Lewisville school board elections system violates voting rights for people of color, lawsuit alleges

A new lawsuit once again alleges that Lewisville ISD denies voters of color fair representation on its school board.

The case against Lewisville schools, filed Tuesday in federal court, was brought on behalf of an African-American woman whose children attended district schools. Paige Dixon’s race will be integral to the case, given that a similar suit against LISD was thrown out because a judge determined the plaintiff, a white man, could not show that his voting rights had been impacted.

Dixon ran for a spot on the board in May 2021 and lost. She alleges that the at-large system — in which voters can cast ballots for every board spot, regardless of where in the district they live — that is used to elect trustees undercuts the political voice of voters of color.

The current lawsuit seeks to have the at-large system thrown out.

“Ms. Dixon believes that the change from the at-large voting system to either a single-member districts or a cumulative voting system will empower people of color to run for Trustee positions, inspire greater electoral participation, and lead to a more equitable system of representation, ”she reads.

District spokeswoman Amanda Brim said early Tuesday afternoon that the district has not yet been served and is therefore unable to comment.

This is the second lawsuit against the district represented by the Brewer Storefront, a pro-bono affiliate of Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors firm that has taken on several similar cases in North Texas districts with mixed success.

The firm’s new approach “solves the standing requirements and we’re anxious to bring the case,” said William A. Brewer III, the lead attorney.

The storefront’s cases have mostly challenged election systems where representatives are elected at-large, rather than in single-member districts. They allege that systems in which voters cast ballots for every board spot – rather than only for the representative over their geographic area – violate the Voting Rights Act by diluting the power of Black and Latino residents.

Attorneys describe the at-large system as discouraging candidates preferred by minorities from running because the elections function as a “white-controlled referendum on all candidates.”

“This inequitable structure leaves large swaths of the District without a voice,” the lawsuit alleges. “Because of this broken and discriminatory election system, Trustees who reside in predominantly white neighborhoods wield power in determining the fates of a school district comprised of mostly non-white students.”

Brewer’s last attempt at legal action in Lewisville failed two years ago. Their plaintiff, Frank Vaughan, was a white man. A judge threw out the case, noting that Vaughn couldn’t demonstrate how he was harmed by an electoral system that he claimed disenfranchised voters and candidates of color.

“Vaughan does not allege or otherwise provide the Court with any evidence that would raise an issue of material fact that his vote has been diluted for reasons that are legally cognizable” under the Voting Rights Act, the judge wrote.

Roughly 12% of students enrolled in Lewisville schools are Black and nearly 31% are Hispanic. About 38% of students are white.

Meanwhile, the school trustees are all white, the lawsuit emphasizes. Several Black candidates have run – and lost – in recent Lewisville elections.

This issue is not unique across the nation.

Dallas residents Jenelle Berry-Cook and husband Michael Cook send their children to Plano...

A 2018 study from the National School Boards Association found more than three-quarters of members are white, while roughly 1 in 10 are Black. Another recent survey from the EdWeek Research Center found 86% of trustee respondents said they served with no Latino trustees and 81% said they had no Black colleagues on their boards.

In Texas, where students of color make up the majority of public school enrollment, districts have long struggled with school board representation that reflects their student makeup.

The law firm’s arguments worked in Richardson, which in 2019 largely abandoned its at-large system that had been decried as discriminatory. The board is now represented by five single-district representatives and two trustees elected by the entire district.

Former board member David Tyson, the only black man ever elected as a RISD trustee, brought the case. Since it forced changes, a Black woman rose to be the school board president.

Other successes for the firm include revamped voting systems in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Grand Praise and Irving school districts.

Attorneys say racial representation on school boards is essential in tackling the longstanding gaps in academic achievement between white children and their diverse peers.

“The current all-white LISD elected trustees reside in a world apart from the children attending the lowest-performing schools in LISD,” the lawsuit alleges. “This broken governance system leaves the children who need an advocate the most without a voice on a Board as it makes decisions that steers millions of dollars in education funding and resources.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button
%d bloggers like this: