A.J. Felix and other relatives, papers in hand, waited to plead their cases to Texas Education Agency investigators Wednesday.
A.J. Felix and other relatives, papers in hand, waited to plead their cases to Texas Education Agency investigators Wednesday.
Margaret Downing

TEA Finally Takes a Look at Kids Left Hanging After Charter Goes Belly-Up

When the Girls and Boys Preparatory Academy closed at the end of last school year, the charter school on Bissonnet left behind a mess of extraordinary proportions – the extent of which is only now beginning to come to light.

Transcripts and attendance records are missing. Grades and report cards aren't there. Students can't prove they deserve course credit for classes they took and passed. And without these records, parents and grandparents say they're being told they don't have the necessary paperwork to register their children anywhere for this coming school year, which starts Monday. Or for students to go on to college.

“My granddaughter is sitting at home. I can't get her enrolled,” said A.J. Felix, who said he was a single parent taking care of his five grandchildren. His 17-year-old granddaughter is a special ed student, he said, adding that he thought the school would be good for her needs. Instead, he said, even though she studied for the state STAAR test, she was never given it and he was constantly given excuses by the school's director, Fred Taylor, that things would be sorted out.

“We have no transcripts, no final report card,” he said. 

Felix was just one of the relatives who came to the former home of the small charter school – one of the original 19 charter schools to open in Texas when it began in 1995 – in the hopes of talking to two investigators sent there by the Texas Education Agency (“a bit late,” critics charge).

However well-intentioned and effective the school known as the Girls and Boys Preparatory Academy on the southwest side of Houston might have once been, there was scant evidence of glory days in its former home Wednesday. It was allowed to stay open last year after the state announced it would be losing its charter because it continuously failed to meet financial or academic standards.

The TEA did send a conservator to manage the school last April after countless complaints about the operation of the pre-K to 12th grade school from parents and others, we're told, but there's little evidence that person straightened anything out during the remainder of the school year that ended in June.

TEA investigators Jaime H. Reyes and Park Brigtsen would not comment Wednesday. “We can't make any comment while a complaint is ongoing,” said Reyes.

Parent Margo Woods said she is trying to get her nine-year-old daughter into school anywhere but has been unsuccessful so far. She said her family stuck with the school “even though they lost our daughter on the second day she went to school here.”

Woods said they were attracted to the school thinking it was going to have a family atmosphere, but found there was little stability with constant teacher turnover.

“Fast-forward to the school shutting down without warning. They left us out to dry without any enrollment records,” she said.

Woods also had a 16-year-old daughter at the school, a special ed student who after being happy enough there began to get written up for offenses. “They told us we had to find someplace else to put her.” Another person close to the school says it began trying to phase out its special education students after releasing a special ed director the year before.

One bit of bright news: Holly Huffman, spokeswoman with the Houston ISD, said the district will work this out if any of the former charter students find their way there.

“We want transcripts, but if they have anything — report cards, progress reports — anything that shows what grade level they might have been in in that school, they need to bring that and registrars may be telling parents to bring that.

“If they don't have any of that, then on the first day of school – we can't turn kids away – we can do a temporary placement. We don't have to have records,” Huffman said. “We want to make sure kids have a place to go to school and get educated.” 

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