PISD Voted Away My Parental Rights.
When I Stood Up For Those Rights, PISD Came
After My Son and I With a Vengeance:
One Mom’s Story
by Chelsey Edwards
Chapter One: A Fight for Parental Rights
I originally thought this saga started for my family on May 9, 2001, when a note was sent home with my son “informing” me that Pearland would have a “standardized dress code” the following school year. However, after many hours, weeks, and months of tireless investigating and teamwork, other Pearland parents and I discovered it apparently started much sooner (and that the policy was, in fact, a uniform policy). The earliest concrete evidence that we could find of this was a tape from an April 21, 2001 meeting of Pearland’s Board of Trustees (including board members not yet elected). Please see full transcript of this meeting attached as Exhibit “A”. During this meeting, Pearland’s Superintendent, Ms. Cain, and the board members voted to impose a “standardized dress policy” on the parents and children of PISD. Why is this significant? Because, this is a direct violation of the Open Meetings Act; just one of many unbelievable violations committed by PISD’s administration that I have discovered over the past 18 months. During the April 21st meeting, while the attendees were discussing parental support and the implementation of uniforms, they said things such as:
And I appreciate how you want to phase this in and give everybody time to moan and groan and bitch and whatever, but I think it’s just like the employees. Just say, boom, “We’ve talked about this”.
(Trustee Peggy Bittick references the employee dress code the district imposed, then rescinded almost immediately due to employee dissatisfaction).
I’m serious. I appreciate you putting yourself on the spot for that. I’m assuming that you mean that you’re going to put it together with a minimum of other people’s input.
(Board President Garrison talking to Ms. Cain about the intentional lack of inclusion of parental participation in the district’s decision to impose a uniform policy.)
This next statement explains why Ms. Cain and the Board of Trustees wanted to implement the uniform policy with little or no input:
I’m for it. I was for it before. We just had too much input from people and it screwed it. We had so many variables. . . Well, it didn’t pass last time because we asked, “Come, scare the hell out of us, and we can’t fade your heat.” That’s what happened. We crumbled.
(Obviously referring to a time when PISD actually put uniforms to a VOTE from the parents, and it failed miserably.)
Perhaps the most shocking statement of all is the one that sheds some light on how the Superintendent and Board of Trustees manipulated the announcement of the new uniform policy so that people would not learn about it until after the School Board election. They intentionally mislead the voters, which is evident from the following:
It’s still after the election, so it doesn’t matter. They are going to ask you the question anyway. . . “Say, are you for it or against it?” “I’m against it.” “Me, too.” . . . But I voted for it. Damn.
(and then they all laughed).
I would be more than happy to provide a copy of the tape of this meeting. It is difficult to believe until you’ve heard it for yourself. After that, it is simply hard to stomach. I have since discovered that the apparent lack of consideration of the rights of the parents and children of PISD during that meeting was not an aberration, rather, a common occurrence. In fact, it seems to be the overall atmosphere and driving force behind PISD’s administration, which is led by Ms. Cain.
Going back to the time when I received the note from PISD, informing me that my son would be required to wear uniforms the following year, my reaction was one of utter disregard and disbelief. It reminds me of the quote by Martin Niemöller, “When Hitler attacked the Jews I was not a Jew, therefore I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions and I was not concerned. Then Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church - and there was nobody left to be concerned.” Why did I disregard it? Because, I thought, this will not affect me. We are planning on moving by the end of the summer anyway. The district we are planning on moving to does not have a uniform policy. I simply thought, this does not have anything to do with me. I could never have been more wrong. The summer of 2001 was an eventful one. Between job layoffs and family crises, it became clear that our family would be unable to move. The enormity of the impending situation began to sink in; or did it?
A public meeting was scheduled in July, 2001. Representatives from every local television station were there. I’m not sure how large the crowd was, but the old PISD high school auditorium was standing room only, and some people could not even enter the auditorium. Parents and children alike were in an uproar over the implementation of the uniform policy and the deception by PISD in their process of implementing it. The meeting went late into the night. For me, the most memorable part of the evening was when Mr. Garrison was interviewed by one of the news stations. With an angry mob of parents and children surrounding him, and the cameraman getting the shot, Mr. Garrison proceeded to tell the interviewer that PISD had the “full support of the community” in implementing its uniform policy. Arrogance and deception at its best. There was no resolution to the conflict as a result of this meeting. It seems as though PISD was just attempting to let the parents “bitch and moan”, but never intended to back off of their position that they knew better for our kids than we, the parents, did. In a weak attempt to appease the parents, PISD did announce that night that they were adding two colors to the list of “acceptable” colors: pink and green. In my opinion, this was done on the advice of the district’s counsel, Ms. Schneider-Vogel, in an effort to “side-step” TEC 11.162 and its requirements as they relate to mandatory uniforms. Please see letter written by Ms. Schneider-Vogel attached as Exhibit “B”.
