FORT BEND COUNTY – As the coronavirus pandemic continued to rage last summer, months away from a vaccine, there were many sides to the argument of whether or not schools should reopen for students. Compelling points of views were made and seen at various school board meetings in our area.
The concept of returning back to campus became the biggest decision for school boards.
However, at the FBISD virtual meeting back on Sept. 2 when that topic was being discussed, the actions of the board were out of the public’s eye despite Superintendent Charles Dupre announcing at the beginning that one of “the hallmarks in Fort Bend ISD is transparency in decision making.”
What KPRC 2 Investigates uncovered was board members cracking jokes, admitting to having troubles focusing, silencing the public’s “noise” and doing completely unrelated business during one of the most significant board meetings in the district’s history.
Private text messages during a public meeting are how most of it was done. KPRC 2 Investigates started this investigation the day following the board meeting. Seven months later, we’re documenting everything that’s occurred during that time frame and revealing why the district still has not turned over the complete line of messages.
TIMELINE OF ACTIONS DURING THE COURSE OF THIS INVESTIGATION
September 2, 2020
FBISD holds a specially called board meeting to decide whether or not to welcome students and teachers back to campus.
September 3, 2020
KPRC 2 Investigates makes a Texas Public Information Act request for “All digital and cellular communication” of various board members.
September 17, 2020
The law firm representing FBISD, Rogers, Morris & Grover, sends a letter to the Office of the Attorney General claiming, “FBISD requests a ruling that such records do not constitute public information under the act and are therefore exempt from disclosure.” Rulings by the Attorney General’s office can take up to 90 days.
September 18, 2020
The law firm representing FBISD through legal representation releases one page of public information. The information includes names not requested by KPRC 2 Investigates fifteen days earlier.
September 25, 2020
The law firm representing FBISD sends a letter to the AG’s office with redactions claiming some of the exhibits are “not public information” according to the definition of the Texas Public Information Act.
December 14, 2020
The law firm representing FBISD sends KPRC a letter with the “remaining portion of the documents responsive to your request” attached. We notice there is no AG ruling attached. We ask for the official ruling and are provided with it. The final ruling includes a page titled “Exhibit B” with “Release unredacted text messages” handwritten at the top of the page. The text message conversations provided have redactions with one entire section blacked out.
December 14/15, 2020
KPRC 2 Investigates contacts the Attorney General’s hotline on two occasions seeking a ruling. In one conversation, an attorney for the office suggests filing a complaint.
December 16, 2020
The law firm representing FBISD sends a letter to the AG’s office seeking clarification. It comes on the heels of KPRC 2 Investigates’ request for all text messages after identifying the handwritten directive in the AG’s ruling, “Release unredacted text messages”. FBISD says the “redacted portion of such text message conversation involved subject matters unrelated to District business and therefore were not responsive to the request, nor subject to the Act,” adding a “portion of the responsive documents were not addressed” in their briefing. The law firm also indicates KPRC 2 Investigates intentions to file a complaint with the Attorney General’s office.
December 22, 2020
KPRC 2 Investigates files a complaint with the AG’s office.
February 8, 2021
The AG’s office sends a letter to KPRC 2 Investigates and the law firm representing FBISD with the result of their complaint probe. Assistant Attorney General Jahnna Ward writing at one point, “The district informs this office it has released the information at issue in accordance with Open Records Letter No. 2020-29409 (2020). When a governmental body represents to this office it has released all existing responsive information, we must accept its statement. Under the Act, the enforcement authority of the OAG does not include on-site inspections of records held by another governmental office.” In layman’s terms, the Office of the Attorney General relies on the honor system when records are provided, taking parties at their word.
March 3, 2021
KPRC 2′s counsel informs the law firm representing FBISD that not only has the district’s office refused to “release unredacted text messages” but, “apparently, unilaterally withheld contents of those redactions from the Attorney General’s office as well.” After referencing FBISD’s lengths “to shroud in secrecy the communications of these elected public officials during this meeting,” KPRC 2′s counsel writes, “The clear message here is that FBISD will go to great lengths to hide from public view what and how its officials were communicating during one of most seminal public meetings in the history of the District.”
March 5, 2021
The law firm representing the district admits the Attorney General’s office never saw the message thread in full, without redactions, “As part of our briefing to the Attorney General regarding Mr. Diaz’s request, we submitted to the Attorney General a redacted copy of text messages in question. The redacted portion of such text message conversation involved subject matters unrelated to District business and therefore were not responsive to the request nor subject to the Act. Therefore that portion of the responsive documents was not addressed in our briefing nor in the AG’s ruling.” As the district once again admits board members were focused on business that had no connection to the issue of returning kids and teachers back to campus safely, they also state the request was fulfilled. In simpler terms according to the District’s attorney, the Attorney General instructed the District to release the unredacted messages, not the redacted messages.
March 12, 2021
Superintendent Charles Dupre departs from a vaccination news conference in Sugar Land seconds after KPRC 2 Investigator Mario Diaz shows up to the news conference. When asked about the actions of he along with the board during “arguably the biggest board meeting in the school district’s history,” Dupre while walking to a waiting vehicle says, “I think that is a question you might want to ask the board members.” Dupre remained silent when Diaz asked what he had to say to parents.
March 24, 2021
KPRC 2 Investigates shows up to an FBISD event at Willowridge High School. This time, Dupre seeks out KPRC 2 Investigates, but fails to comment again citing “pending litigation”. KPRC 2 has not taken any legal action on this matter. We reminded Dupre of this, but he still refused to comment on the behavior and actions of the board as well as the lack of transparency involving the redacted text messages.
March 31, 2021
David Lineman of the group FBISD Parents Association tells KPRC 2 Investigates, “I’m wondering what are they saying that they want to hide. I hope it’s not making fun of parents.”
If you’re a student, parent, or district employee who wants to weigh in on what we have uncovered, you can do so by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.