What's the Next Step at Sharpstown High School?

Categories: Education

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Photo by Margaret Downing
LULAC Attorney Alberto Ruiz thinks there's more work to be done at Sharpstown High
In many respects, the latest dust-up/embarrassment at Sharpstown High School, in which students claimed Principal Rob Gasparello had hit them, has been resolved to the satisfaction of all.

Houston ISD investigated and cleared Gasparello saying that "HISD Police has concluded its investigation into allegations related to Sharpstown High Principal Rob Gasparello. No evidence was found to substantiate any of the criminal allegations and the principal has been cleared to return to campus."

By this week, at least two of the students involved have moved on to Liberty High School, an HISD charter school dedicated to serving recent immigrants with limited English. So presumably these kids are in a better place and whatever did or did not go on between any of them and the Sharpstown principal will not continue.

Attorney Alberto Ruiz, legal representative for LULAC (League of United Latin American Citizens) in Houston and San Antonio, was involved in the case, representing two of the students involved. He says he's happy that those two are back in school and can get on with their education.

But he continues to express his belief that something is wrong about the culture at Sharpstown and that it needs to change what he sees as ill-treatment of minority students, particularly Hispanic ones with limited English.

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Advocacy Group: Stop Charging Truant Students in Adult Court

Categories: Education

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When it comes to truancy, kids are treated like adults.
"Texas currently prosecutes more than twice the number of truancy cases prosecuted in all other states combined," with cases filed in adult criminal courts -- uncommon among other states -- according to a report released Thursday by the nonprofit advocacy group Texas Appleseed. More than 115,000 students were charged with truancy in adult court in 2013.

The Houston Independent School District, with an enrollment of 203,354, filed 20,715 truancy criminal cases against students and/or their parents in the 2012-2013 school year -- the third-highest rate in the state, according to the report. (San Antonio and Dallas ranked first and second, respectively.)

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Rice University Dorm Leader Resigns After Lap Dance Vid Goes Viral

Categories: Education

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And the Ms. Oscar goes to....
The recently elected student head of a Rice University dormitory has resigned after videos and images of him receiving a lap dance from a stripper during a victory celebration February 20 went viral.

The student paper, the Rice Thresher, did not identify the student president, but included an emailed apology in a story Tuesday that stated "No gender, race, or ethnicity should ever be objectified in any manner, and I fully admit to violating this ethical standard. To be clear, we have a zero-tolerance policy on this type of behavior, which can lead to things such as sexual harassment, and I definitely made a mistake Saturday night to which I fully admit."

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Judge Has to Remind HCC That Board Trustees Are Representatives of the Public

Categories: Courts, Education

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HCC
As it fought to seal some internal records in a legal fight against its former general counsel, lawyers for Houston Community College trotted out a strange argument in court earlier this month.

Along with a swath of internal memos, emails and transcripts HCC wanted to seal or redact, the publicly-funded college system also argued against disclosing certain communications between college lawyers and HCC trustees. Here was the college's basic argument: The HCC Board of Trustees are "representatives of the college," and anything shared with them by an HCC attorney remained attorney-client privileged information, and therefore isn't public.

It was an argument Harris County District Court Judge Jeff Shadwick literally scoffed at when HCC attorneys and lawyers for Renee Byas, the college's former general counsel who was fired and ultimately sued by the college last year, showed up in court on February 9 to argue over a temporary injunction to keep certain records in the lawsuit hidden from public view.

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HISD Stands to Lose $17 Million in Federal Funding if Student Success Act Passes

Categories: Education

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Screenshot from Houston ISD
Roosevelt Elementary is just one of the many Title I schools in HISD.

Houston ISD, like urban districts throughout the country, came out swinging Tuesday, saying that it will lose $17 million in Title I grant funds if the so-called Student Success Act passes -- a rewrite of the No Child Left Behind Act that supporters say will return control of public schools to their local communities.

At issue is what's called "portability," which basically means the Title I funds designated to help low-income students would travel with a child wherever he or she goes to school and could even be taken to private and charter schools instead of being assigned to public schools with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged children as they are now.

According to HISD, 262 of its campuses would see their supplementary funds decrease and the majority of these schools are at least 75 percent economically disadvantaged.


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HCC Trustee Asks for Transparency in Lawsuit With College's Fired Top Lawyer

Categories: Courts, Education

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HCC
Carroll G. Robinson
Seems we're not the only ones who think it's a little gauche for a public institution to fight to keep internal records out of the public eye.

