By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Eric Nicholson
This year, six families in all slipped through the system, Henderson says. All were informed by letter of the problem last October, she says, and were told they would have to move their children to the proper schools for the 1996-97 school year. Henderson says she felt forcing the children to leave six weeks into the school year would have been too disruptive.
Sessions, citing the other families involved, questions why his situation should be singled out. Of course, no members of the other families are running for public office, especially on a conservative platform of righteous rectitude.
A neighbor of Sessions, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Observer she raised with Sessions the issue of which school his son should attend as early as last spring. The neighbor lives on the same side of the street as the Sessions family, and was aware that the proper neighborhood school is Lee. She says Sessions advised her his son would attend Jackson.
Sessions confirms having had the conversation.
"Yes, she asked me if I was sure Bill should go to Stonewall Jackson, and I said, yes, because we called the school and told them our address. She asked me if I was sure, and I said, 'Well, I really don't know for sure.'"
Rather than make a call to the school district to verify the boundaries or ask an official about proper school selection, Sessions says, he and his wife "trusted the principal and teachers to do what is in the best interest of parents and children. I'm trying to be a parent who comes and participates and cares, not one who makes trouble and second-guesses the school.
"As far as I know, this has gone all the way up the line," says Sessions. "I was told that Sandy Kress was at least aware of it."
Kress says he learned of Sessions' situation "a few weeks ago, but I don't know what he's talking about with everyone up the line knowing. I don't know whether district officials closed their eyes to this or if any politicking was done for him or by him. Since there were only a few families, they were probably let in unknowingly."
Judy Thomas, student-transfer coordinator for DISD, refused to discuss the Sessions case, but confirms that the district is aware that some parents slip their children into schools that are legally closed to them. "It is done, but the practice is not prevalent. There are cases everywhere, all over the place--districtwide, statewide. Whenever we find them, we investigate them and take the proper action."
Meanwhile, 'M' Streets neighbors continue to steam. "I'd love to see my friends who live right on the border be able to go to Stonewall," says one Jackson mother, "but they're playing by the rules. It peeves me when people can find ways around the rules and pretend to be teaching their kids honesty and integrity."
Cindy Hess, PTA president at Jackson, says the Sessions case has caused dissension among parents at the school. "As an officer, I won't comment specifically, but the PTA would never condone fraud or dishonesty in any way," she says.
Candidate Glenn Box says the issue is not who made the mistake, but rather that "clearly, Pete Sessions knows or should know that he's not in the Stonewall boundaries. It sends the wrong signal when you're not willing to live under the same rules you expect those you represent to live under."
Late last week, Sessions' campaign strategists were working overtime to cast the situation in the best possible light.
Minutes after the candidate finished an interview with the Observer, George Young, who identified himself as a "longtime friend of Pete Sessions and a worker on his campaign," called. "This isn't even an issue," he declared. "I can't believe you would drag a 6-year-old into a political campaign."
In a subsequent interview, Sessions insisted that his behavior was above reproach. "My family has always tried to follow the rules and regulations to a 'T,' he said. "I can assure you that we always have. This is off the record, but my father is the former FBI director. And I only bring that up to show how I have lived under scrutiny for 15 or 20 years, and everything I've done is aboveboard."
Next year, Sessions says, will bring changes. "I have every reason to believe my son is going to attend public school. If he goes to Lee and they tell us he is in the right district, then we'll go by what we're told.