HOUSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, the ACLU, the Houston NAACP, LULAC #19, and the Greater Houston Coalition for Justice filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice on Friday regarding the Texas Education Agency’s plan to remove locally elected officials during its takeover of the Houston Independent School District. The complaint was filed on behalf of Anna Chuter, Dr. Audrey Nath, Kenyette Johnson, and Kourtney Revels, who are parents of students at Houston public schools.
Houston ISD is the largest school district in the state and eighth largest school district in the country, made up of 274 schools and nearly 200,000 students. Earlier this month, Commissioner Mike Morath announced the agency’s plans to take over the school district citing the poor performance of some schools, despite the fact that his own agency gave the district a “B” rating in 2022. As part of the takeover, Morath intends to replace the district’s locally elected school board trustees with a board of managers who will be appointed by the commissioner and will not have any electoral accountability to Houston voters.
“The district was making a lot of progress after we voted in new trustees. That’s how democracy works,” said Anna Chuter (she/her). “The state just wants to control every aspect of our lives, and I’m afraid of how this will affect our family. My son is finally getting the special needs education he deserves, but now neither of us know what will happen.”
“I feel indignant. As a pediatric neurologist, I’m particularly concerned that the district will not get the resources it needs to support special education,” said Dr. Audrey Nath (she/her). “The state takeover is insulting to so many Houston voters like me who canvass for candidates we care about and take our local elections seriously. Apparently our choice never mattered in the first place.”
The ACLU of Texas is calling on the Justice Department’s Voting Section to investigate the agency for civil rights violations of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution. The state’s takeover prevents Houston voters of color from having the opportunity to meaningfully elect their candidates of choice, thereby disenfranchising voters and discriminating against them on the basis of race and national origin.
“We are asking the Department of Justice to take immediate action and investigate the state’s relentless attempts to take over the largest school district in Texas,” said Ashley Harris (she/her), attorney at the ACLU of Texas. “The state takeover is not about public education but about political control of an almost entirely Black and brown student body in one of the country's most diverse cities. This hostile takeover strips power from Houston voters of color by replacing the democratically elected school district trustees with a board of managers handpicked by the commissioner. Our public officials should be accountable to the growing racially diverse communities they represent and serve.”
“This attempted takeover would essentially put an appointed, unelected commissioner in charge of the school district, with no electoral accountability to Houston’s voters of color,” said Adriel I. Cepeda Derieux (he/him), deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It’s critical the Department of Justice step in to investigate potential violations of the Voting Rights Act and the U.S. Constitution.”
Read the Department of Justice complaint here: https://www.aclutx.org/sites/default/files/aclutx_complaint_-_texas_education_agency_redacted.pdf