I’m sorry, I know this makes me a terrible person, but I laughed at this headline.
The majority of the parents, teachers and community members who showed up for the Houston ISD board meeting on Thursday night were banned from entering the auditorium and instead relegated to a separate room to watch the proceedings via livestream.
The Chronicle spoke with several attorneys about whether the unusual arrangements violated the Texas Open Meetings Act.
Christopher Tritico, a local criminal defense attorney who represents the Houston Federation of Teachers, said he believes it was a troubling attempt by the new board or superintendent to “quell the public outrage.”
“They may not have technically violated the law, by allowing them to view it the way they did, but the spirit of the law is certainly violated by preventing them from going into the meeting,” he said.
The district previously limited seating in the board auditorium during the COVID-19 pandemic, Tritico said, but full access had since been restored.
In a departure from the typical seating arrangements, there were only about three dozen chairs for spectators and a dozen seats for the press at the Thursday meeting. Tables for the board members to sit facing each other took up most of the space in the room, which has the capacity to hold 310 people.
Tritico said that, while he does not want to defend HISD, it is also important for people to allow the board to conduct government business.
“I understand the public and how they feel right now about what’s happening, but they have to respect the process as well,” he said. “They cannot go in and just disrupt the meeting for the sake of disruption.”
Similarly, Martha Owen, an Austin-based attorney, said it does not appear that the district violated the Open Meetings Act but that the separate rooms may not help the board gain trust from the community.
“It may not be a violation of the Open Meetings Act, but it’s certainly a violation of the spirit of the law,” she said. “Those board members are working for the community and the taxpayers in that district. That’s who they’re supposed to be serving and they should not be isolating themselves from that.”
On the one hand, this Board is new at this, with no past members providing any institutional memory to ensure they didn’t screw up in such an obvious way. They’ll get it right going forward.
On the other hand, an alleged violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act by the HISD Board in 2019 was specifically cited by Mike Morath as one of the reasons for doing the takeover, even though all but one of those Trustees were no longer on the Board as of 2023. In other words, the TEA has a recent history of taking this sort of thing very seriously.
On the other other hand, this wasn’t an actual violation of the Open Meetings Act, more of a near miss. Stuff happens, nobody’s perfect, no harm no foul, chill out.
On the other other other hand, as this Board was entirely picked and trained by the TEA, and the TEA is responsible for enforcing the Open Meetings Act when school boards violate it, you’d think they could have had one of their experts remind the Board of their need to be above reproach and stick like glue to the letter and the spirit of this law. Surely they would have preferred for there not to be any stories like this one getting written.
I trust you can see why I found this all funny. Yes, I know, it’s also all very serious. But sometimes you just have to laugh. The Press has more.