Before I begin to go through the timeline of what happened at last night’s school board meeting, you need to understand the background of why Houston Independent School District (HISD) is chartering 10 public schools in predominantly black neighborhoods, why HISD is choosing Energized for STEM Academy as the charter, and how the state bills are cornering school districts in Texas to privatize education. Understanding this background of backroom deals, who the trustees’ donors are, and understanding how both parties are working to dismantle public education — even skimming through it — dear reader, will help provide context to why tensions escalated last night. If the situation were simple, I would highlight each issue in a paragraph before going through the timeline, but of course, it’s not that simple.
Last night the board was going to vote on whether or not they would privatize the 10 public black and brown schools with Energized for STEM Academy being the charter. After last night’s events, no vote was taken and the meeting was adjourned.
The board ultimately decided they would not charter the schools and will look for different options.
Events started around five when activists from six different activist groups gathered on the sidewalk to hold a funeral for the 10 public schools that are up for privatization. Despite there having been multiple rallies onsite of the HISD building in the past, cops told the activists they could not hold their funeral in front of the building and they could not bring in signs to the board meeting.
Freedom of speech, strike one. Actually, no, strike two, because strike one was the board removing the citizen’s hearing portion of the meeting limiting constituents to speak at maximum two minutes on certain agenda items.
When activists walked into the board meeting, they were patted down and metal wand detectors were waved over their bodies. When I took this video, there were not enough people for the overflow room. Later, however, there would be over thirty people in the overflow room. Activists who attend the board meeting regularly told me there was three times the police presence than at any other meeting they have attended.
Activists began to chant “No More Sellouts” and “Sue the TEA,” but the police told them they needed to quiet down. Texas Education Agency is the TEA.
Upon arrival, the trustees were in an executive closed session. Rows of chairs that were normally there for previous board meetings had been removed, and barriers had been set up around the seating space.
While waiting for trustees to get out of session, I decided to do some tweeting about the trustees’ donors. By this time, trustees had been in closed session for an hour and a half. It was around 7:35 pm when I stopped tweeting about donors.
Activists were getting restless, and because most of these activists are parents they had their children with them. The children had been getting hungry, so on behalf of a few parents pizza was ordered for the crowd. A symbol to signal the trustees — who had been in closed session for two hours — that the activists were not leaving their post.
After pizza was served, the trustees came out. The audience laughed when trustee Rhonda Skillern-Jones, trustee representing District II and board president, announced the meeting starting at 8:15 pm. By this point I’m reminding anyone following my tweets that the board removed citizen’s time to speak in efforts to cut down on time. Only agenda speakers can speak. Never mind they spent two hours behind closed doors.
The room was incredibly tense as agenda speakers began to line up.
All of the speakers at this point are anti-charter and anti-privatization of their schools. Most told the board they needed to sue the Texas Education Agency (TEA).
Reminded followers that even though the board is supposed to vote on officially having Energized for STEM Academy as the charter, the officials who run the charter are already being introduced to school staff, cc-ed on emails, and current public school teachers are being forced to write the charter’s application to TEA.
This is me getting annoyed with corporate media who do not know the activists, the people fighting for their schools.
Around this time Rhonda Skillern-Jones, trustee representing District II and board president, pounds the gavel and tells audience that they need to stop clapping and making noise or else she will have the board go into recess.
Now, unfortunately, this is where things get interesting. Zeph Capo, president of the union Houston Federation of Teachers, went up to speak against the charter. For those of you who don’t know, he kicked anti-charter activists out the union press conference earlier this week. During his press conference he raised questions about Energized for STEM, but also pushed for a different charter to take over the schools: Generation Schools Network. Read about what happened here.
Capo went over time while speaking. Skillern-Jones did not pound the gavel on him or tell him he needed to stop speaking. The activists were the ones telling him his time was up and he needed to remove himself from the podium.
After he spoke, Karina Quesada-Leon from HISD Parent Advocates went to speak.
She also went over time, and as soon as she did Skillern-Jones pounded the gavel. Because Capo was allowed to overtime without resistance from the board president, activists were angered that one of their own had gotten silenced quicker than Capo.
Quesada-Leon was still saying her speech as she walked back to her seat, Skillern-Jones told the cops to remove people from the room.
Freedom of speech, strike three.
This is when the eruption happened.
Rhonda Skillern-Jones asks the officers to please clear the room. Trustee Wanda Adams is heard saying, “Clear the fucking room. Call recess, I’m sick of this shit. Call recess.”
In the video shown below, you will see Kandice Webber, Black Lives Matter-Houston and Houston Rising, being handled by police. Webber was taken to the back of the building, put in a police car in the back of the building, and driven to get processed. Webber was arrested and charged for misdemeanor interfering with the duties of a public servant.
Webber was released the next day, Wednesday, April 25, and charges dropped.
In the video shown below, you will see Jenny Heath-Espeseth, HISD Parent Advocates, being dragged out of the room. Espeseth was taken into custody and later in the evening released. No charges filed.
It’s difficult to ignore how police were handling women versus how they were handling the men.
Amélie Goedecke was taken into custody in a police car out in front. Paramedics were called to see her. She was charged with criminal trespassing.
Goedecke was released the next day, Wednesday, April 25, and charges were dropped.
At this point, activists did not plan to leave until the board took a vote.
Activists were told that the board meeting could start again if and only if activists used the side door to get into the overflow room after cops waved a metal wand over them.
Trustee Elizabeth Santos was the only trustee to come out immediately after to speak to the public. At this point there has not been a vote to adjourn the meeting.
At this point activists are weary about the corporate media.
Activists decided to not take the side door to get into the overflow room after going through metal detectors to finish the board meeting. They boo through the windows at the trustees walking inside.
The board members voted to adjourn the meeting, so there was no vote last night on the privatization of 10 black and brown schools. The activists stood by the exit gates to boo at trustees driving away.
Trustee Jolanda Jones came out to address the public after the meeting was adjourned.
And that concludes what happened last night.