It was not Rhonda Skillern-Jones' night last night but anyone sitting through the six-hour meeting hoping that at the end she would do as they demanded and step down as president — and there were a lot of speakers in that camp — was ultimately disappointed.
Finding the calm that had eluded her during last month's fateful workshop meeting, Skillern-Jones ran a gauntlet of negative comments and although as usual she'd warned against abusive statements and naming names before she opened up the floor, she did next to nothing in reaction to speakers who did just that.
On April 24, Skillern-Jones and HISD made national news when upset by contentious comments from the audience she abandoned the plan to vote on allowing the charter group Energized for STEM Academy Inc to take over administration of ten troubled schools in the district and ordered the room cleared by a beefed up police force in attendance that night with some people dragged down the halls. Two people were arrested — charges were later dropped — but even Skillern-Jones' apology has done little to calm the waters.
Thursday night the only response she made when speakers told her she should step down and some saying that they hated her was to thank that speaker and call the next one (although at one point she asked "Would you please refrain from calling names" when one speaker took trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, to task.). Clearly she wasn't going to chance replicating the earlier meeting disaster.
Of course in its usual let's wait-'em-out style, the board required the packed room — and there were people relegated to the overflow area — to listen to two hours of presentations before the first public speaker was allowed to speak. It would have been even longer but trustee Diana Davila made a motion to table further presentations since it was already after 7 p.m. for the meeting that started at 5.
Trustee Wanda Adams didn't fare much better than Skillern-Jones for her now historic use of the words "I'm tired of this shit. Call recess." when she urged Skillern-Jones to close last month's meeting. Since Adams is a well-known Christian, several speakers called her out for hypocrisy, mockingly calling her "Church Lady." They said that language was inappropriate considering children were in the room.
Actually, none of the trustees escaped blame. Several speakers said trustees were complicit in what had happened by remaining silent and were a part of the failure of the board and its administration to come up with any viable plan to aid the ten troubled HISD schools that may result in the Texas Education Agency taking over the district. Several days after the April 24 meeting in a Facebook post, trustee Elizabeth Santos called for Skillern-Jones to step down, but no other board members have followed her lead.
Ben Becker, a constant vocal critic of the HISD school board, led off the parade of protesters saying "This board was set to chart off 7,000 kids. Your response to the public outcry: to sic police on your own people. And most of you stayed silent while it happened."
"Why you are hated? Because you are hateful," speaker Roberto Ceneno told the board members. "Tonight's a perfect example. Two hour delay and you're ready to go on for another hour." Directing his remarks at Adams, he called for her resignation.
"The president seemed to relish the moment when she ordered 'Officers, clear the room.' We were expelled for clapping. How petty can you get?" said Sarah Terrell. "Ms. Skillern-Jones needs to step down. She has lost our confidence and she deserves to have lost our confidence."
Karina Quesada was one of several speakers who asked for more time for community members to address the board at its meetings. "The events of April 24 became a terrifying ordeal because of poor judgment and poor leadership. The act of going over my allotted time is not cause to sic the police on me. I am not dangerous. I am not the enemy."
"We are not the enemy. The TEA is the enemy,' was the rallying cry of several speakers to the board.
"You have to stop reprimanding and criminalizing the community when they engage with you," Mindy Wilson told the board. "Our current board president would rather fight parents than fight the TEA."
Jamie Abrams: "The abuse of power by the president and the unprofessional language from the District 9 (Adams) trustee during public proceedings and the lack of action from the majority remaining are causing me to doubt this board's ability to administer that education."
She also referred to the fact that at the April 24 meeting, HISD had decided to close off several areas of seating so there were far fewer places to sit. The explanation was that at the board's workshops, in contrast to its general school board meetings, fewer seats are provided. Why that is remains an open question especially since the board is considering adding more workshop meetings to its calendar ostensibly to better stay on top of the progress or lack thereof being made at its schools in most need of help.
"You used an intentional lack of seating to discourage me from participating," Abrams said. "You used excess police presence to bully those expressing dissent. You used a two-and-a-half hour delay at the start of the meeting hoping I would just go away and when that didn't work, you asked the police to intimidate me with force. Yet I stand here before you unintimidated."
And so it went for the evening. To see it in its entirety, go to houstonisd.org and access the board meetings section and bring a snack or two. It'll take a while.
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