The Canutillo Independent School District board censured longtime Trustee Blanca Trout on Tuesday night after she was accused of knowingly violating school board policy and Texas election law during Canutillo High School’s homecoming parade.
Trout drove her truck, which was draped in banners bearing her name, in the parade, even after she had been told that wasn’t allowed.
Trout is running as the Republican candidate for the Precinct 4 seat on El Paso County Commissioners Court in the Nov. 8 election against Democrat and fellow trustee Sergio Coronado. Coronado abstained from the vote and all discussion, citing his participation in the election.
The censure isn’t about politics, said Superintendent Pedro Galaviz, who asked Coronado to put the item on the meeting agenda in his capacity as board president. Rather, it’s about a trustee thinking they are above the rules and the message that sends to students and staff, as well as ensuring safety at district events, he said.
“It comes back to elected officials -- you’re not above if we say no,” he said as trustees discussed whether to formally denounce her actions. “And it may be just a parade for some, but it’s about following the rules.”
“We have values here in this district and if we’re not going to follow them, and you’re not going to follow them as a board … don’t expect kids to follow,” he added.
After trustees were invited to ride together on a float in the Sept. 21 homecoming parade, Trout requested to ride in a separate truck displaying a banner with her name. Galaviz denied the request, which he said both he and the high school communicated to her.
Days later, Trout obtained a doctor’s note informing the superintendent that she could not be on the float. The superintendent then offered her the option of riding in the truck that would pull the float, but said he never heard back from her.
It was only after the event that he learned that she had snuck her truck in the line of parade vehicles. A large “Blanca Trout Canutillo ISD Board Trustee” sign was affixed to each side, according to a picture Galaviz showed El Paso Matters.
The signs were nearly identical to those used throughout her campaign for county commissioner. The color scheme and font are similar, as is the use of stars inside the ‘A’ letters of her name.
Trout denied the likeness in an interview Wednesday and maintained that she did nothing wrong.
“There’s nothing in the law that it says that I cannot participate, or obligated me to go in the float,” she said.
The Texas Election Code stipulates that “school district officials may not use public resources to advocate for or against particular political candidates and/or groups of candidates.” It also prohibits school boards from “using state or local funds to electioneer for or against any candidate.”
“That parade is not any one of yours or your ownership; it's a formal presentation by a school district for homecoming purposes,” Priscilla de Mata, a lawyer for the district, informed trustees Tuesday.
“What we have to remember is not to use any district resources or funds or time or events to campaign,” she continued. “And whether or not Ms. Trout looked at it that way or not, we have to be realists -- we’re in election season.”
This legal guidance was communicated to Trout following her initial request to ride in her own vehicle, de Mata said. Trout was advised against participating in her own vehicle and was told that if she went that route, to do so “with no additional flair or individual campaign sign in their names.”
The entire board was also emailed a copy of a separate board policy detailing rules around campaign ethics, according to the internal auditor.
Trout’s fellow trustees did not hold back Tuesday in their criticism of her decision to bypass administrators and join the parade.
“You have been on the board for years and you should know the rules and regulations of those board policies!” Trustee Salvador Payan said in exasperation after Trout denied receiving the policy.
Board policies govern district operations and are publicly available online. Trout, Payan pointed out, has taken part in multiple school board governance trainings since she joined the board in 2016.
“The first thing they told us, ‘until adults’ attitudes change, the kids’ attitudes will not change,’” Payan said of the training. “They drum that into us time and time again.”
Trout’s decision to join the parade despite not being authorized to do so was “an abuse of power,” said Trustee Tristan Hernandez.
Trustee Patsy Mendoza joined Hernandez and Payan in voting to censure Trout. Trout voted against the censure, while Coronado and Trustee Armando Rodriguez abstained. Trustee Laure Searls was absent.
Trout pushed for Rodriguez’s abstention given what she said was a “conflict of interest” stemming from Coronado’s representation of him in various traffic offenses, including 2013 and 2021 arrests for driving while intoxicated. (The 2013 charge was dismissed after Rodriguez participated in a pre-trial diversion program, and the 2021 charge is still pending, according to court records.)
Rodriguez told El Paso Matters that he abstained because he wanted the board to take up the issue of the censure after the election.
“I asked Dr. Galaviz to not even put this item on the agenda because of the politics behind it,” he said Tuesday when announcing his abstention.
The superintendent, in an interview after the meeting, expressed disappointment in Coronado and Rodriguez’s decision not to take part in the vote, and the accompanying discussion.
“This is bigger than the election,” Galaviz said. “This is about doing what’s right. … Why remove yourself from a conversation that’s about school business? This is a trustee business.”