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Irving School District Violates Voting Rights Act, Judge Rules

Bill Zeeble

A federal court has determined that the Irving school district denies Hispanic residents an equal opportunity to vote and elect candidates of their choice.

The ruling by U.S. District Court Judge Sidney Fitzwater in Dallas found that the current election process used by the Irving district violates the federal Voting Rights Act.

Friday's ruling found in favor of plaintiffs that include Manuel Benavidez, a former Irving school board candidate.

The order means Irving must alter for the second time the way it elects board members. The ruling found as unfair the current system in which there are five single-member districts and two members elected to at-large positions.

Irving had previously changed its election system because of prior legal challenges.

“This verdict sends a powerful message to this school district and any others that would attempt to deny Latinos fair participation in the political process,” says William A. Brewer III, partner at Bickel & Brewer Storefront, which is representing the plaintiffs. “Our clients urge Irving ISD to take the immediate steps required to revise its voting scheme – and give Latino voters the opportunity for political participation they deserve.”

Bickel & Brewer said in a statement: “Following a lawsuit filed by Manuel Benavidez in 2008, Irving ISD enacted a 5-2 electoral plan in 2012, composed of five single-member districts and two at-large districts. Benavidez, a Latino resident who has run three times for the school board and lost, filed a second lawsuit against the Irving ISD in January 2013. They alleged that the Irving ISD’s new 5-2 plan still denied Hispanic voters the opportunity to meaningfully participate in the electoral process and elect representatives of their choice. Irving residents Juana and Daniela De Leon were also plaintiffs in the case.”

Irving ISD said in a statement it disagrees with  the court’s conclusion because district officials believe the current system (5 single-member districts and 2 at-large seats) affords all Irving ISD citizens the opportunity to elect the representative of their choice.  Trustees will, the statement says, confer with legal counsel to determine the appropriate course of action.