It is well known that individual board members have no authority, unless the board as a body conveys that authority to them. Nevertheless, the stray comments of a single board member can create legal problems for the school district. Consider, for example, the case of Roque v. Natchitoches Parish School Board, 2014 WL 5659387 (5th Cir. 2014). Mr. Roque is suing the district, alleging that he was not hired as superintendent as a result of racial discrimination. After a board meeting in April, 2009, the board decided to re-open the application process. As a result of that, the board received eight more applications. The board hired one of those eight people—a white man. Mr. Roque, a black man, alleged that this was an act of racial discrimination.
The federal district court dismissed Mr. Roque’s lawsuit, but the 5th Circuit recently reversed that decision. The reversal was largely based on the comments of one board member. Mr. Roque alleged that that one board member had a big influence on the rest of the board. She made the motion to re-open the application process, and she chaired the search committee. Mr. Roque alleged that this one board member had made the comment that she didn’t feel “that the community was ready for a minority Superintendent.”
This case has a long way to go, and Mr. Roque bears a heavy burden of proof. Proving what one board member said is not the same as proving that the board as a whole made the decision on a discriminatory basis. But the comments of one board member was enough for the 5th Circuit to reverse the district court’s decision and allow Mr. Roque to continue to pursue this case.
School boards can only take action when they act as a body. But one board member’s inappropriate comments can cause problems for the entire board and for the district. So here is your Daily Dawg Bone!
DAWG BONE: COMMENTS FROM A SINGLE BOARD MEMBER CAN CAUSE PROBLEMS
File this one under RACE DISCRIMINATION, SCHOOL BOARD.