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Police drag a patron out of a board meeting in the Houston school district.

After meeting is disrupted, Houston board puts off vote on struggling schools

Board had been scheduled to vote on whether to turn over control of 10 low-performing schools to a charter operator.

Houston school board members ended their meeting Tuesday night without voting on a plan to cede control over 10 low-performing schools after a skirmish erupted and police escorted members of the public — nearly all of whom opposed the proposal — out of the room.

The Houston Chronicle reports that most of the 100 or so community members in attendance watched angrily as officers physically removed disruptive people out of the room. The disturbance came after Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones declared a recess and ordered the room cleared because of repeated public outbursts.

The uproar reflects the heated nature of the district's proposal. It calls for Energized For STEM Academy Inc., which already runs four in-district charter schools, to take over operations of 10 additional campuses for five years.

Without the agreement, Houston would likely be forced to close campuses or submit to a state takeover of the school board because of failure to improve academics at the schools. The vote had been expected to be close.

School district police say two people were arrested and a third person was detained but not arrested. Prosecutors dropped the charges on Wednesday.

Jenny Espeseth, who said she has children in first and fifth grades, was dragged out of the board room by her arms and pulled into a hallway side room.

In a statement, the district said attendees were instructed to clear the room after "continuous disruption," "multiple outbursts," and "several verbal requests" from Skillern-Jones to follow meeting rules.

"While the district appreciates and shares the passion the community has for the students and schools and welcomes public input, audience members are expected to be respectful and observe decorum so that their views may be heard and appreciated," the district says.

Under a law passed in 2015, any school district with a campus that receives a fifth straight “improvement required” rating for poor academic performance this year would be subject to the sanctions. Ten Houston schools risk triggering the law. District administrators have said it’s highly unlikely all 10 will meet state academic standards this year.

To avoid forced campus closures or a state takeover, the district proposed using the provisions of another law that would give it a two-year reprieve by ceding control over the 10 schools to an outside organization.

Trustees must approve any partnership agreements and submit plans to the state by April 30. 

Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan says Energized For STEM Academy Inc. “will help our students to reach the level of achievement that we know is possible.”

But multiple board members say they lacked enough information to properly evaluate Energized For STEM Academy’s academic and governance history. Several education advocates and leaders, including the Houston Federation of Teachers, also raised several questions about Energized For STEM Academy’s ethics. 

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