NFISD requests TRO in one more effort to stay independent

June 24, 2013 3:32:08 PM PDT
The fight over North Forest ISD is back in court. Supporters of the troubled district are fighting desperately to keep North Forest open. The Texas Education Agency wants the low-performing district to be absorbed by HISD. But some say that will hurt their children.

It's a controversial fight that's been going on for years and that's scheduled to end in just five days when North Forest ISD is expected to officially consolidate with HISD. Now lawyers are once again trying to block that, saying moving forward with that plan could be a violation of federal law.

Is the plan to merge North Forest schools into Houston ISD a violation of the Voting Rights Act? That's the main issue lawyers for North Forest ISD and the Texas Education Agency are tackling before a federal court judge in Houston. It's part of a major last-minute move battling over the troubled school district's independence.

Concerned resident Roy Grant said, "I think they are trying to railroad us, trying to take over our district."

Grant says each of his five children graduated from North Forest, and he currently has several grandkids in the predominately African American district, which is expected to merge with HISD July 1.

He and others watched closely as North Forest's lawyers argued that the TEA's decision to shut down that district and abolish its board of trustees extinguishes the rights of all of those voters who elected that board to look out for their interests.

"We won't stand a chance against HISD," Grant said.

North Forest's lawyers told the judge 74 percent of the voters in that district are African American, compared to 26 percent of the population in HISD when the districts merge.

Lawyers for the TEA claim North Forest is inaccurately attempting to use the Voting Rights Act after exhausting all other legal options, and even suggested to the judge that the now-defunct board has been on a power trip trying to block the merger. The state's lawyer told the judge, "The board's fight for independent existence is only bringing harm to the students it serves."

Both sides spent hours arguing their positions. US Judge David Hittner is expected to make a decision about the temporary restraining order by the end of the week.

Also, Monday in Austin, the Texas 3rd Court of Appeals in Austin denied North Forest's request for an emergency hearing appealing the dismissal of NFISD's state lawsuit against TEA Commissioner Michael Williams and his designee, which alleged that Williams violated numerous state statutes in revoking the accreditation of NFISD and ordering its closure and annexation.

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