PEARLAND, Texas (KTRK) -- Two parents in Pearland ISD are fighting for more diversity on the school board as two-thirds of the student population are young people of color. Yet, their seven-member school board is entirely white.
Pearland ISD's Board of Trustees is currently elected through an at-large system, meaning that anyone who lives in the district can vote for all seven positions. A lawsuit filed last week argues that this denies fair representation to voters of color in a mostly diverse district.
"In practice, the at-large system discourages minority or minority-preferred candidates from seeking office, because it effectively functions as a white-controlled referendum on all candidates. In PISD, a bloc of white voters controls all seven trustee positions," the complaint stated.
Dallas-based attorney, William Brewer, represents the lawsuit's plaintiffs, Dona Kim Murphey and Jessica Garcia Shafer. Murphey is Asian-American and a neurologist. Shafer is Hispanic and an epidemiologist. Both have children who are students in the district and ran for the school board during separate years between 2019 and 2021, but lost.
The complaint claims that since 2018, 11 minority candidates have had an unsuccessful bid in the school board elections. The plaintiffs want the at-large process to change to single-member districts, so that each area can elect their own representatives. In June 2021, a similar lawsuit was filed against Spring Branch ISD. Latino civil rights group LULAC is considering one as well against the City of Houston.
"(School board members) live in clusters in far more affluent neighborhoods than the neighborhoods of the majority of the students who actually are served by Pearland ISD. We believe this election system violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, because it enables the majority to discriminate against, frankly, a very healthy minority," Brewer said.
According to data from Pearland ISD's website, 37.4% of their student population are Hispanic or Latino, 32.37% are white, 14.64% are Black or African American, and 11.34% are Asian. The lawsuit alleges the school board would have a better chance of being representative of its communities and their unique needs, if voters could elect someone from their own neighborhoods.
In a statement given to ABC13, a district representative wrote, "Pearland ISD has learned that the lawsuit was filed. The district operates under an at-large system authorized by state law and conducts its elections in accordance with law. Once properly served, the district will respond to the complaint through the judicial system. Pearland ISD embraces all its students and is committed to each student's success."
Requests for comment from Pearland ISD's Board of Trustees were not returned. Brewer said his clients are hoping for an opportunity to sit down with the district for a discussion. But they are prepared to take this to court, if both parties cannot come to an agreement.