Over the past month, lawyers for Houston Community College, a taxpayer-funded institution, have twice asked a judge to seal certain internal emails, memos, or other communications if they're filed in court, arguing they fall under attorney-client privilege. At issue here is what will or won't become public in the college's legal fight against the HCC's former general counsel, Renee Byas. HCC sued Byas last summer, hoping to invalidate her contract. The college claims it fired Byas because of insubordination and problems with her contract extension (for instance, she turned in her signed copy of said contract extension to HR five days late...right), while Byas on the other hand alleges she was fired because she wouldn't play ball when trustees begged her to bend the rules for doling out contracts for the college's record $425 million bond project.

Byas' counterclaim against the college contained a number of other stunning allegations, including that she was cooperating with an ongoing FBI investigation into the college and that she even wore a wire to secretly record conversations in which trustees pressured her to "break the law." While still with the college, Byas opened an investigation into whether one particular trustee tried to improperly shuffle a $1.4 million contract to a close friend's business. Byas claims trustees regularly asked her to kill that investigation and fire the outside law firm conducting it. In fact, the day Byas was fired, HCC's board appointed another attorney to keep watch over that investigation, which ultimately concluded that there was no evidence the trustee in question did anything wrong.

The subject of that investigation was trustee Carroll Robinson (who's now running for Houston City Controller). Which is why it's so...well, interesting, that Robinson has been asking HCC to make everything related to Byas' firing public. Particularly interesting since, according to court records, Byas' attorneys plan to depose Robinson very soon.

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Students Want UH to Fire Three Administrators Over TDECU Fiasco

Categories: Education

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Brian Reading via Wikimedia Commons
TDECU Stadium
The University of Houston's brand-new $128 million football stadium was supposed to be a point of pride when it opened to students and fans last summer. Fast-forward seven months, and TDECU Stadium is just a continuing source of heartburn for UH officials.

Last night UH's student government cast a vote unanimously calling for the resignation of three university officials, one a key aide to UH President and Chancellor Renu Khator, largely because of problems surrounding the university's new stadium.

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Grier's State of the Schools Address: Happy Campuses, Except for the Ones That No One Wants to Send Their Kids To

Categories: Education

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Superintendent Terry Grier issued challenges along with his attaboys
The 50-minute State of the Schools address given by Houston ISD Superintendent Terry Grier Wednesday reached its in-your-face moment just before the 17-minute mark when he told the sold-out room at the Hilton Americas Hotel that "We should support our strong magnet schools. But you know we really can't deny this reality of the underbelly of school choice."

"We have a handful of the nation's academically elite public schools," Grier said as he waded once again into the issue of HISD's school choice program, saying that if the best students abandon neighborhood schools for magnet schools, they often leave behind a depleted student body. "Yet we have scores of children in neighborhood schools that need extra help, a lot of it."

"The truth is, the list of Houston schools that most of us in this room would refuse to send our own children to is longer than the list of schools we consider acceptable for our own children. And folks that can't, that will not stand in HISD," said Grier to applause.

And while this was in a lot of ways an incredibly brave thing for Grier to say and resolve to change, it also rather significantly undermines his contention that HISD is a great school district and a master of innovation (a theme he returned to several times.)

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Houston Community College Still Wants to Seal Records in Lawsuit

Categories: Courts, Education

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via Wikimedia Commons
Lawyers for Houston Community College went to court yesterday to argue that internal records from a public institution would harm said public institution if made public.

As the legal battle between HCC, one of the largest community college systems in the country, and the college's ousted top lawyer continues to drag on in court, HCC has renewed its push to seal documents and shield some of its own internal records from public scrutiny.

At issue in the case is why HCC really fired Renee Byas, the college's former general counsel. On one hand, HCC claims it fired Byas because she was "insubordinate" and because her contract extension with the college was "invalid." (HCC says that only the board's chair, not the full board, signed her extension, and that Byas turned her extension back into HR five days late. Really.)

On the other hand, Byas alleges HCC fired her in "attempt to silence a public servant who refused to let HCC's Board of Trustees use a $425 million public bond project as a private slush fund."

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Teen Says He Was Forced Out of Local Private School for Being Gay

Categories: Education

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YouTube
Early this month, 17-year-old YouTube blogger Austin Wallis posted an emotional 10-minute video in which he said he'd been forced to leave his private school because he's gay. The school's principal, he said, called him into the office and delivered an ultimatum: Wallis was to delete all of his social media accounts and go back into the closet, or else he'd be banned from any extracurricular activities at school.

Wallis says he ultimately felt he had no other choice but to leave. But in his video, Wallis doesn't identify the school, saying he doesn't want the episode to tarnish the reputations of the students and teachers who supported him while he was there. But late last week, the Texas Observer reported that Wallis attended Lutheran High North, a small private school just north of the Heights.

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