KATY, Texas – A Texas school district is shielding criticisms from the public by a moving previously recorded public comment time to work study meetings that are not recorded or posted to the district’s website.
The controversy comes just months after Katy Independent School District Superintendent Alton Frailey created a public relations nightmare by publicly denouncing a student’s concerns about a lesson requiring middle-schoolers to deny God is real.
The seventh-grader, Jordan Wooley, addressed school board members with her concerns about the district requiring students to reject their faith as part of a graded assignment, and Frailey initially thanked Wooley for highlighting the issue during the recorded public comments, EAGnews reports.
In the days that followed, Frailey held a press conference to call Wooley a liar, alleging he could not confirm details of her story. The situation then exploded – both online and at the school – as Wooley was assailed by some students, while others came out to confirm the assignment and subsequent arguments between students and the teacher occurred exactly as she described.
Fox 26 reports the district explained in an email that a change in state law now only requires the posting of the main school board meeting, they will no longer record the work study meeting to save an estimated $4,000.
“It’s disheartening that the people in the Katy Independent School District would go so far as to lessen transparency,” state Rep. Terry Canales, author of the recent legislative change, told the news site.
“For them to claim that this is some sort of fiscal problem … I know where Katy is. I know the stature, and the financial position of the Katy school district,” he said. “For them to use this law as an excuse to hide, or narrow the scope of their transparency, when anybody reading the law would know the purpose of the law is exactly the opposite, is shameful.”
In the “God is myth” controversy in November centered on very similar criticism of district officials, namely Frailey, attempting to hide the truth from the public.
“You tried to cover up the incident. You tried to twist your words to where it was hard to find the truth,” Wooley told board members in a later school board appearance. “You called me a liar without using the word liar.”
“If anything has been said that was wrong it was your words, not mine,” he clarified. “You lied about saying the assignment was not graded, although it originally was, until the principal changed it.”
Former school board member Bill Proctor, a longtime educator who was instrumental in enacting the board policy of recording meetings a few years ago, told Fox 26 he’s not buying the district’s excuses for shielding public comments.
“I think it’s totally generated by Mr. Frailey,” Proctor said. “I do not think he is very open to the board on a lot of things that were done.”
Proctor also said he’s taking action to challenge the change.
“I called the Attorney General’s office today for their interpretation of the open records law,” he said.
Rumors in the district are circulating that board members were unaware of the implications of the change to the public comments policy, though district officials pointed out to Fox 26 that the board members voted to approve the policy. The news site’s attempts to contact board members were unsuccessful.
“Katy has not been very transparent in a lot of things they’ve done,” Proctor said, “and by moving the public comment back to a work study meeting, and not video taping those meetings, they’re not allowing the taxpayers of the district to see what comments other people are making about things of great concern to them.”
About two weeks ago, Frailey announced plans to retire as superintendent in August after nine years in the district. His current salary is $288,400, the Houston Chronicle reports.
Frailey was the school district’s first black superintendent. Consultants and district leaders expect to spend the next five months vetting at least 170 candidates to replace him, according to the news site.