Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Matt Stillwell's Bizarre Report to RRISD Board in Question

In the Fall of 2012, I wrote about how the Round Rock Independent School District had run afoul of the law in the way it was 'handling' the School Health Advisory Council, or SHAC.  At that time, an attempt was made to alter the district's sex education curriculum without following state-proscribed procedures.  The RRISD board was forced to dissolve the illegal SHAC and create a new one, which has been meeting since February 2013.  In accordance with the law this time, RRISD Trustees and the Administration appointed volunteers to serve.

One such appointee is our old friend Matt Stillwell; the perennial candidate who claimed he wasn't a liberal when he ran for school board in 2011 but proudly claimed to be a liberal when he ran for State Representative in 2012.  (He is now running for Austin City Council in the newly-created District 6).  Appointed by Trustee Diane Cox, Stillwell was elected chair of the RRISD SHAC in a curious chain of events that seems to have allowed election before the approval of the SHAC bylaws.  In early 2013, it appeared that Stillwell would have firm control of the RRISD SHAC.

However, later in the year, the SHAC vice-chair resigned, and the committee was called upon to elect a replacement.  At the November 12, 2013 SHAC meeting, Stillwell's favored candidate lost the election to Kyle Swartz.  Apparently this was very upsetting for Mr. Stillwell, because he subsequently appeared at the November meeting of the RRISD Board to give an unofficial 'report' to the Trustees.  In his report (video of which can be viewed here,)  an emotional Stillwell complained that his committee can't accomplish anything because the meetings are so contentious.  At times almost tearful, he implies that certain SHAC members are just mean trouble-makers because they dared to ask the vice-chair candidates about their respective philosophy regarding SHAC issues.  At the Board meeting Stillwell very nearly received permission from the board to remove members of the committee (which seems a clear violation of state law regarding SHAC composition.) 

Following Stillwell's controversial 'report' to the board, it seems that his committee members were not in agreement with his statements; the approved minutes of the November SHAC meeting convey a different story, as does a letter sent to the board by Vice-Chair Kyle Swartz, the latter of which is available to the public via open records, (you can see what RRISD sent me here.)

In his letter Mr. Swartz states that SHAC Executive Committee members were not given prior notification of Stillwell's report, were not asked to help prepare the report, and were not invited to attend the Board meeting.  He also notes that the SHAC had discussed and progressed on a number of key items, including those related to the sex education curriculum. More importantly, Swartz states:
Mr. Stillwell indicated the Vice-Chair candidate was asked about their stance on abortion. This is false. The question was, if the candidate felt that a Christian curriculum provider is unacceptable, would the candidate feel there would be a conflict of interest if an abortion provider, or affiliate, provided human sexuality curriculum or instruction. (Emphasis added.)
Perhaps what Mr. Stillwell is really upset about is that he is not able to control the SHAC and implement his agenda. According to his 2012 campaign website, he was affiliated with the Texas Freedom Network, which teaches volunteers to advocate for radical sex education.  Despite the agitation from TFN, note this significant statement in the November RRISD SHAC meeting minutes:

Discussion focused on who is asking for changes to the curriculum. The Trustees are not asking for changes to the curriculum. Parents are not asking for changes to the curriculum. Georgetown is asking RRISD what we are doing because statistics are so good. Question was raised as to where the call for a change is coming from.Member pointed out that perhaps we don’t need to change the curriculum but make changes to the execution.
Regardless of his possible agenda, clearly Stillwell is not particularly adept at providing leadership to his committee.  It appears that when the November SHAC meeting didn’t go his way, he sought to have the board of trustees aid him in circumventing both state law and the bylaws of the committee.  Had he been successful, RRISD would have found itself embroiled in yet another controversy and this time with more serious legal implications.  Now it seems that Stillwell, along with Board President Catherine Hanna (also a TFN volunteer,) and Diane Cox, have fed their version of the story to the Austin American Statesman.  Citizens should be sure to read the official posted meeting minutes as well as Kyle Swartz' letter so that they will have all of the relevant information on this situation.

Update:  Wow, so much interest in this story and messages wondering who besides Mr. Stillwell is running for Austin City Council District 6.  Check out Jay Wiley & his website here

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