Texas judge blocks state from removing school board
HOUSTON (AP) — A judge has issued a temporary injunction blocking a Texas official from dismantling an elected school board and replacing it with a state-appointed one.
Travis County District Judge Catherine Mauzy ruled Wednesday that Houston Independent School District trustees met their burden of proof for showing that Mike Morath, commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, does not have the legal authority to oust board members.
Morath announced his plans to temporarily replace the board in November, citing a 2015 state law requiring education officials to either close a school that failed for over four years or select a board to run the district.
Morath made the decision after Wheatley High School received its seventh consecutive failing grade, as well as multiple substantiated findings of misconduct by current trustees, the Houston Chronicle reported.
HISD lawyers have argued TEA lawyers are misinterpreting the law. While Wheatley has not met state standards for years, the school did not trigger sanctions until this school year. But TEA officials believe Wheatley’s failing grade in August clearly triggered the law.
Mauzy ordered that Morath cannot dismiss trustees until the district’s lawsuit seeking to stop their removal is resolved or another court order is issued. She set a trial date for June 22. TEA officials said they plan to immediately appeal the ruling.
“There’s a lot of time between now and June, so I’m hoping conversations will happen between the commissioner and our special counsel and the new trustees,” said HISD Board President Diana Dávila, who lost her re-election bid in November to Judith Cruz. “Maybe Mike Morath will have a change of mind. That will be my hope, that he sees with these new trustees, it’s a new path being taken.”
In a statement, TEA officials called the ruling a “temporary setback.”
“Any time you are taking on a powerful and entrenched bureaucracy, the road to meaningful change is long and arduous,” agency officials said. “But when the futures of our children are at stake, we will stop at nothing to make sure they are properly provided for.”
TEA officials had hoped to install a replacement board by spring 2020. An appointed board would likely remain for two to five years.