EXCLUSIVE: Court Upholds Texas Dad’s Free Speech Claim Against School Board That Had Him Arrested

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FIRST ON THE DAILY SIGNAL—A U.S. district court judge in Texas upheld a father’s claims that school board members and police violated his constitutional rights when they forcibly removed him and prevented him from attending school board meetings in 2021. Police removed him after he spoke at a school board meeting, raising concerns about the school superintendent facing allegations that the superintendent assaulted and threatened a former girlfriend.

“I was arrested and jailed for exposing the misdeeds of trustees and administrators,” Jeremy Story said in a statement provided exclusively to The Daily Signal. Story is a father of seven whose children attend or attended public schools in the Round Rock Independent School District in Texas.

“The school district’s attempts to dismiss our claims and sweep them under the ‘legal rug’ have failed,” he added. “What is at stake is the basic right to free speech without fear of government retaliation.”

David Alan Ezra, a senior U.S. district judge in Hawaii who has been designated to serve on the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas, San Antonio Division since 2013, upheld many of Story’s claims against the Round Rock school district, the superintendent, five of the seven trustees on the school board, and police officers in a July 26 ruling.

Ezra did not find the defendants guilty of Story’s claims, but he did reject their motions to dismiss them, allowing the lawsuit to proceed.

Ezra rejected motions to dismiss claims that the school board violated Story’s First Amendment rights by limiting seating capacity in one school board meeting, by retaliating against him for engaging in constitutionally protected speech, and by barring him from a meeting that was open to public participation.

The judge also upheld Story’s claim that police violated his Fourth Amendment rights against unreasonable seizure and false arrest. He also upheld Story’s claim that the school board president violated his right to equal protection of law under the 14th Amendment.

Additionally, the judge upheld claims that school officials violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.

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Ezra also rejected many of Story’s claims, along with those of Dustin Clark, another Texas father who faced arrest after speaking at school board meetings.

“We are pleased that that the court agreed with many of our client’s claims on their face against the [school district], the five defendant school board members, the unlawfully appointed superintendent, and the offending [school district] police officers,” Stephen Casey, one of Story’s lawyers, told The Daily Signal. “The court also allowed us to re-plead the remainder of the causes of action, which we plan to do.”

What happened?

The case dates back to Sept. 17, 2021, when police arrested Story on a misdemeanor charge of hindering proceedings by disorderly conduct. That charge related to Aug. 16, 2021, when Story raised concerns at a school board meeting about Schools Superintendent Hafedh Azaiez, who at the time faced allegations of family violence in an application for a protective order sought by a former girlfriend against him (redacted version available here).

According to publicly available footage of the meeting, Amy Weir, then president of the Round Rock Independent School District Board of Trustees, warned Story not to speak about “something other than D1 or D2” on the meeting’s agenda.

Story responded: “I will show you how what I’m about to comment on is related to that.”

Weir twice interrupted Story, saying, “No, I do not want you to demonstrate.” However, she agreed to let him speak. Yet as soon as Story said, “Our superintendent has a protective order,” Weir nodded to Round Rock school district police officers, who escorted Story out of the building.

Story, along with Clark, argues that Weir was intending to silence him. Weir categorically denied this claim.

Weir told Fox News, “There has never been an attempt to silence Mr. Story.” Following normal procedure, she said, Story wrote on a card indicating what he would say in the meeting, and he wrote that “unlike the board, citizens are not required to speak on items on the agenda,” indicating that “he was planning to speak on a topic not listed for the meeting.”

Story filed a grievance with the school board on Sept. 4, 2021. The board noted it as “filed” on Sept. 16, the day before police arrested Story. The board rejected the claim more than a year later.

In a Sept. 14, 2021, school board meeting, the district set up 18 chairs in a room that accommodated 300 people and prevented members of the public from entering. The school board passed a tax increase at that meeting.

Police prevented Story from entering that school board meeting. According to Story, the school district police forcibly held him back and injured him. The Fourth Amendment violation of “unreasonable seizure” and the violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act trace back to this incident.

The protective order

Story referenced a “protective order” to discuss the claims of a woman who identified herself as Azaiez’s girlfriend from September 2018 to December 2020 and then from February to June 2021. In her application for a protective order, the woman claimed that when she told Azaiez that she was pregnant with his child, he demanded that she get an abortion. When she refused, she said, he assaulted her in her home, which put her in danger of miscarrying.

The woman also claimed that she overheard Azaiez “plotting” with Weir about hiding certain things from other school board members.

In a text message chain about the situation included in the application for the protective order, Azaiez wrote: “For the last time, I am telling you, please get an abortion; you don’t know what you are getting yourself into. I will make you pay this; you will not make me lose everything. … Don’t make me go after you and make you pay the consequences for you and this baby.”

Mary Nix, the lawyer representing Azaiez, noted that “all applications for protective orders, including the one to which you refer, contain ‘allegations’ which are unproven and are not ‘facts.’”

The school board temporarily suspended Azaiez in 2022 amid a Texas Education Association investigation into the family violence allegations. Investigator Ann Dixon wrote an independent report into Azaiez.

Last year, Dixon told The Daily Signal she stood by her findings and her conclusion, which noted “the divisiveness created in the community by Dr. Azaiez’s behavior and the lack of Dr. Azaiez to be forthcoming” in stating that, in her opinion, he “could not come back into his position and be effective.”

Even so, he remains the superintendent since his reinstatement in March 2022.

National implications

Story told The Daily Signal that his case has national implications.

“The federal government has tried to paint parents as the problem,” he said. “They have even gone so far as to attempt to prosecute them as domestic terrorists. This case will show that the real problem is how public school boards are overstepping their bounds and violating parents’ rights.”

“Usually, such violations don’t see the light of day because school boards hide behind lawyers who overpower parents,” Story argued. “We are grateful our case will see the light of day as we head into being able to subpoena and take depositions from numerous people.”

“The public will get a glimpse into the horrors of what many parents are dealing with nationwide,” the father concluded.

Have an opinion about this article? To sound off, please email letters@DailySignal.com, and we’ll consider publishing your edited remarks in our regular “We Hear You” feature. Remember to include the url or headline of the article plus your name and town and/or state.

The post EXCLUSIVE: Court Upholds Texas Dad’s Free Speech Claim Against School Board That Had Him Arrested appeared first on The Daily Signal.

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