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State opens accreditation investigation of Houston ISD

January 23, 2019

Texas Education Agency officials confirmed late Tuesday that they have opened a special accreditation investigation into Houston ISD, though they declined to specify the nature of the inquiry.

A special accreditation investigation gives TEA officials wide discretion to review potential wrongdoing within the district and issue various sanctions, depending on the seriousness of any findings. HISD is already under oversight from a state-appointed conservator, who is monitoring the district’s Board of Trustees and efforts to improve academic performance at several long-struggling campuses.

Four HISD trustees on Tuesday declined to comment on any potential investigations or said they were unaware of details of a state inquiry.

“Any notices we received have been turned over to the board attorney, so at this point, I can make no comments in reference to that,” said HISD Board President Diana Dávila, who was elected by trustees to assume the leadership position last week.

HISD administrators did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday night.

News of the investigation pinged around HISD circles late Tuesday, though details about the inquiry remained unclear or tightly held.

Trustee Sergio Lira said he “got wind of it” before his 6 p.m. public meeting to receive community feedback about the district’s superintendent search.

“As far as me, (I’ll) absolutely cooperate with the TEA investigation,” Lira said.

Reached shortly before 9 p.m., Trustee Elizabeth Santos said “I don’t know firsthand what’s going on,” pledging to be “completely transparent” with TEA investigators. Trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who served as board president for the past 12 months, said she “cannot comment at this time until I have spoken to legal counsel.”

HISD has been under state scrutiny since September 2016, when the TEA appointed former Aldine ISD administrator Doris Delaney to monitor Kashmere High School. The campus has now failed to meet state academic standards for nine consecutive years, the longest streak in Texas.

Delaney’s oversight role expanded in the summer of 2017 to include monitoring of the school district’s governing board and academic outcomes at low-performing campuses. Delaney’s presence in HISD for more than 12 months triggered a state law that gives Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath the authority to replace HISD’s locally elected governing board. Morath has not exercised that option to date.

HISD also faces the potential of a state board takeover under a separate law, known as HB 1842, which has loomed over the district for more than a year. The statute states the TEA commissioner close campuses or replace the locally elected school board in any district where a single campus receives five consecutive “improvement required” ratings for poor academic performance.

HISD avoided those sanctions in August 2018 when four chronically low-performing schools met state academic standards. However, four more schools could trigger the punishment in August 2019.

The district’s governing board has faced extensive criticism in recent months following public displays of acrimony and a secretive effort by five trustees to replace Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan in October 2018. The five trustees voted to oust Lathan, then reversed course one week later when her chosen replacement backed out, citing the school board’s “dysfunctional” state.

jacob.carpenter@chron.com

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