Raised Voices and Protesters Dragged Away. Who Says HISD School Board Meetings Are Boring?

Not a good night for Rhonda Skillern-Jones and her crew.
Not a good night for Rhonda Skillern-Jones and her crew. Screen grab HISD TV
Last night, Houston ISD had a fight and in the middle of it a meeting broke out.

OK that's a variation on an old joke  but any idea that the community would be happy about the school board and HISD administration's latest set of plans to handle its most troubled campuses was completely blown by the time Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones abandoned the meeting at 9:03 p.m.

As one person after another came forward during the public portion of the meeting to denounce what the trustees were thinking of doing, the mood in the room was clearly not one of calmness and serenity.

Trustees never voted on whether to allow Energized for STEM Academy Inc. to take over the ten low-performing schools that have been singled out by the Texas Education Agency for immediate remedial action. If HISD doesn't come up with something that the state will accept, then this school board could be taken over by the state. Without a plan, these schools might be forced to close.

There were protesters removed from the room and one woman  — and mother of two — was dragged from the meeting by security guards. Shades of the Democratic National Convention of 1968. Right on sister! The video was captured by Shelby Webb of the Houston Chronicle.  And the story was even picked up by The Washington Post. Way to go Houston.

This morning the HISD press office issued this statement:

"Per board policy BED LOCAL, audience members shall not be disruptive or abusive during the board meeting. While the district appreciates and shares the passion the community has for the students and schools and welcomes public input, audience members are expected to be respectful and observe decorum so that their views may be heard and appreciated.

"During Tuesday night’s workshop, after continuous disruption and multiple outbursts from members of the audience, and after several verbal requests from the Board President to adhere to the rules, attendees were instructed to clear the room and called for a recess. Many refused to leave and a scuffle ensued. An HISD police officer sustained minor injuries."
Critics have questioned whether STEM Academy has the resources to handle the demands of ten different schools — schools that have failed to meet state standards for years.

And then there's the little matter of who is on the governing board of STEM, a board that includes former HISD trustee Paula Harris, who while on the HISD board was accused of singling out friends for contracts with the district. Other members are Missouri City dentist Opal Brandy and former TSU president James Douglas (now NAACP Houston Branch president) who had a history while heading the TSU law school of fighting with the then university president and was accused himself of not correcting problems at the school.

Of course, to any observer, the irony of what went on last night couldn't be missed. Trustees were to vote on giving up control of ten campuses and along the way lost control of their own meeting.

Update: 10:51 a.m.

HISD's press office just released this further statement:

"Based on last night’s events, HISD PD has reviewed the scenarios of the arrests of the two citizens, and we have conferred with DA Ogg. After this review of both being charged with criminal trespassing and resisting arrest, the DA and HISD PD have agreed with the DA’s office on the retraction of charges.

"No further action is needed and the two detainees are being released now."

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Margaret Downing is the editor-in-chief who oversees the Houston Press newsroom and its online publication. She frequently writes on a wide range of subjects.
Contact: Margaret Downing