Spring Branch’s fight against ISD divides communities with allegations of racism and elitism

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HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – Every parent wants the best education for their child, and in Spring Branch ISD, that desire for all that defines “the best” has turned into a battle in the courtroom, out front. lawns, and at school council meetings.

Allegations of racism, classism and elitism are captured in court documents and flash on phones in GroupMe discussions.

The unofficial dividing line on both sides: I-10 running through the neighborhood.

With two boys in the district, Carla Cooper-Molano has seen the scars of the battle and she wants someone at the school board who represents her family living north of I-10.

“If I communicate to the board, these are my needs, this is what I need, this is what my community at school needs, they are being drowned out by a much greater interest from the south,” a declared Cooper-Molano.

Cooper-Molano said the majority of SBISD students come from low-income working-class families, whose struggles range from paying rent to buying school supplies to eating food every night.

The disconnect comes when you look at the composition of the current SBISD school board. According to a recently filed federal civil rights case trial, the majority of SBISD’s board members live south of I-10, in wealthier and less diverse neighborhoods. In fact, a person of color has never won a seat on the school board. According to the district’s own data, the SBISD student body is 59% Hispanic and 27% White.

The lawsuit alleges that having each school board member elected “in general”, meaning that they represent the entire district instead of the neighborhoods, violates the Federal Voting Rights Act 1965 because it dilutes the voting power of minorities. The complainant who filed the complaint is Virginia Elizondo, a former SBISD teacher with a doctorate. in educational leadership. Elizondo has run twice for the school board, most recently in 2021. This time she failed against Chris Earnest, a consultant from the Memorial area.

Elizondo and supporters of the lawsuit are calling for the draw for single-member districts. In this scenario, council members will be elected to represent specific areas of the district, not the entire district. It’s similar to the way the House of Representatives elects its members and the way Houston ISD elects its school board members. Houston City Council, for example, has a hybrid model. There are five extraordinary seats in addition to the district seats.

Nina Perales, vice president of the Latin American legal rights organization Legal Services for MALDEF, has fought similar battles in other cities in Texas. She explains that the complainant will have to show the courts that there is no possibility for minorities to elect a candidate of their choice.

“If the majority of voters consistently prefer one candidate and minority voters consistently prefer another candidate, those are simple calculations. The majority will always win over the minority in every seat,” Perales said.

In Spring Branch ISD, the fight gets ugly. At the last school board meeting on September 20, parents of a well-organized group opposing the lawsuit called “Pipeline” spoke out one after another against the lawsuit. trial.

“We can’t let something go that could never, ever, ever be undone,” said one parent.

“That’s why I moved here, we are SBISD. I moved away from HISD,” said another relative.

In addition to opposing the lawsuit, the parents want the SBISD school board, who are defendants in this case, to allow the addition of an intervenor. Jenny morace, a relative of SBISD, wants to join the lawsuit as a defendant. It will be up to the judge to authorize this and so far it has not happened.

Lauren Brindley, a mother of triplets, was among the parents who spoke out against the lawsuit.

“Racism and discrimination are prohibited in our country. Thank you my God it is,” Brindley said outside the school board meeting. “I hear these allegations, but show us. Explain to us. Let’s work together. I don’t see that.”

His comments prompted parent Noel Lezema to step in and refute him.

“I’m telling you that when I reported to the school board, I received racist letters at home,” said Lezema, who failed to win when he introduced himself.

Lezema shared with ABC13 some of the notes he received during the campaign, including one which attributed his loss to his “little brown biddy (sex organ)”. Besides the notes, Lezema also points to the slogan adopted by anti-prosecution parents who say “Don’t HISD my SBISD” that dot the lawns of wealthy neighborhoods.

“It hits me like a dog whistle,” Perales said.

Perales pointed out that HISD elects board members by district and that its board of trustees is diverse, with members who resemble the students of the district – black, Hispanic, Asian and white.

“By saying they don’t want that, they’re not asking so subtly and maintaining an all-white school board at SBISD,” Perales said.

Brindley said it was ridiculous because general districts represent all children.

“I just feel like if people want a voice, you have a voice, come on. If we have to do something different, tell us, but don’t mess with the whole system,” Brindley said. . “Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.”

Supporters of the trial have said it’s not just a race issue, it’s also an economic issue. If you look at a map of the district, five of the seven school board members live in zoned homes at Memorial High School, a well-known sports center surrounded by wealthy Memorial Villages and multi-million dollar homes.

“When they say ‘Yes, we get it.’ No, you don’t understand when you raffle off thousand dollar parking spots at your school, ”said a frustrated Nicole Marino.

Marino is active at Northbrook High School, which is located in a less affluent part of SBISD, just north of I-10.

“The frustration is that I feel like they don’t think we’re good enough to represent us,” she said. “For example, 99% of the money we bring for our booster club feeds our children, because they can’t, they won’t have to eat. If we don’t feed them before a football or football game. baseball or tennis or whatever, they won’t have food to go home. And that’s our reality. “

Cooper-Molano and Marion point out that yes, there are parts of the SBISD on the north side that prefer general districts. But those areas are richer and are assigned to Memorial High School, not Northbrook.

“We absolutely want to be able to account for every child, every school, every community,” says Cooper-Molano. “So we want to go in that direction.”

Neither the plaintiff in this federal case nor the defendant, which is the school district, wanted to speak officially about the lawsuit.

The school board, through its lawyers, has filed an official response to the lawsuit, saying it opposes it. However, parents who wish to maintain the general system say they are not convinced the board is sincere about their opposition to the lawsuit, citing the fact that only the Trustee Earnest has publicly stated his position.

As for what will happen with the trial, no one knows. However, both sides could take Richardson ISD, a wealthy school district north of Dallas, as an example. He had elected only one person of color to his school board in his history.

In 2019, the board reached a settlement in a similar civil rights lawsuit. In this regulation, Richardson ISD switched to a hybrid model. Now, some members are elected by district, while others are at large. Since switching to this model, voters in Richardson’s ISD have immediately elected people of color to its board of directors.

For more on this story, follow Miya Shay on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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