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Legal Brief

Trustee Do's and Don'ts for May Elections

February 14, 2024

We have received several questions from trustees regarding what a trustee can do and not do to support candidates during an election. Leon | Alcala offers this guidance to board members:

Here are some general rules of thumb for trustees acting in their official capacities; that is, in public board meetings, or other instances where the Trustee is holding him/herself out as a trustee or as speaking on behalf of the school district:

  1. Trustees in their official capacities may inform the public (provide facts) about issues that the candidates may be discussing.  By way of example, “XISD received $X per pupil under the state foundation school program in 2022, and $X per pupil under the state foundation school program in 2023.”   If, however, one were to add to those facts:  “Inflation has caused our cost of doing business to increase and Jim Smith will do more for this district if he is elected to the Texas Senate” it would be prohibited  public advocacy.
  2. Trustees in their official  capacities may encourage voter registration and participation in the election process.  Communications about voter registration and participation made in the trustee’s official capacity must be factual in nature only; even indirect messages, such as using language or images that indirectly support a candidate or party, may run afoul of ethics rules.
  3. Public funds, including District employees’ time on the job, may not be used to promote or discourage voting for a particular party or candidate (referred to as “electioneering”).  The term “public funds” is construed broadly and includes use of school district resources such as copiers, email servers, bulletin boards, and school district letterhead/logos.

Because trustees are elected, uncompensated representatives of the District, they have more flexibility with respect to electioneering than paid District employees.  Trustees acting in their individual capacities have First Amendment rights and may communicate with constituents about candidates on the ballot, including advocating for one candidate over another,so long as the trustee: (1) makes clear that he or she is acting in the capacity of a citizen rather than a school board trustee, and (2) does not use District resources in connection with such communications. 

Trustees can express support for a party or candidate while OFF campus (that is,not in District-owned facilities). 

  1. Board Members may display political signs on property they own.
  3. Board Members may attend community events that are hosted off District property.
  5. Board Members may talk to the media – radio/newspapers/television – and speak in favor of a particular candidate, so long as it does not occur on school property or at a school function.  Additionally, Board Members can write “letters to the editor” and identify themselves as Board Members, even if the message supports a candidate or measure, so long as the publisher receives no consideration from the District for the publication.  (Advertisements must be paid from private funds, which may be personal  funds of the Board Member).
  7. Board Members may post pro-candidate messages to their personal social media (including blogs, micro-blogs, networking sites, wikis, and photo/video sharing      sites) but should do so off (and not otherwise utilizing) District-owned property.  If the trustee has an official school trustee social media platform, do not use it for advocacy. Board Members may want to add a disclaimer to their personal email or social media postings: “Please note this message is personal, rather than official school district business, and was created using personally owned equipment and accounts.”
  9. Under no circumstances may District resources (including email accounts, laptops, printers, copiers, etc.) be utilized to produce or disseminate a message of advocacy.

If you have any other questions at all, please call is at Leon | Alcala. 

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