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Former Richardson School Board Member Alleges District Violates Voting Rights Act

David Tyson Jr. is suing the Richardson School District alleging that it's violating the Voting Rights Act. He would like the district to move from an at-large voting system to single member districts.

A former board member of the Richardson Independent School District is suing the district.

David Tyson Jr. alleges that the district's at-large system violates the Voting Rights Act by denying “fair representation of African-Americans and other non-white voters.”

Tyson served on the Richardson school board two terms, from 2004 to 2010, and has been the only African-American to serve as a trustee. His three children attended and graduated from schools in the district.

“Many in the community – our client included – believe that Richardson ISD is unfairly denying people of color an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process,” said Tyson’s attorney, William A. Brewer III, partner at Brewer Storefront. "Our hope is that the school board's leadership will recognize its responsibility to embrace a more inclusive future -- one that provides representation for this multiracial and ethnically diverse school district."

The lawsuit claims that given the district's demographics, the school board -- which is all white -- should have a person of color on it. During the 2016-2017 school year, Richardson ISD was 21.1 percent African-American, 38 percent Latino, 7.1 Asian and 29.7 white.

Richardson ISD released the following statement: "As of today, RISD has not been served with such a lawsuit. In addition, RISD’s practice is not to comment publicly on pending litigation."

Reached by phone, Tyson criticized the current at-large electoral system saying that it discourages minorities from running. Under the at-large system, voters can elect candidates for all of the seats on the board, however, trustees don't represent a geographic area in the district. 

“The current system just doesn’t give people of color, particularly from a socio-economic perspective, a real opportunity to run for the board,” Tyson said. “If you look at the seven members on the board now, I would say all those individuals are probably middle class and above…and none of those board members live in what we would call somewhat socio-economically depressed areas or communities that are largely made up of people of color.”

The lawsuit describes the at-large system as a “relic of the District’s segregated past and must be left there” and points to other school districts, like Grand Prairie ISD, that have changed to a single-member district system.

White voters make up 62 percent of the electorate in Richardson ISD.

Several North Texas school districts have been sued over voting rights, including Carrollton-Farmers Branch, Grand Prairie and Irving ISD.

Stella M. Chávez is KERA’s immigration/demographics reporter/blogger. Her journalism roots run deep: She spent a decade and a half in newspapers – including seven years at The Dallas Morning News, where she covered education and won the Livingston Award for National Reporting, which is given annually to the best journalists across the country under age 35.