Irma Alvarez was at work on Thursday, June 17 when her cousin called her to say a uniformed officer was at the door, demanding the return of the textbooks Alvarez's son still had after the end of the school year.
Alvarez had received notice by mail that past Saturday saying her son George, a senior at Reagan High School, hadn't turned in all his books. She told him to get them over to the school and gave him till the end of the week to do so.
That, as it turned out, wasn't soon enough. The officer not only made his way through the unlocked gate of her gated community, but used the moment her cousin stepped away to get her cell phone to step inside her home without invitation, Alvarez said. (The officer involved denies he stepped into the house.)
And she insists his manner was upsetting, not only to her when they talked by phone, but to her cousin at the house and to her mother-in-law who the officer called while she was at a doctor's appointment.
The officer, later identified at Mitchell Meekins, is not a Houston ISD police officer as they initially assumed, but a deputy constable for Victor Trevino's Precinct 6 constable's office and one who normally works with the school truancy program.
Today, Alvarez, who took her case to Chapter 402 of LULAC, met with Yul Everline, the principal in charge of the business academy at Reagan as well as Victor L. Mitchell, the HISD assistant chief of police, who was the one to tell her that HISD officers were not involved and that it had been handled by a deputy constable, Sgt. Lillian Lozano, who is assigned to Reagan from the constable's office. It was she, he reportedly said, who organized the addresses and officers for the round-up. When Hair Balls called her today, Lozano hung up abruptly without comment other than to ask how we got her number.
Hair Balls called Trevino's office and although the constable initially said he wasn't aware his officers were involved in a textbook retrieval program, he called back later and said he'd been told it had been ongoing for at least 10 years.
He was echoed in this by HISD spokesman Norm Uhl who told Hair Balls that the principal at Reagan said that high school and Waltrip High have used deputy constables for at least past 10 years to help recover the pricey volumes. Uhl said he thought this was the first complaint they've received.
"Reagan had about $60,000 worth of missing textbooks; that's a huge budget hit. So what they do, these deputies go out, make home visits collect textbooks. So far they've rounded up half of them $30,000 worth," Uhl said.
"I guess they don't have truants to look for in the summer so they look for textbooks," Uhl said.
Trevino said he was told that his officers are so far responsible this year for recovering $65,000 in textbooks on behalf of both Reagan and Waltrip. The constable added that he would expect his officers to be "cordial" and to "leave a note" if necessary rather than press things too far.
Uhl made the case that actually retrieving textbooks is a good use of deputy constables.
"The only HISD policy on this requires parents to pay for textbooks that are not returned. Obviously we've got 80 percent of our kids are from disadvantaged families. That's going to be really punitive so it's actually a courtesy to the families to try to further retrieve the textbooks so they don't have to pay for them. And really technically, we probably wouldn't do this but technically we could probably charge someone with theft for not returning them.
"I would look at it that hey, I don't have to make a trip to the
school, I'll just give it to this officer."
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In the case of George Alvarez, the specific books were:
- Biology HS $62.37
- Adison Wesley Chemistry Lab Pack $58.47
- Integrated Physics and Chemistry $59.49
His mother says all have been turned in now.