Texas Supreme Court sided with state in Houston school takeover case

Update: This is an evolving story and will be updated.

The Texas Supreme Court sided with the state education agency in a protracted legal battle over an attempted takeover of the Houston ISD school board.

Officials from Houston and the Texas Education Agency are expected to discuss the case again as the laws governing state intervention in failing schools have changed as the decades-long case has moved forward. The result could have additional implications for other public schools struggling when it comes to government intervention.

Friday’s order overturns a lower court decision that temporarily prevented Education Commissioner Mike Morath from appointing a board of governors to replace locally elected trustees.

Morath attempted to remove HISD board members in 2019 after several years of unacceptable high school performance and other alleged trustee failures. By that point, the state had already appointed a conservative to oversee operations.

Before the commissioner could take this dramatic action, the Houston school administration obtained a temporary injunction barring Morath from appointing a board of governors. The state has applied.

As the case progressed through the judiciary, the Legislative Assembly changed the relevant elements of the Education Code regarding state intervention in the districts.

Will it be harder for Texas to take over troubled school districts?

The Texas Supreme Court judges concluded that Houston ISD was unable to prove that Morath’s plans would violate the amended law. They sent the case back to the trial court, while overturning the temporary injunction.

“We expect the parties to reconsider their positions and supplement the protocol in the light of changes in legislation and actual events in the district,” the judges wrote. “We are remanding the case to the trial court for further proceedings in accordance with this opinion.”

A successful takeover of the largest school district in Texas would give state officials enormous power over the education of thousands of students.

Officials representing the Texas Education Agency said they are reviewing the decision. Houston ISD officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The DMN Education Lab deepens coverage and discussion of pressing educational issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative supported by The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottie Lyle, Texas Community Foundation, Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Didi Rose, Garrett and Cecilia Boone, Meadows Foundation, Murrell Foundation, Solution Journalists Network, Southern Methodist University, Sydney Smith Hicks, Todd A. Williams Family Foundation and the University of Texas at Dallas. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of Education Lab’s journalism.

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