RRISD Needs to Prioritize Health Safety Over Personal Drama
January 14, 2022
As school resumed in January, the emotion that marked students’ post-winter break return was uncertainty. As news of schools across the country beginning to go virtual spread alongside the COVID-19 Omicron variant, and teacher’s unions and districts began to clash over students’ eventual fate, the opportunity for the fresh start provided by the new year turned bleak. If before COVID-19 seemed like a faraway storm brewing on the horizon, the storm had now unceremoniously arrived on my doorstep. My classmates began to take sick days one by one, sometimes even disappearing in the middle of a lesson after receiving news of close COVID-19 contact.
As the question of whether or not RRISD students would be directed to go virtual seemed to hang in the air, I was reminded of the time two years ago when my spring break was extended indefinitely, seemingly out of nowhere. Though this time, the feeling was worse. This time, having already lived through the inexplicably isolating experience that was virtual schooling, I knew exactly what I would be losing from leaving the Westwood building for the rest of the year. As I passed through the hallways in between classes, I felt hounded by a feeling of dread. “I feel like we’re going to go home this weekend and just never come back,” a friend remarked to me.
While it would appear that students’ safety in their second semester would be the top priority given the situation we’re all living through, the RRISD school board seems, bewilderingly, to be occupied with more pressing matters. While students grapple with the idea that the ‘return to normalcy’ promised to us may be nothing but an illusion, the school board is occupied with an issue as confusing as it is concerning. On Thursday, Jan. 6, in the wake of a storm of rumors regarding assault allegations, the RRISD Board of Trustees heeded a recommendation from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) to place newly instated District Superintendent Dr. Hafedh Azaiez on leave while instituting Dr. Daniel Presley as acting superintendent in his place.
The situation is so murky that I feel it’s impossible to form an opinion based on available information. Two RRISD board members, Danielle Weston and Mary Bone, contest that the allegations against Azaiez were made available in an email to all board members early in the summer, before Azaiez was hired. However, in a statement to the Texas Scorecard in August, RRISD board officers Amy Weir, Amber Feller, and Tiffanie Harrison claimed that “the full Board [did] not [receive] any claims of assault or domestic violence from any alleged victim.” Similarly, an attorney for Azaiez issued a statement that no findings of assault were recorded on the temporary protective order issued against him. This, compounded with the complaints that Azaiez had been hired hastily, in a less-than-transparent manner, makes it clear to me that someone in RRISD leadership had decided to fall asleep at the wheel in a time that mattered most–I’m just not sure who.
I can’t be the judge of whether or not Azaiez is guilty or if his being put on leave is or isn’t in the district’s best interest. What I am sure of, though, is that in a time when students’ safety and well-being should be a priority like never before, it feels like we’ve been abandoned. These issues, if they were in fact brought to light before Azaiez was hired, should have been addressed long ago, instead of having him hired and in the process doing such a horrifying disservice to RRISD students, staff, and the alleged victim. And if the claims against the superintendent have been fabricated or embellished, as some other board members claim, then school board leadership needs to step up and end the pointless crusade instead of letting a vindictive fool’s errand continue to draw attention from students’ needs.
While the school board is tangled up in a confusing web of complexities and lies, students and staff across the district have no one to look to and appear to have absolutely no guidance regarding COVID-19 going into the new semester. RRISD is the district “where students can achieve everything they want to be.” This semester, RRISD students want to be safe. It’s time the school board helped us do that.