University of North Texas Prof. Pankaj Jain has filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Coppell Independent School District for what he alleges is a violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Jain, represented by the Brewer Storefront, a community service legal affiliate of Brewer, Attorneys & Counselors, believes the school district’s election system violates the more than 50-year-old voting rights bill and denies fair representation to Asian American voters.
The lawsuit was filed Sept. 22 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Texas, Dallas Division.
In it, Jain, an Indian American educator, claims that the school district’s at-large voting system denies Asian American voters a fair opportunity to elect school board representatives of their choice.
Based on the district’s demographics, there should be at least one Asian American school board member, the lawsuit claimed. As an at-large system, board members are elected based on how the entire city votes, not individual districts.
None of the seven CISD members is Asian American.
“Our client believes that Coppell ISD is unfairly denying the local Asian American community an equal opportunity to participate in the electoral process,” Jain’s attorney William A. Brewer III, a partner at Brewer Storefront, said. “Our hope is that the school board’s leadership will recognize its responsibility to embrace a more inclusive future – one that provides representation for the largest demographic group enrolled in the school system.”
According to Brewer Storefront, Asian students account for the largest ethnic or racial group enrolled in the school district, at 41 percent, citing Texas Education Agency data.
What’s more, American Community Survey Census data gathered in 2014 says that about 18 percent of all voting-aged citizens in the district are Asian American, accounting for roughly 4,860 voters, the legal team said.
The lawsuit added that the 2015-2016 school year “marked a demographic tipping point” for the school district.
“It is the first year in which the Asian student population is larger than the white student population in the district,” it said.
CISD’s current election system states that school board members are elected at-large, with candidates running for specific places, but not representing a specific geographic area.
According to the lawsuit, the at-large system allows white voters to vote as a bloc and deny political opportunity to members of the Asian American community.
“Logically, one would assume that Asian Americans would be represented on the school board, but members of this community have been denied that opportunity due to an antiquated voting system,” the lawsuit states.
The lawsuit alleges that the Asian American population is sufficiently large and geographically compact such that one or more single-member electoral districts could be created in which the majority of eligible voters are Asian American.
Jain, the author of the award-winning "Dharma and Ecology of Hindu Communities: Sustenance and Sustainability," moved to Coppell with his wife and two kids in 2010. Prior to becoming a professor at UNT, teaching in the philosophy and religion and anthropology departments, he served as a lecturer at Rutgers University and North Carolina State University.
A graduate of Karnatak University (bachelor’s), Columbia University in New York (master’s) and the University of Iowa (doctorate), Jain is an active supporter of the local school district, the law firm said.
The India native, who is now a U.S. citizen and registered voter, unsuccessfully ran for the school board in May 2016.
Jain claims that, without representation of Asian Americans, the school district is failing to meet the needs of the entire community, adding that in the 2014-2015 year, CISD reported having only 16 Asian American teachers.
“The Asian American population in Coppell represents a huge part of the Coppell ISD student population, and yet these students and their community are denied representation on this school board,” Jain said in a statement. “Eliminating the at-large voting system would give a voice to the entire community in the affairs of the district.”
Brewer Storefront has previously successfully challenged violations of the Voting Rights Act in other communities, including in 2015 cases with the Carrollton-Farmers Branch Independent School District and the Grand Prairie Independent School District. Both districts now utilize remodeled voting systems.
It also secured trial victories in Voting Rights Act cases against the Irving Independent School District in 2014, the city of Farmers Branch in 2012, and the city of Irving in 2009. Those lawsuits paved the way for the formation of new voting systems and the election of minority candidates, it said.