HISD board votes not to turn over control of 10 schools

- After a chaotic Houston ISD board of trustees meeting, the board as decided not to submit a partnership plan that would transfer control of 10 underperforming campuses to a charter vendor.

HISD Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan released a statement Wednesday saying they will not be "bringing another partnership proposal to the Board, nor will there be another meeting to consider partnerships for the 10 schools."

According to the district, the proposal was intended to give it a two–year pause on accountability from the Texas Education Agency (TEA) and prevent sanctions from the state related to House Bill 1842.

"Instead, we will continue to reinforce our commitment to helping students, staff, and families of our Achieve 180 schools continue the hard work they’ve done this year to transform their campuses and increase student achievement,” Lathan said.

The district says it will continue to operate and manage the 10 campuses that have been in Improvement Required (IR) status with the state for four years or more. The goal is to help these 10 schools exit IR and continue to meet yearly standards.

Mayor Sylvester Turner released a statement saying he plans to contact the Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath and ask him to grant HISD the one-year waiver.  

“HISD should not submit a partnership plan at this time," Turner said in the statement. "I would ask the community to recognize the difficult position and challenges the board of trustees faces in balancing its books after recapture, Hurricane Harvey, and the abrupt departure of former Superintendent Carranza.  And let's work collaboratively to do what is in the best interest of the student who need all of us.”

The campuses in question are: Blackshear, Dogan, Highland Heights, Mading, and Wesley elementary schools, Henry Middle School, Woodson PK-8, and Kashmere, Wheatley, and Worthing high schools.

The board of trustees planned to vote on the proposal to give control of these schools to Energized for STEM Academy on Tuesday night, but the meeting was shut down after things got out of hand. There were shouting matches, complete with profanity, people were arrested and thrown out of the building.

The school board knew emotions would run high. Before the 6 p.m. meeting started, protesters were outside making their opposition to the proposal to hand 10 academically failing schools over to a charter vendor very clear.

The board knew 44 people would be speaking, but yet, there were fewer chairs than usual and a police presence that seemed a little over the top.

“Anytime you involve the police in a public setting you need to be really sure and really certain what you are asking for,” said. Zeph Capo President of the Houston Federation of Teachers.

For more than two hours the board met in a closed session. Protestors got a little vocal and even started chanting. That’s when the police chief told them to be quiet or be gone. Board members apparently got tired of hearing all the complaints and everyone was ordered to leave.

Three women were dragged out of the meeting on the floor.

“It was more than just embarrassing for the district it was a complete and utter breakdown of public discourse and democracy in our community,” Capo said.

When the dust settled, Kandice Webber ended up arrested.

“That was a very difficult and trying time for me but I do not for one second want to take the spotlight away from the real issue and that is the fact that the state of Texas is asking HISD to do its dirty work and take schools from our children,” says Webber. 

Although there was a lot of noise at the board meeting, “Listen to me.  We do have executive session going on behind that wall and you are disrupting it,” said an HISD police officer into the microphone.  Many in attendance say they do not feel they are being heard or treated fairly.  "I feel like my rights were violated even before I showed up.  I feel like my rights were violated when they tried to bring these closures and partnerships into our neighborhood,” says Webber. 

"Let Kandice go.  Let Kandice go,” the crowd chanted as Webber was being arrested. "I have been to school board meetings in predominantly white neighborhoods and it never goes like that."

While, Webber was arrested, Jenny Espeseth was dragged out by officers and later let go.  One more woman was also hauled off to jail and everyone in the building ended up thrown out.

“You have to clear the building,” an HISD repeated as he ushered the crowd to the door while intermittently blowing his whistle.

”Why do I get carted off to jail fighting for my kids, my grandkids when my white counterpart can stand in a school board member's face and go home and have a glass of wine and chat about it?".

Charges against the two women arrested have been dropped.

HISD says a district police officer suffered minor injuries during a scuffle at the board meeting. Webber says she too was hurt, and has consulted an attorney.

As for whether HISD will be doing anything differently to prevent another incident, HISD issued a response saying, "As with all critical incidents, our command staff will conduct an after-action review and will make improvements as warranted."

Regarding the number of chairs and the police presence, HISD released the following response:

The room configuration Tuesday night was set for a board workshop. Typically, fewer people attend these workshops than regular monthly board meetings, and the setup does not accommodate for the increased presence of parents, students, and district staff that would normally attend the regular monthly meeting. We set up an “overflow” room for up to 80 attendees. Staff was on hand to increase chairs in either room if more were needed.

HISD PD’s police presence was only increased by two additional officers Tuesday night. HPD’s Special Response Group attended to provide additional support based on what their intelligence work deemed was a need.

As for the board meeting for two hours in a closed session, HISD released the following response:

It was not the intention of the HISD Board to avoid hearing from the public regarding matters posted on the April 24th meeting agenda by holding a lengthy closed session. To the contrary, the Board was prepared to hear from the public, and in fact listened to numerous speakers. The purpose of the closed session was to obtain legal advice and discuss matters as allowed by the Texas Open Meetings Act. Board meetings are opportunities for Trustees to hear from the public, and the April 24th meeting was no exception.

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