Despite North Forest's Prayers, Texas Education Commissioner Says School District Will Close

Parents and residents join in prayer at the Household of Faith Community Church at a vigil for the North Forest School District. Pastor Ken Campbell, a North Forest alum, held the service. He believes a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice will put the pause button on the closure of the district. Federal authorities must approve the merger of North Forest with Houston ISD.
The North Forest Independent School District is continuing to fight a state shut down even though just last week a judge rejected their appeal. Earlier this year the Commissioner of Education recommended closing North Forest — for a second time — because of poor academics and financial problems. But community members are holding onto hope, and prayer.

 

 

Several dozen people are standing in circles and holding hands at the Household of Faith Community Church.

They’re asking for some salvation. Not for themselves, but for their schools.

“That North Forest Independent School District will remain independent and TEA will obey and that everything will be alright and the victory will be ours in the courts, in Jesus’ name, Amen. Amen.”

The church is just half a mile down the road from one of the schools in the district.

Pastor Ken Campbell is holding the prayer vigil for North Forest, his alma mater.

“We do our battles in the courts and the legal system and we wait on appeals and hearings and the board does its part, but ultimately the final word, I believe, is going to take intervention from God.”

He knows a state judge denied the district’s appeal to stop the shutdown.

But Campbell sees hope in a letter from the U.S. Department of Justice. He reads it to the congregation.

“Accordingly, it would be inappropriate for the Attorney General to make a determination on the instant change, until the related change has been submitted …”

Here’s how Campbell interprets the letter.

“Hold up, wait a minute. Turn the bulldozer off. You’re not just going to run over these people’s voting rights.”

Voting rights are the reason why the U.S. Department of Justice has to OK the closure of North Forest. School board members are elected, so the elimination of the voting districts has to be approved.

State Commissioner of Education Michael Williams sees the letter differently.

“The letter from the Department of Justice is not even a bump in the road.”

He says the department is just asking for more information.

But besides the federal government, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee holds out yet another hope.

“This is an administrative order. This is not a court order and just as the commissioner wrote a letter indicating that there was a time frame for closing, they could just as well reverse that.”

The commissioner has a frank response.

“This district has failed to serve these children for almost three decades. The last thing I’m going to do is subject these children to failure once again.”

With that direction from the state, the Houston Independent School District is preparing to take on the 7,000 students in North Forest starting next school year.

Superintendent Terry Grier is trying to answer concerns from parents.

“I understand that there’s some folks over there that are going to be upset with their district being abolished. What we want to say to them and their community is: 'Look, we’re going to work really hard to do right by your kids.'”

Unless the state or federal government answers North Forest’s prayer, the merger will be official July 1st.

Bio photo of Laura Isensee

Laura Isensee

Education Reporter

Laura Isensee covers education for KUHF, including K-12 and higher education.

Previously, she was a staff reporter at The Miami Herald and regularly contributed to WLRN, the local NPR affiliate and Miami Herald news partner...