On Friday, March 19, 2021, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of Houston ISD in its lawsuit against the Texas Education Agency. It’s important to note that this ruling concerned an issue of procedure, meaning the court was deciding how the law should apply to the case, rather than the substance of the lawsuit. The effect of this decision is that the injunction preventing the TEA from moving forward with sanctions against the district stays in place, at least for now. Lawsuits are a long and complicated process, so we want to provide a brief summary to help clarify what is happening in the courts and what we can expect for HISD.
As a review, HISD sued the TEA after it handed down a decision to replace the school board with a Board of Managers. This decision was based on three separate legal issues: board misconduct as found by a special investigation in 2019, Wheatley high school receiving an ‘F’ on the state accountability rating system for more than 5 years in a row, and the district having a state conservator in place for several years. The courts have not yet touched any of these substantive issues.
The district court put an injunction in place, which prevented the TEA from intervening in HISD while the lawsuit was being decided. The TEA appealed this decision. Because the TEA is a state agency, under the law it is normally entitled to have judgements, like injunctions, suspended when it appeals to a higher court. This would have allowed the TEA to move forward with the Board of Managers in HISD. However, while the appellate court recognized the TEA’s legal right, it chose to use its authority to temporarily keep the injunction in place to maintain the current state of HISD while the court considered if HISD was actually entitled to an injunction in the first place.
Before the appellate court could actually review the injunction, the TEA asked the Texas Supreme Court to review if the appellate court even had the authority to keep it in place temporarily while it made its decision. The Texas Supreme Court agreed with HISD and the appellate court that it had the authority uphold the injunction because otherwise the TEA would be able to appoint a Board of Managers who could stop the lawsuit from moving forward.
The appellate court has further decided that HISD was entitled to an injunction, which will continue to prevent the TEA from intervening in the district. However, this new decision has already been appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, putting the injunction at risk once again.
These decisions cover small issues of law, which is common in lawsuits. It is not unusual for cases to go up and down the appellate courts before the parties get a resolution on the actual issues that they asked the courts to consider. For HISD, this means we might be a long way away from knowing the outcome, but these small issues of law could lead to quick changes if the court decides to remove the injunction. Houston GPS continues to monitor the case, so continue to follow us for updates.