On July 9, 2014, the United States Department of Education Office of Civil Rights (OCR) notified the Houston Independent School District (HISD) they would be investigating the claims leveled at them by concerned citizens of the Greater Houston area.
In their response to the complaint filed by the taxpaying citizens of Houston, the OCR responded to the community by saying that the OCR had "determined that it has jurisdiction, that the complaint was timely filed, and is therefore opening the complaint for investigation."
The OCR went on to say that they "clarified your complaint and determined that you are specifically alleging that during the 2013-14 academic school year the HISD discriminated against African American and Hispanic students in its process for determining school closings and/or re-purposing of predominantly minority schools (i.e. Dodson Elementary School and Jones High School)."
According to HISD records from 2001 to 2012, 75 schools have been closed or re-purposed. Out of those affected schools, four districts consist of 70% African American and Hispanic concentration.
Could it be that these areas are now considered prime real estate?
The heart of the matter is centered on the policy used to justify the closings or re-purposing and whether that policy was adequately followed.
In the case of Dodson Elementary and Jones High schools, the reasons HISD stated they were closing the two schools was because of low enrollment. However, in the case of Dodson, there was a waiting list of over 200 students and in the case of Jones High School, the district removed programs that would attract students to the school; thus the migration of students from Jones to other schools was predictable.
HISD conducted an in-house survey to justify these announced closings. Two major moves as significant as the ones they made warranted an independent audit or a study, along with more taxpayer dialogue with the district.
A former student (Dr. R. Wright) of Jones High developed an analytical review of HISD’s data that was used to justify the moves and registered a different conclusion.
In 1964, when Dr. John McFarland was the interim superintendent, HISD took steps to comply with a federal ruling to integrate HISD. At the center of ruling was equal access for Black students to attend any school in the district, but the specific school at the center of things at the time was San Jacinto High School. Dr. McFarland stated that Black students could attend Yates High School and Miller Junior High School, while getting the same programs offered at San Jacinto High School, but said they would not be allowed to attend San Jacinto at that time.
From 1945 to 1997, people in the Black community were experiencing a high rate of employment, home-ownership, goal-oriented progression, college bound students, civic-minded and engaged citizens and were on the upward mobility track. Parents were attending PTA meetings, homeowners were attending civic club meetings and discipline was a joint venture between the schools and the parents, along with student’s academic achievement trending upward.
As a youngster from about 1959 to 1962, while attending Atherton and Highland Heights Elementary schools and Kashmere Junior High, I accompanied my father (John White) to the HISD central book-room downtown Houston to get books for the school year. My father was the principal at Highland Heights and Rosa Lee Easter Elementary schools. I noticed that many of the books we were loading to take back to school, year after year, were used books. At the time I didn’t make a distinction because that was the norm, but as I got older I understood it was another form of unequal distribution of resources.
Unequal treatment and distribution of resources is my point!
Call it bias, prejudice, bad public policy application or abuse of power; whatever you call it, the bottom line is that it boils down to unequal treatment to people who are paying the same tax rate as everyone else.
HISD’s unequal application of policies toward the Black community spans over five decades, in a variety of forms and various policies.
According to HISD, 72.6% of their operating budget is generated through property and business taxes, so whatever HISD does related to homeowner’s property values, such as closing or re-purposing schools should include a wider taxpayer pool with accurate data.
Closing schools kills neighborhoods.
As a former employee of HISD 1987-1991; a consultant to HISD Title I; and a school safety consultant, I understand how taxpayers are misinformed and strategically left out of the information loop.
HISD produced several commercials encouraging people to vote for the recent 1.89 billion dollar bond with many broken promises.
Schools are closing in Black communities and schools are being re-purposed while students are being shipped out to other schools that have more academic, career and trade programs instead of offering equal programs at local neighborhood schools.
To the readers of this article we encourage you to join us in mid-August for an Educational Hearing. Consider this article as a call to action to address the broken tax based service delivery system in Houston ISD. We are offering you information that is research-based, to help guide your thinking in regards to improving public policy and public trust.
Charles X. White