Families are worried about the enrollment numbers at Houston ISD campuses in the area, and so are residential developers that want to bring even more families to this part of the city. Both have heard that some schools are at or near capacity, which means their public classrooms could be closed to taxpaying families even if they live within walking distance.
It’s an important issue for people in places like Oak Forest and the Heights, which means it’s an important issue for The Leader. It’s our duty as a community newspaper to provide answers to your questions, ease your concerns and alert you to potential problems.
The problem is, the school district charged with serving you doesn’t seem to care. Or maybe it doesn’t want you to know the truth of the matter.
HISD received our written request for information about enrollment figures and capping procedures on Feb. 13. As of a week later, none of that information had been provided and none of our questions had been answered.
Lorena Cozzari, a media relations specialist for HISD, indicated in emails Feb. 14 and Feb. 15 that a district administrator could be made available for an interview about the topic. Then, on Feb. 18, she sent an email saying, “Unfortunately, the district declines the interview opportunity for this story.”
Before that, on Feb. 15, HISD press secretary Sherry Williams called to lecture me for contacting an elementary school principal, who provided more insight during a 15-minute phone interview than the press office did in a week. Williams referred to my reporting as “underhanded,” even though I identified myself up front and the principal freely answered my questions.
Williams also said, “Your purposes are not our purposes.” Clearly not.
The two board of education trustees who represent our area, Elizabeth Santos and Rhonda Skillern-Jones, did not respond to emails seeking comment. Neither did interim superintendent Grenita Lathan.
It should be noted that none of our questions pertained to HISD’s search for a permanent superintendent – the board voted 5-3 last week to continue a national search amidst an ongoing investigation by the Texas Education Agency – or the TEA investigation itself. We didn’t ask about infighting among board members, and we didn’t ask about a potential TEA takeover if four underperforming HISD schools do not meet state academic standards this year.
No, we just want to know if incoming area residents can send their kids to desirable campuses such as Oak Forest Elementary or Harvard Elementary or Garden Oaks Montessori Magnet. And if they can’t, we want to tell them why and what their options are within the district.
The largest public school district in Texas, and quite possibly the most dysfunctional, apparently doesn’t want you to know. But we’re going to exhaust every resource at our disposal to find out anyway.
The information we’re after was included in an open-records request filed with the district Feb. 14. Two more open-records requests were filed Feb. 18 that pertain to the responsibilities of HISD’s press office and its stonewalling tactics.
Open-records requests, if you aren’t familiar with them, are tools that journalists and everyday citizens can use to obtain public information from publicly funded, governmental entities such as HISD. Those entities are legally obligated to furnish the requested information, or explain in writing why the information is not available to the public, within 10 business days of receipt.
We’ll keep you posted, and we’ll keep pestering HISD until it provides the information you deserve to know. We don’t care if district employees don’t like us and don’t want to cooperate with us.
We care about you and your concerns about the school district, which should be concerned about its lack of transparency, among many other things. HISD owes you an explanation about issues such as overflowing enrollment at campuses that serve your community.