Two Katy school trustees receive censures for violating district ethics policy

By George Slaughter, News Editor
Posted 2/25/22

Two Katy school trustees received censures Thursday by not disclosing contact, and misrepresenting contact, with plaintiffs suing the district. Those actions are violations of the district’s ethics policy.

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Two Katy school trustees receive censures for violating district ethics policy


Two Katy school trustees received censures Thursday by not disclosing contact, and misrepresenting contact, with plaintiffs suing the district. Those actions are violations of the district’s ethics policy.

Censured were Position 7 Trustee Dawn Champagne and Position 4 Trustee Leah Wilson. Champagne was also board secretary and the district’s representative to the Texas Association of School Boards, or TASB. She lost those roles as part of a board leadership reorganization.

Trustees elected Position 1 Trustee Duke Keller secretary. Trustees elected Position 5 Trustee Greg Schulte, the board president, as TASB representative.

Trustees re-elected Schulte president. Trustees re-elected Position 2 Trustee Lance Redmon vice president.

Trustees took these actions following the release of a report by the Underwood Law Firm, the purpose of which was to investigate the policy breaches. All seven trustees were questioned as part of the investigation.

Links to the  law firm report and censures are at the bottom of this report.

Trustees took these actions at a special school board meeting.

Champagne, who works in retail sales, is in her second term on the board. She was first elected in 2018 and re-elected in 2021. Wilson, who is retired from the U.S. Air Force, is in her first term on the board. She was elected in 2020.

Background of the lawsuits

The lawsuits involve Bronson McClelland. He is a former Katy High School student and football team quarterback. He played for the Tigers from 2018-20. His on-field performance made him a top prospect. He had scholarship offers from some Division I university football programs. But his time also had some off-field issues, including a 2019 two-game suspension and loss of his team captaincy following release of a social media post in which he used a racial slur.

By September 2020 McClelland was no longer a Katy ISD student. The next month, McClelland and his family filed a lawsuit against the district, superintendent Ken Gregorski and Katy High School principal Rick Hull. The lawsuit requested McClelland's transfer from the district’s Disciplinary Alternative Education Program. It also requested he join extracurricular activities, including football.

Gregorski said the district has done nothing wrong, and that the district has prevailed in three district courts in two counties, in federal court, and before a criminal grand jury. But, Gregorski said, legal challenges still remain.

Gregorski said the ongoing communications between one trustee—he did not specifically name Champagne—has hurt the district.

McClelland graduated in December 2020. Today he is a student at Trinity Valley Community College. He is on the football team there.

Pursuing the investigation

The report said that during the discovery process, it found several text messages between McClelland and a Katy ISD trustee that were not previously provided. These messages were in response to the district’s request for communications between trustees, McClelland, and his representatives.

In November 2021, the board retained the Underwood Law Firm to investigate. Champagne and Position 6 Trustee Rebecca Fox voted against the measure.

The report said both Champagne and Wilson engaged in private communication with McClelland about the litigation. But they did not share these communications either with other trustees or the district counsel when that communication occurred. The report said McClelland regularly initiated contact with Champagne and Wilson before or after board meetings.

The report said Champagne and Wilson failed to maintain electronic communication related to the pending litigation that each received on personal devices or directed to personal email accounts.

The report said Wilson spoke with McClelland and received emails from him. Wilson, the report said, “believed that, in her role as a trustee, it was appropriate for her to listen to Colburn McClelland and allow him to share information with her. Wilson did not believe the emails received from McClelland constituted improper communications because she did not respond—it was only a one-way communication.”

The report said when the issue of unreported communications came up before the board in the context of the litigation, Wilson recognized she may not have fully understood her responsibilities as a trustee and came forward to disclose the scope of her communications with McClelland.

The report said McClelland tried to engage Wilson to act on his behalf by requesting that she ask specific questions at board meetings. However, the report said, Wilson never complied with these requests because she felt it would be inappropriate to do so.

The report said Champagne believed McClelland was responsible for influencing the outcome of school board elections. “Champagne believed engaging in ongoing communication with McClelland would improve her chances of being reelected and attaining a leadership role on the board,” the report said. “Champagne has regularly communicated with McClelland throughout the time litigation has been pending involving McClelland’s son.”

The report said Schulte on May 17, 2021, asked Champagne and Fox if they were communicating with McClelland.

“Both denied any contact,” the report said. “If Champagne had been forthcoming about her ongoing communication with McClelland at that time, the district could’ve addressed the matter with litigation counsel to identify and limit potential risk to the district sooner and likely avoided the need for an independent investigation.”

The report said the board had several options from which it could choose to respond. These options included board training, review of board operating procedures, recusal, censure, reorganization, resignation and referral to law enforcement.

Responding to the censures

Champagne said the censure was a continued effort to diminish her community engagement.

“They want to restrict my interactions so that I operate within their narrative. What you are hearing tonight is their effort to silence you and me. What you are hearing tonight is their effort to silence you and me. They do not want me to converse with people who disagree with them.”

Champagne said the board could take away her titles, but could never take away her advocacy for the community and what is best for children.

“This report omits much of what I said during my interrogation and is full of circumstantial evidence,” Champagne said. “Most importantly, I never divulged any confidential information. And I never spoke to the plaintiff, Bronson McClelland, or met with him.”

Champagne said after the preliminary report was received earlier this month, she responded with 11 omissions and corrections. Only two of those corrections were incorporate in the final report, she said.

“There was no need for any of these actions which wasted money and time,” Champagne said. “Reorganization is already in the power of the board. It is in our policy. The report that is to be voted on reveals no new relevance evidence besides what the district already had.”

Position 3 Trustee Ashley Vann said Champagne’s heart “was in the right place, but she made choices she felt would benefit her.”

Wilson said she voted for the investigation to continue, even while knowing she was one those responsible.

Vann commended Wilson’s response, thanking her for owning up and apologizing for her part in the matter.

Redmon said the experience of voting for the censures were like a parent disciplining a child, and hoped it would lead to a change of attitudes. Still, he said, “If I were an employee, I’d be terminated immediately.”

Fox said she wasn’t there to pass judgement, as that was the duty of the voters.

“In November, we were asked to hire a law firm to investigate this matter,” Fox said. “Four months later, we’re here. This process has been a diversion from what we are supposed to do.”

Fox said missing the strategic planning session does not help the district reputation, but hurts it.

Redmon said the strategic planning session was pushed back so trustees could address the ethics issue and, after dealing with that, give the strategic planning session the focus it needed.

With reporting from R. Hans Miller and Dennis Silva II.

Links to law firm report and censures

Underwood Law Firm report to trustees

Dawn Champagne censure

Leah Wilson censure

lawsuit, Katy ISD, Katy ISD Board of Trustees