A lot going on over there.
With a fifth-grader in Palmer Elementary School in Missouri City, Steve Brown has begun to think about where his son should attend middle school. The campus is just a two-minute drive from the current one but the change has him concerned.
According to the latest accountability rating, the middle school met standards but earned no distinctions. Plus, he’s heard it has discipline issues. Some parents even move to avoid it, said Brown, to the other side of “the tracks.”
“Even in middle-class, suburban Fort Bend County, there are tracks and that track is Highway 6,” said Brown, “It’s unfortunate, but it signifies that we still have not come as far as we thought.”
Brown’s story was part of a discussion with a panel of parents, lawyers and advocates held Thursday in the library at the University of Houston Sugar Land campus to discuss racial discrepancies in the district’s truancy complaints and disciplinary actions. What emerged was a picture of a divided district, often along racial and socioeconomic lines, that touches almost every aspect of a student’s life.
Like neighboring school districts such as Lamar, Katy and Houston, the Fort Bend ISD reports a consistent overrepresentation of black, Hispanic and special education students who are disciplined. The district also refers cases to a special truancy county court, which some see as contributing to a culture of criminalization of black and Hispanic students.
The district has responded, creating a special office to review discipline data weekly as well as expulsions and discretionary placements at alternative education campuses. Early data from this school year shows success in bringing the number of African American students punished down. And Superintendent Charles Dupre has promised the community that the district will hold a series of dialogues to address the disparities, the focus of an Office for Civil Rights investigation. He has said he shares “concerns about the number of African-American and Hispanic students who are subject to disciplinary actions in Fort Bend ISD and across the state.”
The Steve Brown in this story is the same Steve Brown who ran for Railroad Commissioner last November. He’d emailed me a couple of weeks ago about the race for Fort Bend ISD Trustee, Position 6, which takes place in May. As Steve pointed out to me, and as this story does not note, the FBISD student body is very diverse, while its Board of Trustees is not. At that time, there was a story in Houston Style Magazine about one of the candidates in the race, Stuart Jackson. Look at the stock photo at the top of that story, then look at Stuart Jackson’s webpage. There was a bit of fuss over that, and then this happened.
With less than a month until Election Day, Stuart Jackson, one of four candidates for Fort Bend ISD Position 6, has terminated a contract with a political consultant because of a misleading magazine article.
Jackson, a software company owner and first-time political candidate, decided to part ways with Burt Levine, a Houston-based paid political consultant who represents candidates from both major political parties and from many different ethnicities in Fort Bend County and throughout the Greater Houston area.
The contract was terminated over a story that Levine wrote in Houston Style Magazine on Feb. 25. Jackson was contacted by a former FBISD board candidate, Vanesia Johnson, who wrote a letter to the community, including The Star, stating that the article misled voters to believe that Jackson, who is white, was African-American.
The Missouri City resident is running against incumbent Jenny Bailey as well as Addie Heyliger and J.J. Clemence for the position.
Jackson said he discovered the story after it was published, and that he’s never tried to conceal his race or ethnicity to any portion of the electorate.
He’s attended several events throughout the community and has his face featured prominently on his campaign website.
Jackson thinks issues such as the article take away from the substance of the election – which he says, is finding the best person to represent the students of FBISD.
“I feel good about the campaign,” Jackson said. “We need more local control and and more community control. What frustrates me more than anything is the (article) takes the wind out of any message I am trying to push forward.”
Jackson reached out to Johnson, who was defeated by board trustee and then-board president Jim Rice, 70.4 to 29.6 percent, for the FBISD Position 3 seat in 2013.
“He brought my outrage down to confusion,” Johnson said. “I can’t believe completely that (Jackson) didn’t know (about the article beforehand).”
Consider that another reminder that these smaller, lower-profile local elections really matter. The candidate that Steve Brown and Vanesia Johnson are supporting is Addie Heyliger. Each FBISD trustee is elected at large, which is another wrinkle in all this; there’s a bill by Rep. Ron Reynolds to create single member districts, but it hasn’t had a hearing and seems to me to be unlikely to pass at this point. If you live in Fort Bend, are you following this race at all?