiez.
One mother with children in the district said the board should have addressed the allegations months ago.
“The meeting today is six months late, but better late than never,” Renate Simms said.
“The fact that it took the TEA letter to do what concerned parents and trustees Weston and Bone have urged the four of you since July makes me feel disregarded as a parent and constituent.”
Trustees Danielle Weston and Mary Bone issued a press release on August 3 claiming that the rest of the board refused to meet with Azaiez’s alleged mistress after she told them about the alleged incident in July.
Weston and Bone, who had already carved out a niche as outsiders on the board after breaking ranks with the other trustees on the mask mandate issue, later left a chaotic school board meeting in protest after police officers removed a Round Rock father attempting to speak about the assault accusation during public comment. The father, Jeremy Story, was later arrested for disturbing the meeting and released the next day.
At the following board meeting on September 22, the other five members attempted to censure Weston and Bone for bringing “unwanted and negative media and public attention to the District” and demanding information on the board’s involvement in Story’s arrest.
Another parent at Monday’s meeting, Chuy Zarate, called the outrage over Azaiez overblown and said the board shouldn’t act until local law enforcement officers complete their investigation.
“I’ve heard he did some awful things. I’ve heard that there is evidence. I’ve heard that the evidence is fabricated. I’ve heard a lot of things. All of this adds up to nothing more than conjecture and hearsay,” Zarate said.
“To put it in a juvenile rhyme so that some in the room can understand easier, I don’t care if there was an affair. If Dr. Azaiez is guilty of something, let the authorities handle it. This body is not a court of law; it’s the board of trustees for a school district that desperately needs strong leadership in a time of peril. The virus rages on… Dr. Azaiez is the strong leadership we need right now.”
Parents that voiced support for Azaiez often cited his efforts to establish a virtual learning program or his support for the district’s mask mandate.
Community members also disagreed on the cause of RRISD’s notoriety. Some commenters blamed the national media attention on the board’s track record. Others accused Weston and Bone of rabble-rousing.
Just before the board voted to put Azaiez on leave on Thursday, trustee Amber Feller read a prepared statement explaining that she remained skeptical of the claims against Azaiez.
“I have studied court documents, read people’s opinions on social media, attended up to at least 5 separate board meetings with attorneys, and weighed both solicited and unsolicited advice from so many sources I’ve lost count,” Feller said.
“I have gathered a list of over 25 troubling items surrounding this case contributing to my significant doubt. Despite all of this, I have remained publicly silent, because this is a personal and personnel issue for an employee. Since receiving the December 15th email from our monitor, I have asked numerous times that this board be allowed access to the information that TEA and our monitor used to make these recommendations. My requests have been repeatedly denied.”
In June, Weston and Bone were the only two trustees to vote against naming Azaiez the lone finalist for the superintendent spot.
The TEA released its recommendation to national outlets before RRISD made it officially available on the website.
RRISD has a TEA monitor to oversee it due to a complaint about a trustee in 2019.
Azaiez declined a request for comment.
Correction: A previous version of this article stated that the TEA appointed a monitor to RRISD because of the district’s failing grade on the state’s financial accountability report. We regret the error.
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