Court Order Blocks District's Use of CSCOPE Lessons

Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick in the Senate chamber as political drama unfolds at the Texas Capitol in the last hour of the 83rd Texas Legislature's first special session.
Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Sen. Dan Patrick in the Senate chamber as political drama unfolds at the Texas Capitol in the last hour of the 83rd Texas Legislature's first special session.

A state district court judge has banned a small Hill Country school district from using lessons produced by a state-run coalition of education service centers known as CSCOPE until those lessons receive State Board of Education approval.

The court order against Llano Independent School District, announced Monday at a news conference attended by Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, state Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, and several conservative activists, comes despite assertions from education officials that the board has no jurisdiction over how local school districts teach state curriculum. 

"Our state school board and superintendent have chosen to ignore state law," said Bill Hussey, a former president of the Llano County Tea Party and one of six plaintiffs in the lawsuit, who is described in the court filing as a Llano County resident and taxpayer.

In response to the court order, Llano ISD Superintendent Casey Callahan issued a statement saying that the district has not mandated or forbidden teachers' use of CSCOPE-derived lessons as a resource.

"Llano ISD believes its actions are legal, and is contesting the claims raised in the lawsuit," Callahan said.

Dewhurst praised the parents and taxpayers who filed the lawsuit, saying it represented the civic action that formed the backbone of democracy.

"This issue is about teaching Texas children," he said. "I personally have a problem with any effort to politicize this process. It is an affront to these families, and Texas families across the state, and the values we hold dear as Texans." 

He called on policymakers to "find the best solution we can" to fix or eliminate the reported errors in the CSCOPE lessons.

Monday's announcement adds a new layer to the political turmoil surrounding the  controversy-laden lesson plans, which are currently under review by a SBOE committee. 

Senate Education Chairman Dan Patrick, R-Houston, announced in May that the state education service centers had agreed to no longer produce CSCOPE lessons, which grass-roots activists have relentlessly pushed to eliminate because of a perceived liberal, anti-American agenda. But many districts, scrambling to develop alternate lesson plans over the summer before the new school year, opted to keep using the now freely available lessons. 

When SBOE members questioned the agency's general counsel David Anderson on the situation during a July meeting, they were told that there was nothing to legally prevent districts from using existing lessons produced by CSCOPE because they are now in the public domain. At the meeting, Commissioner Michael Williams was also asked to address whether the state's attorney general's office could prosecute a district for using the lessons. Williams said he was at a loss "as to what the nature of the action would be that the attorney general would file" against a district.

The discovery that the agreement reached during the legislative session would not halt the lessons' use in districts prompted outrage among some SBOE members — as well as concern from Dewhurst and Patrick — who all said they believed the problem had been solved.

Patrick, who is challenging Dewhurst in the 2014 lieutenant governor’s race, was not at Wednesday’s announcement. 

The CSCOPE issue was a flashpoint during Llano ISD's May school board elections, in which three candidates  — two of whom, Leticia McCasland and Trevor Dupuy, are also plaintiffs in the lawsuit — ran unsuccessfully on platforms attacking the district's use of CSCOPE.  Judge Dan Mills will hold a hearing on whether to extend the temporary restraining order into an injunction in Burnet County court on Friday. 

Alice Linahan, the founder of the conservative grass-roots organization Voices Empower, said at Monday's announcement that she hoped the legal action would only be the first of many against school districts who opted to use CSCOPE lessons.

"There is going to be a ripple effect, I believe, to stop CSCOPE, and it is starting in Llano, Texas," she said.

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