Escalation of “Electioneering” Crackdown: Denton ISD Principals Indicted for Alleged Criminal Election Interference

In a remarkable escalation of the politically motivated legal attacks against seven local school districts accused of violating state “electioneering” laws that prohibit the use of public resources to express support for or opposition to a specific candidate, party, or measure, two Denton ISD school administrators have been indicted by Denton County District Attorney Paul Johnson on criminal charges for using their district-issued email accounts to encourage educators and school employees to vote in the state’s Republican primary elections.

Denton ISD Alexander Elementary School Principal Lindsay Luján and her husband Jesús Luján, the principal of Borman Elementary School, were indicted this week for “unlawful use of internal mail system for political advertising” according to court records, a Class A misdemeanor. In Texas, a Class A misdemeanor is punishable by up to $4,000 in fines and a year in jail. Lindsay Luján’s arraignment hearing is scheduled for May 13, while Jesús’s hearing is scheduled for June 4.

These charges stem from emails Lindsay and Jesús Luján sent in February ahead of the March 5 primary elections. In an email sent on Feb. 5, Lindsay encouraged staff at Alexander Elementary to vote for Republican primary candidates favorable to public schools and implied support for those opposed to vouchers, highlighting the state’s failure to increase the basic allotment since 2019 despite historic inflation and the negative impact on Denton ISD’s financial situation, including its ability to provide raises. The email stated, “We need to do our part for our Texas Public Schools!” and directed recipients to the Texans for Public Education ratings database, which ranks political candidates as “Friendly,” “Neutral,” “Not Rated,” or “Unfriendly” toward public education.

Similarly, before Feb. 20, Jesús urged Borman Elementary staff to participate in the Republican primary to vote for candidates who support public education and additional school funding, emphasizing the fact that the small percentage of the population that participates in primary elections have a disproportionate impact on choosing our elected officials. The email highlighted historical support for vouchers among primary voters and stressed the importance of educators and public school advocates making their voices heard in these crucial elections, urging school employees to, “Consider thinking from a ‘purple’ mindset in future elections, voting for the candidate that will support public ed and school funding in the future, despite their party affiliation.”

Both emails stated that employees would be provided coverage and 30 minutes to vote (the Texas Election Code mandates that employers must provide employees with paid time off to vote on Election Day if they have not already cast their ballots during early voting). These emails were apparently sent weeks before Denton ISD held annual training sessions regarding campaign ethics and board policies on Feb. 27, March 1, and March 2.

Denton ISD reached an agreement with the Office of the Attorney General to resolve the civil lawsuit against the school district on March 1. Though the attorney general is prohibited from criminally prosecuting Election Code violations following the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals’ decision in Texas v. Stephens, the Liberty Justice Center  a nonprofit “public interest litigation center”  that “fights to protect workers’ rights, school choice, economic liberty, private property rights, and free speech”  helped registered voters in Denton County, including Republican Texas Senate District 30 candidate Jace Yarbrough (rated as “Unfriendly” to public education according to Texans for Public Education), submit affidavits to the district attorney’s office alleging criminal election interference and demanding an investigation under Section 273.001 of the Texas Election Code.

It should come as no surprise that the self-proclaimed “school choice evangelist” Corey DeAngelis serves on the board of the Liberty Justice Center. The Liberty Justice Center has also organized a similar effort in Harris County pushing for the investigation of alleged “electioneering” by Huffman ISD Superintendent Benny Soileau, the leader of another school district sued by Paxton.

This latest escalation in the campaign against educators and school employees fulfilling their duty to promote civic engagement and using their voices to highlight the high stakes for public education in our elections threatens to have a profound chilling effect in communities across the state.