Tonight's Vote to Rename Schools Prompts a Letter Threatening Legal Action Against HISD

And now, reaching true epic proportions, the Houston ISD battle over schools continuing to be named after members of the Confederacy has entered a new phase.

We have the threat of legal action against Houston ISD if trustees approve the name changes at seven schools tonight. So if anyone thought things were about to be settled, guess again. 

Attorney Daniel Goforth, acting on behalf of “alumni, students and community members” from at least some of the schools up for new names, sent a letter to the board's attorney Wednesday saying if trustees vote Thursday night to approve the name changes, his clients will pursue legal action. Instead, they want the matter withdrawn completely until “reliable cost estimates and sources of funding can be developed for each of the identified schools.”

We tried to reach someone from the HISD press office for response Wednesday night, but it was late. We will update this story as soon as we hear back. Update 8 a.m. May 12, 2016:  HISD press secretary Jason Spencer had no comment other than to refer us to Friday's announcement of the proposed name changes

A small committee at each school — which included the principal, a student, a community leader, an alumnus, a member of the central office and a teacher — held a series of meetings, taking in feedback from the community to come up with the names that were presented to the board. The loudest complaints against the proposed changes have come from a group of parents at Lanier Middle School, even though its name would just change from Sidney Lanier to Bob Lanier, although there have been objections also raised by Reagan High and Dowling Middle School parents.

In his letter, Goforth, of the Goforth Law Firm, charges that the planned vote violates HISD's own regulations in that costs and funding sources were not identified in the original resolution presented to the board.

“Just the opposite, the original resolution misrepresented that renaming these schools had no costs. Of course that's impossible. This impossibility is confirmed in the uncovered e-mails of HISD's own Chief Financial Officer. In them, he not only conceded that costs would be incurred to rename the schools but also admitted that the source to cover the renaming costs would come out of HISD's fund balance,” Goforth's letter to attorney David Thompson states.

“The reality is that renaming HISD schools will cost millions of taxpayer dollars,” Goforth said.

HISD press secretary Jason Spencer has previously stated that just because the cost and funding source weren't listed on one document, it doesn't negate the fact that the estimated average cost amount of $250,000 per school was discussed at several public meetings and he has insisted the district has been very upfront about that. 

Goforth also quotes one unnamed board member using what he called improper measures to rename the schools because “it wouldn't have made it to the agenda any other way.”

The attorney also says that the replacement names are supposed to reflect community consensus, but do not. “In actuality, the community's preferences were systematically rejected in favor of a result predetermined by HISD.” He also accuses the board of having no real set criteria in selecting the schools that should change their names and that it “cherry-picked what schools it wanted to rename.”

“In fact, the Board's improper vetting led to it selecting schools named after people with no ties to the Confederacy – let alone the despicable cause of slavery. In one case, the selected school was named after someone that was only 10 years old during the Civil War and hadn't participated in the Confederate military,” Goforth wrote. 

In the evaluation of the schools that Goforth asks for, he also says there should be some “identifiable standard of Civil War participation.” (The debate over that whatever-it-means phrase alone could take months to hash out.) 

Thursday night's school board meeting starting at 5 should be grand. There's a protest planned at Dowling for 11 a.m. today by parents who want the school named after Carrie McAfee, longtime principal of Madison High, rather than after Audrey Lawson.  

The letter: