Former Richardson ISD school board member David Tyson, Jr. filed suit against the district in federal court Friday alleging practices by the all-white board have led to racially segregated schools and an “egregious achievement gap” due to more resources being focused on students and schools in more prosperous neighborhoods.
The suit claims that RISD’s at-large election system, in which board members are elected to serve districtwide, is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and discourages minority representation.
The current make up of RISD is, roughly, 40% Hispanic, 30% white and 20% African-American, but Tyson’s suit says RISD remains mostly segregated and diverse schools receive fewer resources.
Eight of RISD’s worst-performing schools are made up of Hispanic, African-American and/or Asian students according to the lawsuit.
“The story of RISD is a tale of two school districts where a greater than 60 percentage point achievement gap exists between campuses at opposite ends of the academic spectrum,” the lawsuit says. “Maintaining the status quo at the highest levels of power keeps RISD frozen in time, lacks true democratic legitimacy, and inhibits the development of tools necessary to address the challenges of inequality and poverty that many of its students face daily.”
The lawsuit addresses “overt racism” within RISD schools, including racist memes which appeared on social media before the Pearce vs. Richardson High football game. School board elections are “racially-polarized” because the white voting bloc defeats minority candidates, the suit says. More than 60% of the electorate in RISD is white.
Tyson, a former Exchange Club of Lake Highlands member whose kids graduated from LHHS, made many of the same claims when he sat down with me in September.
Though he didn’t tell me he was planning a lawsuit, Tyson hinted RISD should be ready for one. Tyson – the district’s first-and-only African-American trustee – served from 2004 to 2010 while RISD operated under a federal desegregation order. With continued increases in the minority student population and no minority representation on the board, “it’s past time” for minority leadership, he told me.
Tyson pointed to similar lawsuits in recent years against Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Grand Prairie and Irving. Settlements resulted in those districts agreeing to use the single member-district format of representation.
Tyson told me the diversity he seeks isn’t just racial.
Currently, 3 of 7 RISD school board members live in the Lake Highlands High School feeder pattern, 3 live in Pearce and one lives in Berkner.
Shortly after Lake Highlands resident Justin Bono was elected president of the current board, I asked his opinion of single member districts.
“It’s an interesting discussion. I don’t know that single member districts would accomplish what proponents want or make a board more effective, just given how our district is laid out. Our board would welcome a more diverse pool of candidates and colleagues, and we’re focused on getting more diversity on strategic planning committees, diversity of backgrounds and geography as well, so that there is a greater pool of potential board candidates. Ultimately, it has to be the right time for any candidate to step into board service.”
Tyson admitted that recruiting candidates of color may not be easy. He said he has worked through community groups, church friends and business contacts since he left the board to encourage minority leaders in the community to run, to no avail. He said running to win one’s neighborhood, rather than the entire school district, is a less-daunting task for candidates new to the process.
You can read my full conversation with Tyson here.
Tyson asks the court to institute single member districts in RISD, and he asks for an injunction to halt the May election until the issue can be resolved.