Despite a cheating scandal that has crushed the credibility of the El Paso Independent School District, trustees or their lawyers continue to find ways to obstruct full transparency.
The newest excuse reared its head this week when EPISD’s attorney Anthony Safi asked newly-appointed state monitor Judy Castleberry to leave a closed-door meeting, the El Paso Times reports. In that closed meeting, trustees received legal advice regarding potential litigation related to the cheating scandal - at the heart of the problems that Castleberry is supposed to help the district fix.
The district’s lawyer argued since Castleberry wasn’t his client her presence infringed on the attorney-client privilege. Ron Rowell, senior director of governance and waivers for the Texas Education Agency , said the issue would be clarified so Castleberry can do her job.
Bill Aleshire, an open-government attorney with the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas, disputes Safi’s move and told the Times:
“Attorney-client privilege extends beyond communication between the school’s attorney and the school board members themselves. It includes anyone considered to be within the core-client circle. Considering the role the monitor has, the monitor certainly is not adverse to the intentions of the district and could be included as part of the core-client group.”
TEA has placed EPISD’s accreditation on probation, among other sanctions.
That kind of crackdown might prompt a wave of openness, an effort to regain community trust. Instead, the district has allowed a task force on governance to close its meetings. Arguably one of the biggest openness blunders in this drama occurred when trustees blamed the open meetings law for preventing them from supervising internal audits.
Many would argue trustees should have learned their transparency lessons long ago, but apparently they remain slow learners.
Contact Curt Olson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 512-557-3800. Follow him on Twitter @olson_curt.
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Photo of the 'keep this door closed' by flickr user roujo, used via a Creative Commons license.