Key Agenda Items
Although normal school board operations have been interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic, there are still items the school board must address and new areas of concern created by the current crisis. Houston GPS would like to highlight the following items:
1. In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the HISD Board approved four emergency constraints last April to guide district administration in ensuring virtual student learning, as well as student and employee health and safety. The timeline for the progress measures designed to monitor these constraints expired in August and the Board originally planned to approve new progress measures last month. After the progress measures were delayed, the Board decided to forgo new measures for the emergency constraints and instead schedule a series of workshops to finish developing the Board’s goals, which will guide the district for the next five years, and move up the monitoring timeline for these more permanent measures. These goals are one of the most important responsibilities of the school board and deserve careful consideration, but the Board must work efficiently and collaboratively to keep to the necessary timeline to meet not only state requirements, but also the proposed monitoring start date.
2. The closure of the district, while necessary to ensure the safety of the HISD community, has exacerbated inequities amongst students. [email protected] H.O.M.E., the district’s online education portal, was launched to ensure student instruction could continue from home. The final Board monitoring report for its emergency constraints shows that throughout the spring and summer most of HISD students were not engaged with virtual learning through the [email protected] H.O.M.E. Clever Portal. As highlighted above, the most engagement HISD saw was 48% of students, which declined to 17% by the end of the school year. While this data does not capture some students who were engaged on other online platforms, it does show that HISD has struggled to reach students virtually and capture clear data for student engagement in online learning. With at least six weeks of virtual learning scheduled for this fall, the Board must continue to receive updates from administration about what additional efforts are being made to ensure all students are able to continue their learning remotely.
3. The HISD Board should terminate their legal actions against the TEA. The Board is using taxpayers’ dollars from unassigned funds, running HISD into a deeper deficit, to pay for their lawyers. Before the district stopped responding to public information act requests due to the COVID-19 closure, the Board reported a $283,575.63 bill for their lawyers, which ONLY covers April 2019 through December 2019. With delays in court due to COVID-19, the lawsuit has moved slowly. Although, the Texas Supreme Court might issue a ruling as soon as September 2020, there still remains the possibility of extensive litigation. Especially now, when the school district is facing hurdles with making sure students have access to instruction and basic necessities, the Board and district finances should be focused on our kids. The Board is currently posted to consider their engagement with O’Hanlon, Demerath & Castillo, the law firm handling the TEA lawsuit, at the September meeting. This is an opportunity for the board to decline further engagement with this external law firm.