UPDATED HCC Wants to Seal Records in Lawsuit Claiming Trustees Treated Bond Money Like a "Private Slush Fund"

Categories: Courts, Education

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In the ongoing legal fight against its former top lawyer, Houston Community College yesterday filed a motion to seal court records that it claims fall under attorney-client privilege. If successful, the move would likely allow one of the nation's largest publicly-funded community college systems to shield certain internal emails, memos or other communications filed in court from public scrutiny as its case against former general counsel Renee Byas winds through the legal system.

It's unclear what, if anything, already filed in the case would be retroactively sealed if HCC has its way (HCC's lawyers have yet to respond to a request for comment *See HCC's comment at the end of this story).

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Houston Bus Drivers Strand Kids on Coldest Day of the Year

Categories: Education

Sorry, not today

While nearby Katy ISD has struggled unsuccessfully to attract enough bus drivers to handle its routes under its present schedule, Houston ISD had its own special set of problems Thursday morning when some aggrieved bus drivers there stayed home -- stranding hundreds of students in the cold.

As protests go, it wasn't the sort designed to warm anyone's heart, mind or body, although it certainly got the district's attention.

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More Katy ISD Students Might Have to Walk to School if the District Can't Find More Bus Drivers

Categories: Education

Being a bus driver can suck. Just ask the Baines Middle School driver who, fed up with some loud kids on her route, stopped her bus in traffic, gathered her things and walked off the job earlier this year. Plus, in Houston's boom-town economy, there are still plenty of jobs elsewhere, jobs that don't involve split-shift work and bratty kids.

Perhaps that's why Katy ISD -- which takes on an additional 3,000 kids every year -- simply can't find enough drivers to make up for its booming student enrollment.

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White Lone Star College Student Doesn't Want to Learn About White Privilege, Files Complaint With School

Categories: Education

Dear white people: white privilege does exist
The concept of white privilege remains controversial in the same way people still argue about climate change. A small, increasingly-fringe faction might argue that it doesn't exist at all. Another broad, more conservative group might concede that it does, technically, exist, but still disagree about what it means, whether it's important and what, if anything, we can do about it.

Still, many others would argue that acknowledging and working to understand it is an important step toward fixing the problem -- in the case of white privilege, the problem being compounded, inter-generational inequality that, although sometimes subtle, is still present in the everyday lives of people of color.

See also: We Need to Talk About How We Talk About White Privilege

Even if we concede that white privilege -- the idea that being born white comes with certain inherent advantages -- is "controversial," does that mean the topic shouldn't be broached in a college course?

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Rewriting History: Apollo 20's Legacy as it is Now, Was Once and What it was Supposed to Be

Categories: Education

Photo by Margaret Downing
Jennell Minor, coordinator of Apollo math tutoring at Attucks Middle School, oversees the work that Lerodrius McDowell is doing with a group of sixth graders.
As Jennell Minor weaves her way among the sixth-grade students divided into groups, each with its own tutor, she talks about the challenges she and other teachers face at Attucks Middle School.

It's tougher than usual this year because of the change in math objectives -- concepts that in previous years students didn't tackle till seventh grade, they're supposed to know in sixth now, she says. There's two math classes a day for sixth graders -- one in the traditional classroom setting and this one, in which up to three students are paired with a tutor. Small sessions are especially good for students who may be able to get to a solution but not as quickly as others, she says. "They have that time to process the infor-mation and come up with the answer," Minor explains.

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Whitmire and Khator Make Up, Announce Wedding Campus Housing Scholarship

Categories: Education

Baby, let's play house.
When we last left University of Houston President Renu Khator and state Senator John Whitmire, the latter was chewing the former out over the University's plan to make it mandatory for most freshmen to live on campus.

Whitmire gave Khator such a brutal text-lashing (he called it "one of the dumbest ideas I have heard") that Khator declared the plan DOA and then probably stared forlornly out the window at the rain all night while "With or Without You" played on some distant laptop. But, lo, the clouds have cleared: the University has just announced a $4,000 "Cougar Experience Scholarship" to promote on-campus living, and Whitmire has made the first donation.

