Texas still blocked from taking over Houston's school district, appeals court rules

ByALIYYA SWABY, The Texas Tribune KTRK logo
Wednesday, December 30, 2020
HISD trustees explain what's next after Lathan passed over
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A day after Dr. Grenita Lathan was passed over for the permanent superintendent job, two HISD trustees explained what will come next as a nationwide headhunt starts.

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) -- Texas is still temporarily barred from taking over Houston Independent School District, a state appellate court ruled Wednesday, upholding a lower court's order.

In a 2-1 ruling, the Texas Third Court of Appeals upheld a temporary injunction that stops the Texas Education Agency from replacing the elected school board of its largest district with an appointed board of managers. The appeals court ruling sends the case back to the lower court that in January blocked the state's takeover effort.

The appellate judges said Houston ISD had a "probable right to relief" since the TEA did not follow proper procedure and acted outside its authority as it moved to sanction the district. It also ordered the state to "pay all costs related to this appeal."

Texas announced plans to seize control of Houston ISD in November 2019, citing the longstanding academic failure of Wheatley High School and the school board's alleged violations of state law. By then, Houston ISD had already filed a lawsuit, arguing that the TEA had surpassed its authority in moving to penalize the district and should be stopped.

SEE RELATED STORY: This is how HISD's collapse played out

In January, Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy granted Houston ISD a temporary injunction, blocking Texas from replacing the school board until she issues a final ruling on the case.

SEE RELATED: Judge temporarily blocks state takeover of HISD school board

The state challenged that ruling before the Third Court of Appeals, arguing it had acted within its legal authority and that Houston ISD is grasping at straws.

But the appellate court's ruling Wednesday said Texas' "proposed actions are not authorized by the Education Code." The opinion stated that the state did not have the right to appoint a conservator to oversee the entire school district in 2019, force Houston ISD to suspend its search for a new superintendent, or impose sanctions based on an investigation, among other things.

The opinion was written by Judge Gisela Triana, who was joined by Judge Jeff Rose in the ruling. In a dissenting opinion, Judge Thomas Baker wrote that Texas is authorized to take over Houston ISD, the injunction should be removed and the district's claims should be dismissed.

In March, Texas successfully appointed a board of managers to replace Shepherd ISD, a four-school East Texas school district.

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