Five minutes into her second-period class, Elizabeth Rodriguez and her classmates at Northside High School stood up and walked out to protest the Texas Education Agency’s planned intervention in Houston’s sprawling, diverse public school district.
The 18-year-old senior joined more than 100 students flooding the hallways, walking out of the large brick building and pouring into the gated courtyard by the school entrance on Quitman Street. Teenagers sporting jeans, hoodies and backpacks held handmade posters with various slogans: “My school matters,” “I am NOT just a number,” and “Estudiantes unidos! Jamas seran vencidos!”
Rodriguez, a member of a student club that helped organize the protest, stepped up on a purple platform and grabbed the microphone.
“You need to let your voices be heard,” she said to a crowd that occasionally broke out into chants. “We don’t want more STAAR. What does STAAR do? It stresses us out and gives us more anxiety.”
The walkout coincided with other demonstrations on Thursday at dozens of schools across HISD organized by Community Voices for Public Education and campus student groups. They were marching to express their displeasure with TEA’s March 15 decision to oust the board and superintendent because of one school’s repeated failure to earn an acceptable academic rating and allegations of misconduct by board members.
At elementary schools, some parents gathered with doughnuts and protest signs before sending their children into school. High school students took charge by stepping out during the school day to voice their opposition.
Thursday also marked the last day to apply for the board of managers, a governing body appointed by TEA Commissioner Mike Morath that will replace elected trustees to oversee the district.
At the Northside High School, students rallied for about 15 minutes before heading back to class.
“I was afraid that a lot of people weren’t going to care, they were just doing it to get out of class,” Rodriguez said. “But seeing them now, holding up the signs, doing the chants, I loved it. It makes me feel good about my school.”
Later in the day, as gray skies started dumping rain, roughly 50 students at Carnegie Vanguard High School walked out and took a lap around the block during their lunch break. They held wet paper signs while chanting: “T-E-A, go away!” and “Hey-hey-ho-ho, TEA has got to go!”
Some students stayed outside to listen as their peers spoke into a bullhorn about the value of diversity and an education hard-earned by immigrant parents. One student questioned the motives of the state agency intervening in a school district serving nearly 190,000 students, largely Hispanic and Black children.
“They don’t like abortion, they don’t like gay people, they don’t like minorities,” he said about the Texas GOP. “Why do we want them taking over one of the most diverse school districts in all of Texas?”
Good question. Look, this protest isn’t going to accomplish anything at this time. Mike Morath isn’t going to suddenly change his mind about the takeover – he would argue that it doesn’t matter what he thinks, he’s compelled by the law – because some number of students chanted at him. But bringing about change starts with caring enough to do something, and enduring a bunch of getting nowhere before you can get yourself into a position of influence. It’s not linear, it’s often frustrating, and there are usually a bunch of other things that have to happen before what you want to do is even possible. It still starts with caring enough to take action. Good on these kids for doing that.
Note the bit about the deadline for the Board of Managers. Barring some action from the feds in response to the complaints that have been filed, the next milestone in this saga is going to be the naming of the Board of Managers. I’m going to guess that will happen in early to mid May, to give them some time to get their feet on the ground before the official takeover in June. We’ll get some idea of where this is going when we see who the Board is.