Even after all of this, I thought, there is a simple solution to this. I am a competent, mature adult. I will talk to the Superintendent and work this thing out. I was ill-prepared for what I was about to face. To give you an idea of the kind of person I was dealing with, please look at these statements from Ms. Cain’s Proposal to the Board for Approval of Standardized Dress Code (Impact/Rationale):
It has long been the philosophy of the Pearland Independent School District that public school systems are responsible for the total development of each child they serve. In PISD total development includes working with students to develop social and moral standards, setting benchmarks for ethical conduct, and having as a goal good manners and good grooming in addition to the teaching of academic subjects. . . . These guidelines are requested in order that the schools may teach hygiene, instill discipline, prevent disruption, avoid safety hazards and develop an awareness in students that there are distinct occasions appropriate for formal as well as for informal attire.
Ms. Cain is not a parent, yet she professes to know better for our children than we, the parents, do. Teaching such things as morals, standards, hygiene, manners, etc. are MY responsibility, as a parent. I take my role as a parent *very* seriously, and enjoy teaching my child, along with the many other aspects of being a parent. PISD’s job is to EDUCATE my child, not “totally develop” him. Ms. Cain, in support of her proposal, misconstrues the law, misrepresents the facts, and is unsupported by competent evidence. Worse, she is knowingly deceptive. Ms. Cain is pushing a social agenda, not an educational one. She has overstepped her bounds, and must be stopped. So, that is what I set out to do, even though I had no idea how I was going to accomplish that goal.
I began researching the “local rules”. I found FNG(local) on PISD’s website. According to FNG(local), there were three (3) local “levels” I had to complete prior to seeking remedy from the Texas Education Agency (“TEA”). I had to first have a meeting with the principal, then a meeting with the Superintendent or his/her designee, then a hearing in front of the Board of Trustees. If, at the end of this “local” grievance process, the final decision was not satisfactory, I was to file a petition for review with the TEA. I had never had to do anything like that before. I was very unsure as to how to proceed. As you might imagine, I was denied at every “level” including a denial at the board meeting on August 28, 2001; indicating that my appeal was not properly considered, and therefore violating my right to due process. This was argued in my brief. I filed my Petition for Review on October 12, 2001. Many more pleadings and hearings would occur over the next eight (8) months.
In addition to the legal proceedings involved in pursuing my grievance against PISD, my family and I would soon become victims of an enraged administration seeking revenge. One of the board members, David Watson, contacted the managing partner, HR supervisor and technology supervisor of the law firm I work for in a blatant attempt to get me fired. Mr. Watson claimed that he was in fear of his family’s safety (as a result of an e-mail I sent wherein I stated that I intended to seek “full remedy under the law” in reference to my pending grievance against the district). I am blessed to work for such wonderful people and such a wonderful law firm. They saw through Mr. Watson’s ridiculous claims and I was not fired or reprimanded as a result of them. This is the same David Watson that I served almost 4 years on Pack 466’s Cub Scout committee with. The same David Watson whose family and mine had attended many scout campouts and other scout activities for years. The same David Watson who had generously transported my son to scout events when I had a scheduling difficult. That evening, after I left the office, I went directly to the Watson’s home. I was understandably upset and shocked that David Watson would make such claims. I rang the doorbell at approximately 9:45 p.m. Faye Watson, dressed in her night shirt and socks, answered the door. (not the sort of thing you would do if you are “afraid” of someone, I thought.) I asked Faye if she was afraid of me. She told me absolutely not, and she didn’t know why David would say such a thing. The only thing she could think of was that David was “upset” and didn’t understand why I did not just “come and talk to him” about what was going on in the district, including my grievance. I explained to her that I did not want to cross the line between friendship and David’s position on the board. I felt it would be inappropriate to use the friendship I thought we had as a tool in my grievance. I felt it best to address the grievance to all board members while they were serving in that capacity. I also told her that David had crossed the line, and was bordering on a lawsuit for attempting to get me fired because he was “upset”. In addition, anyone who claimed to be my friend would surely not attempt to get me fired knowing that I was a single parent and therefore the only income-earner in the household. I was shocked and saddened by the extent to which PISD’s administration would obviously go to “shut me up.” However, I was prepared for whatever they might do to ME. After all, this grievance was brought by me, and pursued by me. However, I was definitely NOT prepared for what they were going to do to my son, Jordan.
Chapter 2: Zero Tolerance as a Weapon