Is it proper for a board member to attend an ARDC as an advocate for a student?

A district court in Dallas County has permanently enjoined a Lancaster ISD school board member from “serving as an Advocate” for a student at ARD meetings, at mediation or due process hearings.  The court noted that a board member has a “fiduciary duty of loyalty” to the District, which conflicted with her role as an Advocate for a single student. Key Quote:

The evidence presented at time of trial established conflicting loyalties with Defendant Morris’ serving simultaneously as a Trustee and as an Advocate in the same District that arise to the level of a breach of a fiduciary duties that harm the District relative to the following:

The court then listed four examples of how the breach of fiduciary duties plays out:

  1.  Access to information.  A trustee would have access to information not available to an Advocate.
  2. Taking positions adverse to the district.  Disagreements at ARDs, as well as due process hearings provide examples of situations in which an Advocate might take a position adverse to the District.
  3. Considering all students.  The actions of an Advocate focus on the needs of one student, but District policy requires “Board members to act in the best interests of the District as a whole, all students and all schools.”
  4. You can’t take off your “board member hat.”  Key Quote:

Ms. Morris….never loses the status of Trustee in the eyes of District personnel.  Specifically, Ms. Morris’s involvement as an Advocate in ARD meetings with District personnel has been disruptive to the District’s relationship with its employees and parents/students within the District, inhibited job performance by District employees, prolonged and complicated ARD meetings, rendered the ARD process ineffective for the District and its students (by causing District personnel to substitute—or at least, consider substituting—the best interests of the District students in favor of the employee’s own interest in maintaining his or her employment) unduly influenced the outcome of ARD meetings, and caused unnecessary expenditure of the District’s resources.

Keep in mind that a board member can attend ARDs and advocate zealously for the board member’s own child.  But Ms. Morris operated a non-profit for which she served as an Advocate for other children.  This court order does not prohibit her from doing that in other districts, but bars her from being an Advocate in the district she serves as trustee.

Special education is a zero sum game. The budget is fixed from the start. Thus when more resources go to the needs of one child, there is a reduction in what is available for the rest. That’s why all district employees, and trustees, are required to consider the needs of all children, constantly balancing the needs of the one with the needs of the others. The court’s decision in this case is a recognition of that reality.

This case is Lancaster ISD v. Morris, decided by the 44th District Court in Dallas County on February 2, 2020.  It’s Cause No. DC-19-16883.


Tomorrow:  Beware of ethics complaints!