Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center HISD. Photo by Florian Martin/Houston Public Media.
Hattie Mae White Educational Support Center HISD. Photo by Florian Martin/Houston Public Media.

State-appointed managers can replace elected school board members in the largest district in Texas, according to a decision released by the state’s Supreme Court Friday morning.

Justices overruled an appellate court’s decision that had blocked TEA from taking over the district. The case isn’t over, though. A lower court will hear further arguments.

“No basis exists to continue the trial court’s temporary injunction against the Commissioner’s appointment of a board of managers,” the opinion read.

It is not clear if TEA will use the decision to replace the Houston ISD board.

“TEA is currently reviewing the decision,” a spokesperson wrote.

The Texas Education Agency first attempted to seize control of the Houston Independent School District in 2019. The agency pointed to dysfunction at the school board, as well as years of what TEA deemed unacceptable academic performance at Houston ISD’s Wheatley High School.

Invoking a 2015 state law, TEA argued the circumstances allowed education commissioner Mike Morath to appoint a group of managers in place of the elected school board trustees.

While the takeover was stalled, all but two of the elected Houston ISD board members departed, the board hired a new superintendent, and Wheatley High School received a passing grade from TEA.

Trustee Judith Cruz was elected the same week that the takeover push was announced in 2019.

“It’s important for the public — especially students and families — to know that school is going to continue no matter what happens,” she said. “If there’s a change in any kind of leadership, all decisions should be made with students in mind and with the least amount of disruptions as possible.”

TEA said in court that the changes are irrelevant, and that the takeover should be allowed in order to preserve the agency’s power to take similar action in the future. Houston ISD argued TEA made procedural violations in the leadup to the takeover.

The Supreme Court of Texas agreed with TEA.

“Under the governing law, the District’s claims do not support a temporary injunction against the Commissioner of the Texas Education Agency and his appointed conservator,” the opinion read. “We expect the parties to reconsider their positions and supplement the record in light of changes in the law and factual developments within the District. We remand the case to the trial court for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.”

In a written statement, Houston ISD superintendent Millard House II said the decision is “under review by HISD’s Legal team.”

“When I first came into this role, I was clear eyed about the challenges that faced us as a district,” he continued. “As Superintendent for the last 18 months, my team has been laser-focused on giving each one of our students the academic experience they deserve … There is still much more work to be done, but we are excited about the progress we have made as a district and are looking forward to the work ahead.”