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Local Islamic Group Wants Probe Into HISD Teacher Who Called Muslims "Goat-Fuckers"

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UPDATE December 4, 2014 10:45 a.m.: The HISD Board of Education signed off on Angela Box's resignation Thursday morning in a special meeting. HISD says that Box, whose resignation will take effect immediately, will receive the equivalent of three months' pay.

The Houston office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling for HISD to launch an independent investigation into whether a teacher's blatantly anti-Muslim views have bled over into the classroom.

In a letter sent to HISD Superintendent Terry Grier on Tuesday, CAIR questioned the decision by the district to keep Angela Box, a third-grade teacher at Ray Daily Elementary School who referred to Muslims as "goat-fuckers" and "bacon-haters," on staff.

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The End Is Finally in Sight for the Texas Textbook Battle (At Least for Now)

Categories: Education

Photo from Truthout.org

It seemed like it would never happen, but it looks like the Texas Textbook Battle: Social Studies Edition is finally wrapping up.

The State Board of Education is holding a public meeting today at 1 p.m. in Austin to allow people to submit their comments on the controversial textbooks before the board has its first unofficial vote on whether to approve the books. The initial versions of the textbooks -- written based on the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills, aka the wackobird guidelines created by the SBOE in 2010 that embraced creationist views and a whole lot of relying on the Bible -- were offered up back in September, but had some problems with little things like "truth" and "fact" and stuff like that, according to both education and science groups.

For those who have already forgotten, or blocked it all out, these are the textbooks that initially claimed that Moses basically invented democracy, textbooks that used the word "negro" in a contemporary setting, and explained the "gay liberation movement" as an upshot of social upheaval. The textbooks also claimed that all international terrorism is due Islamic fundamentalists jihading it up, and minimized the role that slavery played in the Civil War. The books also claimed that climate change science was something still being debated by the scientific community, that it was unclear if humans have any impact on the climate at all, in addition to a whole bunch of other stuff that is not, strictly speaking, real.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this whole thing sparked outrage in education groups in general and in science groups in particular. Since Texas has one of the largest public school systems in the country, textbook publishers tend to write their books to fit the stringent and sometimes, you know, nutty standards of the Lone Star State, as dictated by the SBOE. Subsequently, these books end up being the standard for the rest of the country. (See where we're going with this?)

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The TEA Is Schooling Teachers on Boundaries by Using These Super-Creepy Videos


Well, it appears someone at the Texas Education Agency has taken the phrase "fight fire with fire" quite literally.

In order to combat predatory behavior by Texas teachers, the TEA has done the only thing that makes sense: They've released a series of videos on teacher-student ethics that are just about as creepy as the problem they're trying to tackle.

But hey! Those creepy training videos are done in a clever sitcom style, so it's fine.

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Former HCC Lawyer: Trustees Wanted to Make Multimillion-Dollar Bond a "Private Slush Fund"

Categories: Courts, Education

Photo by WhisperToMe

If you believe Renee Byas, her tenure at Houston Community College was an incredibly rocky one. Shortly after joining HCC as general counsel in 2008, the college, one of the country's largest community college systems, was rocked by allegations that board members shuffled contracts to family members and demanded kickbacks from vendors. She hired an outside firm to launch an internal investigation, which found that several trustees abused their office.

By 2012, as HCC prepared a record $425 million bond package that voters would ultimately approve, the board of trustees promised change. Byas helped draft new rules meant to quash any hint of favoritism in handing out contracts - the new rules banned vendors from giving gifts to trustees, limited financial contributions from vendors to trustees' political campaigns, and expanded conflict-of-interest questionnaires, among other things.

But the trustees bristled at one new rule in particular, according to a counter-suit Byas filed in court this week: instead of handpicking the numerous contractors for each of the bond's 14 major construction projects, the new rules required that the board tap 14 "construction managers at risk," general contractors large enough to put up a $2 million bid bond. Those firms would then tap the numerous local subcontractors to finish the job.

Meaning the trustees - if they wanted to - would have a tough time micromanaging the bond and shuffling contracts to friends and family, as they've done in the past. But Byas claims that's exactly what HCC trustees wanted to do this time around. In a counter-suit filed this week, Byas claims HCC terminated her because she wouldn't play ball - and because she talked to the FBI when federal investigators came sniffing around HCC last year.

Byas alleges her firing "is HCC's 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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