Amid uncertainty and questions around the district's long-term response to the coronavirus outbreak, Houston ISD's board of trustees heard a pitch from interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan on April 27 to consider seeking a "District of Innovation" designation from the Texas Education Agency.

"I wanted to bring it back. ... Everyone's been asking, 'What will the 2020-21 school year look like?'" Lathan said.

Gaining the status would allow HISD to address two areas, she said: adjusting the start date to earlier in August, and adding flexibility to hire instructors for career and technical education courses without requiring teacher certifications.

"They didn't take the traditional route. ... They were out in industry, out in their field, working for a number of years, now they have something they want to offer to teach our students. If we cannot get them an alternative certification, then we can't hire that person," Lathan said.

The district had 27 CTE instructor vacancies in 2019-20, affecting its ability to reach state standards for career and college readiness, Lathan said.

The designation can also allow a district to have some flexibility around class sizes, discipline policies and staff benefits.

The item was not up for a vote, but if Lathan follows the proposed timeline, she will bring a resolution to begin the formal planning effort at the May 14 meeting. A planning committee would be formed in June, a public hearing would be held, and based on an aggressive proposed timeline, Lathan said a final plan could go before the board in October. The district advisory committee must also weigh in.

"This is the fastest timeline that we could come up with. It normally takes a year of planning and preparation," Lathan said.

If the timeline is followed and the district adopts a innovation plan, it would take effect in the 2021-22 school year and could remain in place for up to five years. The TEA does not approve the plans, but its rules govern the process by which a district may become a district of innovation, and the approved plan itself is a legally binding document.

While many nearby districts, including Spring Branch, Fort Bend, Pearland and Alief, have the designation, the largest, Cy-Fair ISD, abandoned plans to seek the designation in October.

The board next meets May 7 for agenda review and a budget workshop.