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Texas Tribune: Texas Supreme Court 2013

Texas Supreme Court tosses Parent’s Lawsuit against Clint ISD

After several years in and out of courts, families that had alleged Clint Independent School District of unfairly funding one section of the district over others were told by the Texas Supreme Court they had overstepped their jurisdiction and dismissed the lawsuit.

On Friday, Texas Supreme Court Justice Jeffrey S. Boyd ruled in favor of Clint ISD and reversed the appeals court ruling stating it lacked jurisdiction. A motion for rehearing is expected to be filed on April 18 according to the Texas Supreme Court website.

In his opinion to the court, Boyd said the parents that filed the initial lawsuit against the district need to exhaust “their administrative remedies before they can seek their relief in the courts.”

Under that same opinion Boyd added that the parents need to take their claim to the Clint ISD administration as a grievance, then the school board, and finally to the Texas Education Commissioner.

Allowing the Texas Commissioner of Education to apply his “expertise and exercise his discretion to resolves the parents’ complaints promotes an orderly and efficient resolution; and if the parents remain dissatisfied with the Commissioner’s actions  resorts to the courts is still open after the agency (TEA) has acted,” Boyd stated.

In a statement to the Herald-Post, Brian Jaccobi, Attorney for the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project which is representing the families. shared their sentiment on the ruling.

 “We are disappointed with the Supreme Court’s ruling,” said Jacobi,  “Nonetheless, the Court’s ruling is a procedural setback and not a loss. The Court did not rule on the merits of the case, and the ruling does not mean in anyway that the school funding at issue is either equitable or constitutional. Equality of education is, and will remain, an extremely important issue to our clients and the larger communities in the Clint Independent School District. We will continue to investigate the issue and consider how best to move forward.”

According to the initial lawsuit filed in 2012 by parents Sonia Herrera Marquez, Alicia Gomez, Claudia Garcia, the El Paso Interreligious Sponsoring Organization and The Border Network for Human Rights – alleged that students that attended schools in the town of Clint received $3,512 more per student per year.

The district, which currently has an enrollment of 11,636 students for the 2015-16 school year, comprises of 14 schools in Clint, Horizon City and El Paso County collectively.

According to the district’s data, the majority of students, 6,080, reside in Horizon City, followed by Montana Vista with an enrollment of 3,022 students. The Clint feeder pattern only has 2,534 students enrolled in their schools for the 2015-16 school year.

The initial case, filed in 2012, an The 250th El Paso District Court dismissed the parents’ claims, because they had not exhausted their administrative remedies.

The case was appealed to the Eighth Court of Appeals, who reversed the lower courts decision and ruled in favor of the parents in September 2014. But the district did not agree and filed a petition with the Texas Supreme Court in November 2014, requesting that the Supreme Court uphold the lower court’s ruling to dismiss the lawsuit by the parents.

Throughout the entire process, Brian Jacobi, attorney for the Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project, said the parents had not had a chance to testify before the court.

In an earlier interview with the El Paso Herald Post, Jacobi said he had hoped the Supreme Court would uphold the Appeals Court ruling so that the parents could testify before the court.

“The issue that is essentially at hand is that the Texas Constitution gives everybody a right to equal access to education,” Jacobi said in November 2015. “And within the Clint school district, the schools funding are not evenly divided. And no one is saying it has to be exactly divided equally, but it needs to be equitable so children have equal access to getting a quality education. And if you look at the funding throughout the three school (feeder patterns) it’s so disparate.”

In response to questions in December 2015, Juan Cruz, attorney for the Clint ISD said he had hoped the court would dismiss the case.

“The District hopes the Court will uphold the trial court’s judgment of dismissal of the case based on Plaintiffs’ failure to exhaust administrative remedies,” Cruz said in an emailed statement to the El Paso Herald Post.

During oral arguments to the Supreme Court in November 2015, Cruz continually cited the district’s policy 7.057, which details how parents can seek administrative remedies before going to a court of law.

