Babies were on hand for the midday swearing in of the Houston ISD's newest trustees, providing some extra pizzazz as Anne Sung and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca (Ocampo) each brought along family for the momentous event.
This was followed four and a half hours later by the board's monthly general meeting, in which it took trustees two hours (after all the reports, speeches and accolades were handed out) to get to their first agenda item on a proposal to limit each trustee to a max of five minutes per speech — which they then voted down 6-3.
In arguing for the limit, newly elected board President Wanda Adams (joined in her vote by Manuel Rodriguez and Rhonda Skillern-Jones) pointed out the discussion on the first business item started at 7 p.m. for a meeting that began shortly after 5, but the other trustees prevailed.
Several of them argued — against all evidence to the contrary — that good old Robert's Rules of Order could keep them on track and as succinct as needed. Apparently after undergoing special board member training ordered up by the state, they are now ready to embrace the traditional meeting rules in ways they never have before.
Adams did promise to install a new agenda order that will mean business first instead of the interminable attaboys (however well deserved) that the trustees plod through at the start of every meeting. Trustee Jolanda Jones has argued for the past year that it is not right to make people who are there to see the district's business done have to wait through the long hours of the night, and Adams gave Jones the credit for pushing that change.
Other officers elected were Diana Davila, first vice president; Jolanda Jones, second vice president; Rhonda Skillern-Jones, secretary and Anne Sung, assistant secretary.
Superintendent Richard Carranza weighed in on the scrutiny that HISD and other Texas school districts are undergoing sparked in large part by the investigative series the Houston Chronicle has done saying that the Texas Education Agency imposed a limit on the percentage of special ed children schools could identify and serve and as a result, others who needed special ed services didn't get them.
According to Carranza, his own review of HISD policies, training facilities and manuals showed "there is no evidence that we have systematically imposed a limit on identification of students with disabilities." He said that he and the district "absolutely oppose any artificial percentages in the identification of students with disabilities. If students need assistance, they will get the assistance they need." He proposed a new audit of the special education program.
Carranza said he also wanted to add a note of caution. "While it's important that students get the resources, supports and services that they need, special education services in my humble experience is one of those areas where if you are not careful, [it] will lead to an over-identification of particular students for special ed services.
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"Make no mistake, we will be focused that we are not disproportionately identifying students of color, English language learners or any other sub-group of students for special education when they need increased education in general education."
When it came time later for trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the parent of a special ed student, to talk, she disagreed with Carranza and said that, in fact, the problems are systemic.
"We have problems. I don't know what kinds of data you've been shown but those problems have existed for a very long time," Skillern-Jones said. "I understand the idea of over-identification, but there's also those children not being seen and diagnosed in the manner they should be and not given the services with fidelity.
"I won't hush about it. I've been asked to and I won't because it is not right," she said.