Lewisville School Board’s electoral system violates people of color’s right to vote, lawsuit says

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A new lawsuit once again alleges that Lewisville ISD is denying voters fair representation of color on its school board.

The Lewisville Schools case, filed Tuesday in federal court, was brought on behalf of an African-American woman whose children attended district schools. Paige Dixon’s run will be integral to the case, given that a similar lawsuit against LISD was dismissed because the plaintiff, a white man, could not demonstrate that his voting rights were affected.

Dixon ran for a spot on the board in May 2021 and lost. She alleges that the blanket system — in which voters can vote for every council seat regardless of where they live in the district — that is used to elect trustees undermines the political voice of voters of color.

The current lawsuit aims to have the at-large system thrown out.

“Ms. Dixon believes that moving from the general voting system to single-member districts or a cumulative voting system will allow people of color to run for directorships, inspire greater voter turnout and lead to a fairer system of representation,” it reads.

District spokeswoman Amanda Brim said early Tuesday afternoon that the district had not yet been serviced and therefore was unable to comment.

This is the second lawsuit against the district represented by the Brewer Storefront, a pro bono subsidiary of the firm of Brewer, Attorneys and Counselors that has taken on several similar cases in districts across North Texas with mixed success.

The showcase cases have primarily challenged electoral systems where representatives are elected at large, rather than from single-member constituencies. They allege that systems in which voters vote for every seat on the board — rather than the representative from their geographic area — violate voting rights law by diluting the power of black and Latino residents.

Advocates describe the general system as discouraging favored minority candidates from running because the election functions as a “white-controlled referendum on all candidates.”

“This inequitable structure leaves large swaths of the district speechless,” the lawsuit alleges. “Because of this broken and discriminatory electoral system, administrators who reside in predominantly white neighborhoods have the power to determine the fate of a school district composed primarily of nonwhite students.”

Brewer’s last attempt at legal action in Lewisville failed two years ago. Their plaintiff, Frank Vaughan, was a white man. A judge dismissed the case, noting that Vaughn could not show how he was harmed by an electoral system he said disenfranchised voters and candidates of color.

“Vaughan does not allege or provide the Court with any evidence which would raise a question of material fact that his vote was diluted for legally recognizable reasons” under the Voting Rights Act, the judge wrote.

Approximately 12% of students enrolled in Lewisville schools are black and nearly 31% are Hispanic. About 38% of students are white.

Meanwhile, school administrators are all white, the lawsuit points out. Several black candidates ran — and lost — in the recent Lewisville election.

This problem is not unique across the country.

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A 2018 study by the National School Boards Association found that more than three-quarters of members are white, while about 1 in 10 are black. Another recent survey by research center EdWeek found that 86% of directors surveyed said they had not served any Latino directors and 81% said they had no black colleagues on their board.

In Texas, where students of color make up the majority of public school enrollment, districts have long struggled with school board representation that reflects their student makeup.

The law firm’s arguments worked in Richardson, which in 2019 largely abandoned its general system that had been decried as discriminatory. The council is now represented by five single district representatives and two trustees elected by the entire district.

Former board member David Tyson, the only black man ever elected as a director of RISD, brought the case. Since that forced changes, a black woman became school board president.

Other company successes include overhauling voting systems in the Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Grand Praise and Irving school districts.

Advocates say racial representation on school boards is key to closing long-standing gaps in academic achievement between white children and their diverse peers.

“Lisd’s currently all-white elected trustees reside in a world apart from the children who attend LISD’s lowest-performing schools,” the lawsuit alleges. “This broken governance system leaves the children who need an advocate most speechless on the board as it makes decisions that direct millions of dollars in education funding and resources.”

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and conversation about pressing education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation, and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab journalism.

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