Court proceedings are ongoing after an administrator at Kelly Pharr Elementary School sued three Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD board trustees last week over a slogan.
Jessica Villanueva, an assistant principal, alleges trustees Jesus Zambrano, Jorge Zambrano and Jesus Vela improperly used district resources for their reelection bid by co-opting materials created as part of an internal district motivational campaign.
The trustees, however, say their choice in political materials was simply an exercise of free speech and they did nothing wrong.
Cynthia Gutierrez, who is running on the “Stronger Together” slate with Vela and the Zambrano brothers is not an incumbent and is not listed as a defendant in the suit.
Court documents filed last week say the district rolled out its “Spirit of PSJA: Stronger Together Reopening Plan” in August, which was frequently plugged on the district’s website, social media posts, emails and physical mediums.
The documents allege that Vela and the Zambranos appropriated the slogan for their political slate and printed it on signs and campaign materials.
Villanueva also alleges the candidates used photographs and images published by the district that had been modified into political material, including a photograph of herself with the entire Kelly Pharr Elementary campus that she says falsely implies that she endorses their campaign.
“The Defendendants have indiscriminately hijacked these resources of the PSJA (sic) and have used said resources as their own for purposes of political advocacy in their re-election effort,” court documents filed by Villanueva’s attorney read, requesting the court declare the actions constitute a violation of the Texas education and election codes.
Vela and the Zambrano brothers filed a motion to dismiss the suit Tuesday, arguing that their campaign materials are protected as free speech.
“The campaign messages, material, photographs constituting political speech put forth by Defendants and challenged by Plaintiff, involve core First Amendment activity,” court documents state.
The trustees also argue that PSJA has no ownership over the “Stronger Together” slogan or any of its sub-slogans.
“There are many entities and individuals that use the ‘stronger together’ slogan in the United States and around the world,” court documents read. “It is evident that Plaintiff has no claim of ownership to the ‘stronger together’ slogan.”
The photograph of Villanueva doesn’t appear to be copyrighted by the district either, Vela and the Zambranos argue, saying it was in the public domain and accessible through the internet and Facebook.
Hearings in the case were ongoing Wednesday afternoon.
An attorney for Vela and the Zambranos declined to comment Wednesday. An attorney for Villanueva did not respond to a request for comment as of press time.