La Vernia ISD yet to hand over text messages of former superintendent, despite AG’s ruling
District demanding $1,621 to view messages sent to and from phones belonging to Dr. Trent Lovette
LA VERNIA, Texas – Officials with La Vernia Independent School District have yet to hand over to KSAT 12 copies of text messages sent to and from its embattled former superintendent more than six weeks after the Texas Attorney General’s Office ordered them to do so.
The district, through its attorney, has instead told KSAT 12 that the station must pay $1,621 to inspect the records, including paying a deposit of $810.50.
KSAT 12 filed a complaint late last year with the attorney general’s office, claiming the cost estimate to view the records is excessive.
The grapple over public information relates to an early September request from the Defenders for a copy of all district business related text messages sent to and from Superintendent Dr. Trent Lovette dating back to March 2018.
The district declined to release the messages and instead asked the attorney general’s office to allow it to withhold the records, citing several sections of the Texas Government Code.
The AG’s office on Nov. 20, however, ruled that the district had to release some of the records because it failed to demonstrate that all of the sections applied to the text messages.
The district then informed the Defenders nearly three weeks later that the cost to produce a copy of the messages would exceed $1,600.
The Defenders then asked to view the records in person, in an effort to reduce the cost.
State law allows public entities, such as La Vernia ISD, to charge for programming and manipulation of data if someone wants to conduct an in-person inspection of electronic records.
La Vernia ISD’s cost estimate for an inspection of electronic records does not include a breakdown of charges for either programming or manipulation of data.
The district’s attorney, Christine Badillo, said via email Dec. 19 that she believed the $1,621 cost estimate was accurate for an in-person review of records, even though it was originally prepared in response to a request for a physical copy of the text messages.
Lovette resigned Nov. 18, ending a tumultuous tenure with the district that included a list of allegations of inappropriate work behavior.
He had been on a medical leave of absence since late September, claiming accusations made against him had taken a toll on his health.
The allegations included a claim from a cheerleader at the high school that Lovette had inappropriately touched her on the sideline during a football game in Sinton weeks earlier.
The district’s board of trustees met several times in closed session last fall to determine Lovette’s professional fate, before he ultimately decided to medically retire. Lovette’s retirement took effect Dec. 20.
“We want to acknowledge there were students and parents who expressed feelings of discomfort regarding Dr. Lovette. It is our intention to ensure all students feel comfortable and safe while attending La Vernia ISD and will always support students when they voice their concerns,” said La Vernia ISD secretary Jeff Towns as he read from a prepared statement Nov. 18. “As we move forward, the board of trustees will continue working with the school administration to ensure proper training is accomplished as well as ensure policies and procedures are enforced.”
The statement Towns read from also indicated that the district discovered “infractions pertaining to social media usage.”
However, an official said via email Dec. 20 that the district had no responsive records, after the Defenders requested a copy of the investigation that uncovered these infractions.
Lovette was placed on leave and then reinstated less than three weeks later in late 2018 after a separate investigation into his workplace behavior.
District officials to date have refused to discuss that investigation publicly or to release any records related to it.
However, a letter from the Texas Attorney General’s Office released to the Defenders by the district’s law firm confirms that Lovette was given a written reprimand as part of the investigation.
The attorney general’s office ruled that the district could withhold a copy of the written reprimand as well as other records related to its 2018 probe of Lovette.
However, a source associated with the investigation provided the Defenders details of the alleged incidents as well as the names of the eight district employees who either witnessed Lovette’s actions, were the target of his actions or complained about his actions.
At least one of the employees has since left the district.
A written timeline of incidents leaked to the Defenders outlined the following allegations against Lovette:
- August 2018 - After a female employee shared with Lovette that she had a wife, he texted a GIF to two staff members of two women making out. One of the staff members who received the text described it as “inappropriate.”
- September 2018 - While discussing annual required training on bloodborne pathogens, Lovette said, “We were just wondering if you could get HIV from breast milk.”
- October 2018 - During a facilities walk at the high school, staff members caught two students displaying public affection. A female staff member redirected the students to class. When Lovette noticed another student head that way, he stated something to the effect of “getting a threesome on.” The female staff member reported that the comment made her uncomfortable.
- November 2018 - Lovette told a female employee a story from his previous district about two students caught on camera having sex. Lovette described the sex act in graphic detail. The female employee said Lovette going into details about the incident was unnecessary and completely grossed her out. The female employee said Lovette appeared to enjoy retelling the details of the story.
- November 2018 - The same female employee said another employee who was asked to help Lovette troubleshoot his work computer saw inappropriate videos of a sexual nature on the right side of the screen on Lovette’s YouTube account.
- November 2018 - After a fellow employee mentioned the tight football jersey Lovette was wearing, he responded, “(Redacted) is coming down this weekend and she’ll get it off.” The employee then said Lovette “caught himself.”
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