Controversy over phone confiscation leads AISD roundtables on private phone policy


AUSTIN (KXAN) — Controversy involving the confiscation of a phone belonging to the president of the Austin Independent School District labor union has resulted in a call for AISD to clarify what can and can’t be asked for from personal cell phones.

Education Austin, representing teachers at AISD, called on district leaders to start roundtable discussions after the union’s president Ken Zarifis’ phone was confiscated after a heated AISD Board Meeting over sex education policy.

During that meeting, audience member Naomi Wilson was escorted out after shouting, saying that she felt verbally abused by members of Concerned Parents of Texas, a group advocating for traditional values and against the “radical sex ed and LGBT agenda.”

According to a search warrant filed with a local judge, Sharon Armke, another audience member, felt faint.

EMS responded to the meeting and Armke told AISD police she was assaulted by Wilson.

Meanwhile, Zarifis was recording the confrontation on his cell phone. But both Zarifis and Wilson say an assault never happened and Wilson has not been charged with a crime.

The District’s police department Chief has agreed to the roundtable discussion.

“The Austin ISD Police Department actively engages with stakeholder groups to best support our students, staff and community, as we have before. We look forward to working directly with any group or organization to schedule a round-table discussion focused on ways we can continue to serve the AISD community,” wrote AISD Police Chief Ashley Gonzalez.

Zarifis was joined by leaders of the NAACP, the Austin Justice Coalition, the Workers Defense Project, and local LGBTQ advocates. The groups want to use this incident to call on AISD to clarify to students, faculty, and staff, the limits of what can be and can’t be asked for on cell phones.

“Teach them how to use their rights. Show them what it means to say ‘No I do not consent,” said Zarifis.

It’s important to know that even if a teacher or staff member is not involved in an investigation, there is a new law that he wants training on as well.

SB 944 took effect in September and sets the rules around public information. If a public employee is using a private cell phone, what is generated many times can be public information if it relates to their job. The author of that law, Sen. Kirk Watson’s, D-Austin, office tells KXAN that is only about public information and not law enforcement investigations

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