Judge sues school district

A federal judge has scheduled a Jan. 3 temporary restraining order hearing against the Brownsville Independent School District after 404th state District Judge Elia Cornejo-Lopez filed a lawsuit against it on behalf of her two minor children.

The litigation, filed Nov. 30, accuses BISD administrators and trustees of mistreating her children and retaliating against them after Lopez filed a grievance against the district.

“Mrs. Lopez, in capacity as a mother of two students, a year ago she filed a grievance about the way her (child) was being treated in respect to AP classes,” Cornejo-Lopez’s lawyer, Gustavo Acevedo, said. “It’s been a year now, and the district still refused to take action on the grievance.”

The Brownsville Herald does not identify minors.

According to the lawsuit, BISD allowed an incoming freshman to take an AP Chemistry course for 11th and 12th graders, for which the student did not meet the prerequisites.

Cornejo-Lopez claims in the litigation that one of her children, who was an incoming freshman, met the prerequisites for an AP Psychology course, which is also only for 11th and 12th graders, and wasn’t allowed to take the course.

“This disparate treatment between (student 1) and (student 2) violated the Equal Protection Clause of the United States Constitution and case law which mandates that similarly situated students must be treated the same,” according to the lawsuit.

The student allowed to take the AP Chemistry class was Anglo, according to the lawsuit, and Cornejo-Lopez’s child is Hispanic.

In an emailed statement, BISD Superintendent Esperanza Zendejas called Cornejo-Lopez’s litigation an obvious disappointment.

“Obviously, we are disappointed that Judge Elia Cornejo Lopez filed against the District. As a District, we do not discriminate or retaliate against any of our students,” Zendejas wrote. “We plan to vigorously defend this case and expect to be vindicated by the court. Because of the ongoing litigation with Elia Cornejo Lopez, we cannot comment further on this matter.”

The 36-page lawsuit lists a litany of allegations against BISD, including that the Board of Trustees violated her right to free speech by not letting her address it in executive session concerning her grievances; that her child was retaliated against after Cornejo-Lopez filed a grievance; that a leaker released a summary of her grievance to local bloggers in violation of her child’s privacy rights; and that BISD purposefully would not hold a hearing on her grievance.

“A public information request revealed that a hearing for the grievances was not set and a hearing officer was not appointed,” the lawsuit states.

Cornejo-Lopez also alleges BISD repeatedly called her child’s doctor demanding a diagnosis in violation of HIPPA; that her child was removed from extracurricular activities; and that teachers made false statements against her child.

Cornejo-Lopez’s lawyer admitted the lawsuit is long and contains many allegations, but said that’s because litigation in federal court must be detailed.

“It’s long and very detailed. And just to start off, every single thing we say in that lawsuit can be and is documented,” Acevedo said. “We didn’t make any allegations without foundation.”

According to Acevedo, there are two main issues right now, which are the alleged disparate treatment in respect to AP classes and the alleged way AP Spanish classes are awarded.

According to the lawsuit, BISD only gives AP Spanish exams to immigrants, children whose parents only speak Spanish in their household, future first-generation college students and Mexican nationals.

Furthermore, Cornejo-Lopez alleges that BISD doesn’t tell families that students who take AP Spanish in middle school aren’t able to have it included in their high school GPA.

“The Spanish AP issue is one very close and dear to my heart. It actually affects 800 students at BISD right now,” Cornejo-Lopez said. “If we prevail, it won’t just change (for her child), but every student affected by it.”

Cornejo-Lopez said she filed the lawsuit as a last resort and hopes it sheds light on what she alleges are unfair policies.

“So we’re carrying this torch not just for one child, but for every student at BISD, and some people don’t even know that it’s happening to them, and most parents don’t have the time and the resources to say (that) we want fair and equal treatment for every student,” Cornejo-Lopez said.

She sees the litigation, which cites the landmark Supreme Court case Brown v. Board of Education, as a civil rights fight.

“And it’s not an easy road … when you stand for civil rights it opens you up to criticism. When you study the history of civil rights, people were chastised, arrested and made to walk through the cold,” Cornejo-Lopez said. “It’s been a rough road, but, hopefully, at the end, we’ll make things better for everybody.”

Initially, she wanted to represent herself in the litigation, but Cornejo-Lopez is not allowed to because she’s not licensed to practice in the federal Southern District of Texas. She is asking Judge Andrew S. Hanen if she can make a special appearance, along with Acevedo, her attorney.

Cornejo-Lopez is seeking a temporary restraining order and permanent injunction against BISD.