A group of young Black teens stand outside on a street corner in with protest signs
Worthing High School students walk out of campus to protest against TEA takeover. Credit: Laura Onyeneho

The fire alarm rings just after 10 a.m., and hundreds of Worthing High School students walk out of their school building and onto the streets in solidarity against the Texas Education Agency’s decision to take over Houston Independent School District on April 6.

Students chanted, “Save Our School” and “TEA, go Away” as they came out in droves, excited to fight for a cause.

“Our voices matter too,” said one student who chose not to be named. “Has the TEA asked us how we felt?”

Micah Gabay is a Worthing High School student actively engaged during city-wide community rallies and forums. She told the Defender that one of her concerns is regarding conversations around school vouchers and how they will impact lower-income students in the school district.

“Most kids who go to public schools can’t afford a private school,” said Gabay. “So, they basically are trying to take us over and push us out of the public school and into the private schools, and we can’t afford that.”

Gabay hopes the TEA prioritizes visits to the schools and listens to the students and educators whom the decisions of the new board of managers will ultimately impact.

“(TEA) doesn’t really come into the schools and find out anything about the schools,” she said. “All they do is they see what happened before, and they just think, ‘Oh no, that school is bad; we need to change that completely.’”

Parents and students from more than 30 HISD elementary, middle and high schools participated in the day of action protest led by Houston non-profit Community Voices for Public Education. Elementary school protests began around 7:15 a.m., Middle school and high school protests started around 8:15 a.m. and 10 a.m., respectively.

a group of Black teens protest in front of the school building
Wheatley High School students protest in front of campus building.

The demonstrations were planned to coincide with the TEA’s deadline day to apply to serve on the board of managers.

Community members distributed petition flyers, waved signs and updated others about the takeover.

TEA hosted four public forums a few weeks ago to share information about the takeover process. The forums left many unanswered questions on the table and increased the community’s distrust of TEA due to what parents and community members are deeming a lack of clarity from the state.

Several students at Wheatley High School said that they understand why so many people are upset about what the next steps of the takeover may look like, but were open to understanding what strategies TEA has in place to keep schools in academic standing.

“The teachers are great here, but the academics could be improved. It could be more challenging for my grade level,” said 12th grader Jah’ana Domino. “TEA is coming whether we like it or not. TEA needs to work with us. We need to know what they want to bring to help us succeed because I don’t know the plan right now.”

Eleventh grader Kendrell Barrow says she is indifferent, but still believes that TEA should be involved but not as “extreme” as a takeover.

“When you look at it from a child’s perspective, it’s like we are only going by what we are told. I’m 17, and I know there are steps before a school is shut down or taken over,” she said. “This is a serious matter, and we should weigh out all options even if it isn’t what we like. TEA doesn’t really need to take over, but rather find ways to improve teaching styles and understand students learning abilities and habits.”

Laura Onyeneho is the Defender Network Education Reporter and a Report For America Corps member. Email her at laura@defendernetwork.com

I cover Houston's education system as it relates to the Black community for the Defender as a Report for America corps member. I'm a multimedia journalist and have reported on social, cultural, lifestyle,...