Texas Supreme Court Allows State Education Agency to Take Over Houston ISD

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court allowed the state to potentially take control of the Houston Independent School District, which state education officials say is suffering from mismanagement and underachievement at one of its high schools.

Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath first made the decision to lead the district’s school board in 2019 in response to accusations of trustee misconduct and years of poor performance at Phyllis Wheatley High School.

HISD sued, and in 2020 the Travis County District Judge stopped Morata’s plan with a temporary injunction. The injunction was upheld by an appeals court, but TEA took the case to the state’s highest court, where lawyers for the agency argued last year that a 2021 law, enacted after the case was first brought to court, allows for a state takeover. .

On Friday, the Texas Supreme Court sided with TEA and overturned the injunction, saying it did not comply with the new law. This decision may allow TEA to appoint new school board members, who can then vote to end the lawsuit.

TEA told The Texas Tribune that it is currently reviewing the court’s decision. The agency did not immediately respond to questions about whether it has immediate plans to install a new blackboard.

The Texas Supreme Court also returned the decades-old case back to the trial court.

Lawyers for HISD have already said they would welcome a return to the trial court so that a temporary injunction can be considered under the updated law, adding that HISD is ready to file for a permanent injunction from 2020.

HISD Superintendent Millard House II said in a press release Friday that the county’s legal team is reviewing the court’s decision. He also touted recent improvements in the school district, including Phyllis Wheatley High School.

“There is still a lot of work to be done, but we are pleased with the progress we have made as a county and look forward to the work ahead,” House said in a press release.

The TEA argued that state law gives the commissioner the power to temporarily appoint board members in school districts that have experienced five consecutive years of underachievement, as well as in districts in which a state-appointed conservative has been monitoring and evaluating their performance for more than two years. At HISD, conservative Doris Delaney has overseen Kashmir High School since 2016. In 2019, its powers were expanded to the district level.

When the case went to appeals court in late 2020, HISD argued that Delaney did not meet the two-year requirement as a district-level conservative because her role in the district began as a campus-level conservative. During oral arguments in the State Supreme Court, TEA lawyers argued that the distinction between the two levels of guardianship was removed by the 2021 updates to the Education Code.

Alejandro Serrano contributed to this story.

This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at https://www.texastribune.org/2023/01/13/texas-supreme-court-tea-houston-isd/.

The Texas Tribune is an unbiased, member-supported newsroom that informs and engages Texans about state politics and politics. Learn more at texastribune.org.

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