As election season approaches, it is a good time to remind everyone that school district employees are prohibited from using district resources to advocate for or against a particular candidate, party, or measure. District resources include our mail/email systems, as well as campus/classroom/teacher websites and social media accounts. Employees are free to support any political candidate or issue but must ensure that the support is in the employee’s individual capacity and on their own personal time.
For additional information, please refer to Leander ISD Board Policy DGA (Local).
Legal & Ethical Guidelines on Bond Elections
The District has a responsibility to inform all voters about the bond election on November 2, 2021. It is important that the District lead an “information-only” effort with the following guidelines:
- It is our responsibility to inform the public about the bond measure and to encourage voter registration and participation.
- Public funds (including your time on the job) must not be used in any way to advocate (promote or discourage) the passage of this bond election. For example:
- Advocacy letters, bulletins, emails, etc. cannot be prepared during an employee’s workday.
- Advocacy letters cannot be printed on school stationery.
- During work hours, individuals can be encouraged to vote, but not yes or no.
- During work hours, accessing social media using District equipment to engage in any advocacy is prohibited.
- Texas law prohibits “ballot selfies” at polling locations.
- Material which promotes or opposes the election must be paid for by individual or citizen advocacy groups.
- Consider adding a disclaimer to your personal email or social media postings: “Please note this message is personal, rather than official school district business, and was created using personally owned equipment and accounts on my own time.”
- The Texas Ethics Commission also prohibits subtle forms of advocacy. For example:
- A website graphic with a check mark (√) on a ballot is improper.
- Pictures of children in a video describing the bond is improper.
- When talking on the phone during work hours, you cannot advocate for or against the measure.
- Advocacy or opposition can only be conducted outside an employee’s workday.
- Factual information calls and those encouraging people to exercise their right to vote are not advocacy or opposition calls.
During bond elections, most complaints filed with the Secretary of State’s Office involve improper use of school district resources for advocacy campaigns. This use is a direct violation of election laws.
Pamphlets, brochures, fliers, mailers, etc.
Use materials provided by the district, as they have been reviewed by an attorney. In general, unlawful “political advertising” is a written communication that advocates a particular outcome in a bond election. “Advocates” means to directly or indirectly encourage a person to vote “yes” or “no” to the outcome of the bond election.
Written “communication” can take many forms: billboard, flier, newsletter, poster, newspaper or radio advertisement, pamphlet, t-shirt, button, or internet site. The prohibition applies to all officers and employees of the political subdivision including staff and members of the governing body. The prohibition does not apply to communications that factually describe the bond election.
A pamphlet or similar communication must be content neutral. To the extent the pamphlet is not neutral in its description of the election, public funds could not be used to prepare, print, or distribute the pamphlet. Neutrality extends to the words used, pictures, and graphics. For example, the following phrases are unlawful political advertising: “good schools are the foundation of a good community;” “every child deserves a good education;” “put children first;” and “show you care about education.” The check box on a ballot or the silhouette of parents and child can also be advocacy even if they are visuals.
Letters to the editor
Letters to the editor written by either the authorized representative or member of the governing body are not prohibited, even if the message is in support of, or opposition to, a specific measure in an upcoming election, if the author does not provide consideration, or payment, for such publication.
Email & distribution boxes
An “internal mail system” cannot be used to distribute political advertising. An “internal mail system” means a system operated by a state agency or political subdivision to deliver written documents to officers or employees of the agency or subdivision. This means a pro-bond political action committee cannot place fliers in schools for pick up or distribution.
There is a difference between “on the clock” and “off the clock” for permitted actions/expenditures. Due to the nature and irregular hours of certain positions in district and school leadership, it is not advised that Superintendents, Principals, Directors, or other similar, odd-hour staff actively support or oppose an election measure even when not in their official capacity.
In contrast, the members of the governing body who do not receive salaries for their positions are not limited by constitutional concerns and could, therefore, make oral presentations in support of the election measures.
Oral advocacy uses terms like “best solution,” “time is now,” “fantastic,” “state-of-the-art,” “countless benefits,” “horrible shape,” “need,” “we must do something.”
The District cannot tell people how to vote either verbally or in writing on school time, at school events or in school facilities. The PTA, pro-bond political action committee, or other organization can hold parent meetings on campus, and the organization can endorse the bond election and pass out “vote yes” material if the material is generated on its own (and not through District equipment or staff). If the District allows for any such meeting to be held in a school facility, it must provide equal access to those facilities and resources to the opposing side (preferably, pursuant to a formal, content-neutral policy covering after hours use of District facilities).