Black-Run Schools Fight Texas to Stay Open

     AUSTIN (CN) – A state judge temporarily stopped the closure of Texas’ largest black-run school district, but officials say the shutdown is imminent.
     North Forest Independent School District and two of its trustees sued Texas Education Agency Commissioner Michael L. Williams and the agency’s chief deputy administrator Lizzette Gonzales Reynolds in Travis County Court Friday.
     A hearing has been set for June 13. North Forest ISD is in northeast Harris County, whose seat in Houston.
     North Forest ISD trustees Silvia Brooks Williams and Linda Robinson on Friday got a temporary restraining order against the state-ordered takeover of their district.
     “Since 1989, NFISD has been the largest school district in the State of Texas governed and managed by African-Americans,” the complaint states. “Presently, the demographic make-up of the NFISD is 66.7% African American, 31.1% Hispanic, 1.5% Other and 0.7% Anglo.
     “Academic and financial issues, both real and perceived, have haunted NFISD. When Tropical Storm Allison hit Houston, six NFISD schools were damaged. Forest Brook High School, Lakewood Elementary School, and the NFISD administration building had to be closed for repairs as a result of storm damage. In 2007 two students vandalized Forest Brook High School, ultimately flooding the school. The damage was so extensive that the school did not reopen until the spring of 2008.
     “In March 2007, against the protests of NFISD students and NFISD board members, officials at TEA began placing TEA appointees at NFISD to govern all aspects of the district’s operations – both financial and academic.”
     From 2007 to 2011 the district was controlled by state appointees who “were supposed to guide the district to academic and financial recovery,” the complaint states.
     But the trustees claim that TEA Commissioner Williams ignored the district’s “substantial and dramatic academic growth and financial stability” under guidance of a new superintendent, and seized upon the district’s poor academic record to seek to close it down.
     The trustees claim that in his haste to shut down the district Williams failed to follow state rules requiring an “annexation feasibility study” to determine what impact it will have on students.
     NFISD will argue on June 13 why it should stay open.
     NFISD’s attorney Chris Tritico told the Houston Chronicle, “There have been illegal actions by the (TEA) Commissioner and his appointees through this process.”
     But Williams called his order to shut down the district on July 1 a done deal, the Chronicle reported.
     “We are absolutely confident that we will prevail in this matter. North Forest students are going to be served, and will be better served, by Houston ISD next year,” TEA spokeswoman Debbie Ratcliffe told the Chronicle.

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