HOUSTON - The North Forest Independent School District has been ordered to close its doors on July 1.
The Texas Education Agency made the order in early February and NFISD challenged it. That challenge was denied on Monday.
"We at North Forest ISD are disappointed by the TEA's decision to merge North Forest with HISD," NFISD Superintendent Edna Forté said. "Because we truly believe partnering with the charter schools that make up PHILO is the best option for the children of North Forest, we will appeal this decision to the State Office of Administrative Hearings. Regardless of the outcome, the faculty and staff will continue to move forward with the transformative work we are doing at North Forest ISD to complete a successful year."
"Throughout this process, the priority has been the students of North Forest and assuring they each receive the quality education they deserve," Commissioner Michael Williams said. "My hope is that today's decision marks the next step toward making that goal a reality."
The Houston Independent School District will absorb North Forest's 7,000 students.
"We know this has been a trying ordeal for the North Forest community, and we are committed to making this transition as smooth as possible for the students and their families," HISD Superintendent Terry Grier said. "Our promise to the North Forest neighborhood students is the same as our promise to every student already attending HISD schools: You will be challenged academically, because we believe in you. You will have effective teachers and principals, because every child deserves the best. You will attend a safe school, because learning does not happen when children feel vulnerable."
HISD will hold a community meeting soon to gather input for the transition plan and address questions about the annexation.
Some parents of North Forest students said they think their children will have a better future as HISD students.
"They are not offering the students anything here. Not just this school, but any other school -- no books," mother Yolanda Johnson said.
Other parents said they want their children to continue their education in the North Forest Independent School District.
"All districts can be saved if people stop thinking about themselves and money." said Shrita Rogers, a parent.
HISD officials said about 300 students who live in North Forest already attend HISD schools because of the district's open transfer policies. Students from North Forest will have equal access to HISD's magnet schools. Students and parents were encouraged to attend the HISD School Choice Fair at the HISD headquarters, 4400 West 18th Street, from 9 a.m. to noon on April 27.
An appeal is already in the works. U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee attacked the Texas Education Agency's decision, calling it a civil rights violation. She has called on the Justice Department, which would put the district's fate in the hands of a federal court.
"I think that would be the only way to wake up the TEA in Texas to be fair to children," said Jackson Lee.
Financial and academic problems have plagued the district since the 1980s and a result, North Forest ISD has been under TEA sanctions on and off since then. While improvements have been made, North Forest continues to struggle academically with test scores still below the state average.
In May 2012, North Forest ISD appealed a decision to revoke its accreditation. That was denied, but the school district's closure was abated a year to allow it to improve, but the conditions set were not met, state officials said.
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