Scott Ball / Rivard Report
Edgewood Independent School District placed Superintendent Emilio Castro on paid leave Friday pending an investigation into harassment allegations lodged against him by a district employee. Managers also named the district’s chief academic officer, Phillip Chavez, as Castro’s interim replacement.
Chavez previously sat in for Castro at an earlier board meeting on Tuesday, as well as during the meeting Friday before the managers entered executive session.
Chavez earned his Superintendent Certificate through the University of Texas at San Antonio and has served as the interim superintendent in Southside ISD. He said he will collaborate with his "very strong team" to prepare students for upcoming state exams.
"In no way will this affect our students' ability to be successful moving forward," Chavez said.
The district also hired the Houston-based law firm Rogers Morris & Grover to execute a third-party investigation into the matter. (The firm also has an office in Austin.)
Chavez didn't have a clear idea on the time or cost of the investigation.
Castro was not in attendance at either the Tuesday or Friday meeting.
The current board of managers took over the district on May 24, 2016, appointed by the Texas Commissioner of Education, Mike Morath. This action effectively overrode the authority of Edgewood ISD's elected board of trustees. Although they no longer govern the district, many of those trustees still take an interest in the district's operations.
One of those, Joe Guerra, said he believes the managers made the correct decision to hire a third-party firm to investigate the allegations against Castro.
"They did what they needed to do," Guerra said, adding that he hopes the investigation is done in an expedient manner. "We don't need turmoil."
Last Friday, Feb. 16, Gloria Collins, a human resources specialist with Edgewood ISD, filed a complaint with the district’s human resources department and the San Antonio Police Department, listing three alleged instances in which Castro inappropriately initiated physical contact.
The third, which allegedly occurred Feb. 16, took place in a one-on-one conversation between Collins and Castro. According to Collins’ report, Castro squeezed Collins’ knee, and then ran his hand down her leg, past her calf.
The report prompted the district to launch an investigation into the allegations.
Sen. José Mendéndez (D-San Antonio) and Rep. Ina Minjarez (D-San Antonio) were both present at Friday night's meeting as observers.
Mendéndez said it was important for the board of managers to appoint independent legal counsel to investigate the claims so that they avoid any conflicts of interest.
"I feel much better that it is a firm ... that's not going to be trying to make any friends in the future," Menéndez told the Rivard Report. "I think at the end of the day, there is the reality of the situation and there is also the perception. You want the perception in the community with teachers and parents that the truth came out and was investigated."
Minjarez agreed, saying a third-party investigation is essential to give all parties due process.
Despite that, some expressed concerns about the costs of hiring an outside firm – a potentially costly maneuver for a district that already faces financial woes.
Edgewood ISD serves a shrinking student enrollment that is roughly 92 percent economically disadvantaged.
Menéndez said the cost of the investigation is a concern for him, as well.
"It is one of those things where you want to think in retrospect that if there is a guilty finding, that the cost of the investigation would be either shared or carried or covered by the guilty party," he said. "I don't think the constituents or taxpayers should be paying for the investigation."