The policy requires the parents to file a grievance to the district, which is followed by three levels of a grievance process. Given the issue, parents would have to file a grievance with the board of trustees if they did not receive a remedy or satisfactory  response by district employees or by the superintendent of the district. The boardcan then decide, during their regular board meeting, how to proceed.

And if the parents’ grievance are denied, parents can then proceed and take their grievance to the Texas Education Commissioner, Cruz said – citing that the commissioner has jurisdiction over Texas School Districts, while the courts do not.

According to the summation by Boyd, the parents in this matter admitted that they did not exhaust their administrative remedies before going straight to the court of law.

And Friday’s ruling echoed Cruz’s and the District’s sentiments.

“We conclude that section 7.057(a) requires the parents to exhaust their  administrative remedies with the Commissioner, and no exception applies to give the courts jurisdiction before the parents have done so.”

In another recent blow to the parents, the ruling followed a recent rejection by the majority of trustees in the Clint Independent School District to place an initiative onthe November ballot to become a single member district.

In a 5 to 2 vote on March 24, Clint ISD trustees rejected a recent push by trustee Hilda James to change from an At Large District to a Single Member District.

A change in the district’s representation could mean fairer funds for the district.

Trustee Patricia Randleel, who had in the past pushed for this cause as well in the past said having members from each community represent their respective schools would be beneficial to the students and the parents of the district.

“I truly believe that people in each area of the district need to have a voice on what goes on with their children and with their schools,” Randleel said. “And the only way that’s going to happen is to have the different areas have a representative. One area’s concerns may be different from another area.”

Six of the seven trustees reside in Clint. Randleel resides in Horizon City. With the current at large system, parents, students and school staff and faculty of Montana Vista or Horizon City can go to any board member and speak to them about any issues or problems they may be having.

“Right now the only way people can voice their concerns occasionally a member of the community will contact everyone (on the board) but most of the time they do not,” Randleel said. “So we need to have someone from their community, in their area, represent them.”

The Paso Del Norte Civil Rights Project condemned the district’s recent majority vote against a move to a single-member district during a recent board meeting.

“The at-large voting system is at the heart of the District’s systematic failure to provide students in Montana Vista and Horizon City with access to an education on par with their fellow students in Clint,” said the Civil Rights Project’s Legal Director Brian Jacobi in a press release. “The vote is yet another example of the Trustees’ failure to protect the interests of all their students.”

The court’s recent ruling for the district leaves several questions unanswered – mainly relating to the Texas Education Agency’s role in matters of district representation and school funding.

In an earlier email exchange with the TEA, they had said they were monitoring this case as well.

As it stands, each school district is charged with deciding how to fund itself and reports their budgets to the TEA. The real issue however, really boils down to the district’s at-large system. This has been an issue with the Clint ISD since the last 1990s.

If parents see the need to change the district’s at-large system into a single-member district system they can do so, but the current members of the board of trustees must approve the motion to place such a proposition on the ballot of a general election.

According to the Texas Education Code, section 11.052, relating to single-member districts at least 15 percent or 15,000 of registered voters, whichever is less, of a school district can present to the voters a proposition that trustees be elected in a specific manner. Under this section the board can also, by it’s own ruling, can order this proposition to be placed on the ballot at the first regular election of a trustee after the 120th day after the petition is submitted to the board.

If such a proposition were approved the board would then have to divide the district into the appropriate number of trustee districts and number each trustee according to the Texas Education Code.

This year’s general election in November would be an opportune time to place this initiative on the ballot, but the majority of trustees must approve this ballot initiative.

The other option parents and residents of the Clint ISD area have are to run for open positions on the board of trustees – and win.

This was attempted in 2012 when Montana Vista residents Sonia Herrera Marquez, Susanna Santillan, and Claudia Garcia ran for positions on the Clint ISD board. Patricia Randleel, of Horizon City also ran and was the only candidate that resided outside of Clint that collected majority votes needed to gain a seat on the board.

About Alexandra Hinojosa

“Once journalism is in your system, it’s hard to get it out… and then you realize, it’s there to stay.” – Alex Hinojosa is a full time instructor at El Paso Community College and a former El Paso Times journalist. FULL BIO

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