Should members of the Houston ISD District Advisory Committee be ousted if it's discovered they shared meeting information with the press and general public? Should any of those members who are also employed by HISD be fired?
Those may be outlier sentiments — Thursday afternoon HISD Deputy Chief of Staff Keri Einberg denied there was any such policy afoot in HISD — but they signal a real concern the members of the volunteer committee will be considering in upcoming days. At issue: how transparent is this public body going to be with members clearly divided on the issue? Does it take the agreement of the entire group to release information?
A video of the last meeting was leaked in which HISD Superintendent Mike Miles told the group that he regretted closing schools on Tuesday
because of the weather, that it was a mistake, and one he didn't intend to make again. Miles himself has said he considered his remarks "off-the-record"
and not for public consumption. Not everyone agreed.
Some DAC members want to stop a repeat occurrence. It appears many were particularly unhappy about negative comments made on social media about Miles.
Attorney and DAC member George Hittner, in emails sent to his fellow DAC members earlier this week, termed the leak of information "unethical behavior." It is unclear if his opinions are embraced by many in the DAC, a group of parents, community members and staff — some of whom are elected, some named to the board by the superintendent and others named to the committee by HISD board members. .
Pointing out that Congress has closed sessions, Hittner wrote: "I do not think we want our children taught or influenced by anyone who would in any way condone or justify such behavior. Calling a spade a spade, unethical is unethical."
"Yesterday's unethical behavior was a bully and intimidation tactic and done for the purpose of quelling debate," he wrote. "It was an attempt to release the mob on the members of the DAC."
He then wrote: "I propose DAC members be require to sign standards of conduct affirmations — and any breaches of said conduct should be punishable by removal from the DAC and a termination of employment (if employed by the District) before any future DAC meetings occur."
Hittner appeared to single out DAC member Daniel Santos by underlining his name in red in one of the stories done about Miles' address. Santos has repeatedly denied being the leaker and questioned whether it would be even legal to do what Hittner has proposed.
When asked about this Thursday afternoon, Feinberg emphasized that there is no HISD policy or proposal to remove any DAC members for anything, including sharing information with the public,
In her own email sent out earlier this week to DAC members, Feinberg announced she was tasking DAC co-chairs Elizabeth Chapman, a teacher at Bellaire High and Celeste Barretto Milligan, a former teacher, with coming up with recommendations about whether any new "norms" should be established for committee member behavior.
As Feinberg noted, this is not the first time information in a video from a DAC meeting has been shared with the public. But she called the leak this week, the most egregious. (The Houston Press
was the first publication to report on Miles' regrets about closing the schools.)
"I want to be clear that the breach of trust is of much greater impact to each member of this group and your working relationship with each other than it is to Superintendent Miles, to members of his administration, or to me," Feinberg wrote.
"These types of actions undermine the mutual respect among our group members and the culture many of us desire to build," she wrote before going on to say "I appreciate those of you have taken to email to explicitly name the connection between the aspirations for our group and the impact of recent actions."
"I also want to thank the individuals who worked publicly on social media to call out the poor decisions made by at least one member of our group."
In response to questions from the Houston Press
Thursday, Einberg said that she has not given the co-chairs any directives, "But it is my perspective that the choice of individual members to record and share meetings broadly and without awareness of the full group undermines the mutual respect among our group members and the collaborative culture most DAC members desire to build.
As she said in an email earlier in the week to her fellow DAC members, Einberg considers it "inappropriate" and "unprofessional" that someone released the video of Miles without the express approval of the group as a whole.
"I shared that I consider it inappropriate for members of the group to record and share our meetings on social media or with the press without the knowledge of anyone else in the group," she wrote Thursday.
DAC member and HISD teacher Brad Wray was not happy about how Santos was singled out in Hittner's email.
"I was disappointed to see the irresponsible and slanderous email targeting a fellow member of the DAC. This kind of display is distasteful and is a negative reflection of the state of the Houston Independent School District," Wray said.
"Members of the DAC are charged with great responsibility and should conduct themselves accordingly. These types of accusations are an orchestrated attempt to silence dissenting voices on the DAC and sets up a dangerous precedent. Any member resorting to these tactics should be formally censured."
One Thursday afternoon, Einberg said DAC members could decide whether videos of their meetings should be posted, as had been policy in past years.
Still it's clear that Einberg and some others want to see at least some of their discussions kept in the room.
"In order to make sure that every member of the DAC feels comfortable sharing constructive feedback, we have prioritized creating an environment where members can be assured that they can voice comments and thoughts about the district’s direction without fear of retaliation on social media." she said.
The next meeting of the DAC is scheduled for February 20. It's anyone's guess how comfortable that will be.