Concerned citizen Rachel Hale announced that the district spent $83,000 in June for Achieve3000 Literacy, a learning program that incorporates elements of Critical Race Theory (CRT) into its content, during the open forum on Tuesday evening’s monthly school board meeting. In last month’s meeting, Hale brought two other programs of concern that the district utilizes to the attention of the Board of Trustees.

Texas’ House Bill 3979, which bans the teaching of CRT and all other controversial current events, went into effect Sept. 1, 2021. 

Hale went on to also call out the Board of Trustees for renewing the employment contracts of uncertified administration personnel, principals, teachers, and aids and allowing disorderly students to be underdisciplined, citing two incidents: one where a fifth-grader engaged in a fight with a weapon he made and received in-school-suspension for the afternoon, and the second where a Wylie student who broke a blind student’s specialized glasses, priced around $1,000, and was not punished.

“School board members, previously I stated your job is to be the gatekeepers to our children, and I’m really struggling with the fact that y’all are actually doing that or not or just unanimously rubberstamping the agenda set before you,” Hale said in beginning her presentation. “As a parent first and taxpayer second, I do not support any of these programs. I’m aware y’all receive the board book before the meeting, and I wonder do y’all do any outside research on your own? A simple Google search is all that is needed.”

In preparation for the open forum, Hale spoke with Dr. Stephanie Bonneau, the district’s superintendent of curriculum and instruction, over the process of reviewing the curriculum. In the presentation, she played a short recording of the conversation.

“I mean, I will be honest with you, I provide the curriculum for the entire district. I don’t view every video that shows in every class,” Bonneau said in the recording.

Hale provided the crowd with a packet of Achieve3000’s sample curriculum for classes that included student reading about Dr. Rachel Levine, whom President Joe Biden appointed as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Assistant Secretary for Health earlier this year, and her significance as a transgender woman, the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks canceling a game last year to “spotlight racism instead,” and actor/producer Rickie Vasquez’s impact on the LGBTQ+ community. The packet also included the overview text of four on-demand webinars, all centered on social justice and social-emotional learning hosted on Achieve3000’s website, and a screenshot from Achieve3000 detailing their commitment to social justice through hosting “internal training and dialog to examine racial bias” and adding “culturally relevant content” to the point that Achieve3000 aims to have one out of five articles be culturally responsive. Hale also presented pages from the packet to the board on posters.

“Achieve3000 is a program designed to develop and grow students in their reading level when used consistently throughout the school year,” the board’s background reading said when it was listed on the action agenda for purchase approval on June 15. “There is reading material available for all content areas, so this can be used in reading, science, social studies, and math. Teachers will be able to select a passage and all students will get the same passage to read adjusted to fit the needs of the student. This offers something no other program has available.”

The order total for the program was $83,000. It was paid for with an ESSER III grant. HISD received over $5 million from the grant and plans to use the funds for instructional and discipline positions, social-emotional specialist positions, and the implementation of new software to improve student performance. 

Edgenuity and BrainPop are two additional programs the district uses in its curriculum that Hale spoke about in August’s board meeting.

Edgenuity is used for PRIDE students who have opted to graduate early, high schoolers who need to take a course that is not offered or does not fit on their schedule, and students who need to recover credits. The board approved spending $51,250 for the program at June’s board meeting. 

BrainPop was included as a part of Region 7’s contract with multiple other resources. The contract was also approved at June’s board meeting for $10,192.

“I am disgusted by what is in these programs that children could see and learn,” Hale said. “It isn’t enough to say, ‘we will only use the good and not the bad’ of these programs. There will always be a possibility and a temptation to open Pandora’s box rather than take that chance with our precious children we need it gone so it can’t be opened.”

The school board was unable to respond to Hale because the matter was not on the meeting’s agenda. 

“We do not teach Critical Race Theory at HISD,” HISD Director of Communications David Chenault said. “It is not a part of our curriculum. We do try to provide our teachers with the best resources available to support the teaching and learning of the knowledge and skills required by the State of Texas. These resources are often from national vendors who have provided the same programs to thousands of schools across the country and therefore they have a large variety of content and cover lots of topics, many of which we will never use. While they may contain a limited amount of controversial content, none of the programs focus on any one specific issue, especially not controversial issues. Each school, and ultimately each teacher, has the responsibility and trust of administrators to choose the right article (or module or lesson) that will be best suited for their students and effectively facilitate teaching the current required skill.”

Hale then discussed the school board renewing the contracts of employees who are not qualified properly. HISD became a district of innovation in 2017. Under this, individuals with relevant experience but who do not hold a teaching certification can be hired with a district teaching permit. 

After Hale’s presentation, the board moved on to the action agenda, and they unanimously approved eight out of the nine items.

The agenda item over the purchase of two 2021 Ford Explorers for school resource officers was not approved and will be amended before considering approval again in the next meeting. The total cost for both vehicles would have been $76,589.

District 1 Trustee and secretary Jean Williams asked to see the information regarding the other bids before it is voted on. 

At-large trustee Jon Johnson brought up concerns over the vehicles racking up unnecessary mileage if the resource officers were allowed to drive them over summer break.

“I had some real reservations about these vehicles not being used for school purposes, and during the summer, that would be the case,” Johnson said during the meeting. “I have some real concerns about the wheels being driven off of them, basically, during the summertime. I would like to see us look at some guidelines that do not include that.”

Among the approved items was an addition to the district dyslexia plan to include dysgraphia. 

The purchase of three new school busses, all of which will be wrapped with school spirit designs, was also approved. ESSR III grant funds will be used for the purchase. 

In the discussion agenda, the board addressed face covering protocols as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton issues lawsuits against school districts that violate Governor Abbott’s recent executive order banning mask mandates. 

“If you ask me do I believe we need to wear face coverings or masks, I feel indifferent about it because I’m not sure that we could enforce such a mask mandate,” Superintendent Dr. Thurston Lamb said. “And it also puts the issue in a legal position that I’m not comfortable being in because I think, as this plays out in court, it will cost many districts an incredible amount of money for a decision that they made. I’m open to have a conversation about the masks, but I will be hesitant to do that without once surveying our faculty and staff and also surveying our parents to get a gist of what everybody else would like to see us do.”

The board then went into a closed meeting to discuss hiring personnel, proposed resignations, and proposed terminations. Kenzy Castaneda was hired as a high school health science teacher. The board also accepted Northside teacher Kyonidus Townsend’s resignation. They also approved a proposed termination of Kendall Thompson, a high school special education teacher and coach. 

The next board meeting will be held at 5:30 p.m. on Oct. 19 at the District Board Room.

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