Houston ISD board to vote on whether to replace its student congress

The Houston ISD board of trustees agenda for Feb. 11 includes an item that would cut ties with its Student Congress to create a new districtwide student advisory group. (Community Impact staff)
The Houston ISD board of trustees agenda for Feb. 11 includes an item that would cut ties with its Student Congress to create a new districtwide student advisory group. (Community Impact staff)

The Houston ISD board of trustees agenda for Feb. 11 includes an item that would cut ties with its Student Congress to create a new districtwide student advisory group. (Community Impact staff)

This article was updated to add comments from other members of the HISD Student Congress.

Two of the founders of Houston ISD’s Student Congress, Zaakir Tameez and Amy Fan, said they were blindsided when the board of trustees agenda for February included an item to cut ties with the group, which was founded in 2014 as a vehicle for student involvement in policymaking.

“No one on the administration had reached out about this,” said Fan, a 2016 Bellaire High School alumna and graduate of Duke University who now acts as an informal adviser to the group. “It was literally just me opening up the agenda ... and thinking, ‘Wow, why are they doing this without consulting the group itself?’”

The founders alerted the current leadership of the congress, of which there are 12 students from a handful of high schools, though there is not a formal leadership structure.

“Honestly I felt very disappointed,” said Yesenia Gaspar, 16, a junior at Carnegie Vanguard High School and member of the congress’ leadership team. “We’ve been really excited ... and wanted to recruit to get as many new students as we can. ... And then they just hit us with this.”


The congress was chartered in 2014 with the backing of the trustees, who also honored Tameez for his work in organizing his fellow students at the time. The congress was supposed to have regular contact with the administration, a funding account and ongoing support.

“It's been around for three superintendents, 20 school board members and seven generations of high school students,” said Tameez, a Carnegie alumnus and now a Yale law school student. “We all thought it would continue on forever. Obviously, things changed.”

The organization has kept going in part because Tameez and Fan have become involved as advisers, they said.

Nicholas McDermott, a senior at Kashmere High School who is also part of the group's leadership, said the founders help guide them and bolster their confidence.

"We took ownership of the group, but we can ask Amy and Zaakir, is this the right decision to make, or how should we handle this?" McDermott said.

Unable to make inroads with the Student Congress, HISD administration is instead proposing starting a district-sanctioned student advisory council with elected membership representing each high school.

“This recommendation is not to silence our students but to ensure that all of our students across every trustee district and all of our high schools have the opportunity for their voice to be heard,” interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan told trustees Feb. 4.

Lathan said there have been attempts to connect with the congress in the past two years that were unsuccessful, including attempts to hold meetings.

Trustee Elizabeth Santos said she has met with the group twice in the past few years, including once with trustee Sue Deigaard, but that priorities have shifted and the group has not received the support and direction it needed.

“This is a teachable moment for our students. ... There was a breakdown in communication somewhere,” Santos said. “I’m going to ask my colleagues to either table this to a later date or if we could just put it off until we’ve heard both sides.”

If the vote proceeds Feb. 11, the congress could continue to exist independently, officials said, but its formal relationship with the board and administration would cease. The new council would get more support and direction to prevent it from lapsing, officials said.

“What we would commit to in this case is yes, this group would have sponsorship,” HISD Chief Strategy and Innovation Officer Rick Cruz said, such as providing transportation to meetings and establishing administration meeting dates in advance. “We want this to be a collaborative approach. ... If there’s an adversarial stance as there has been, it’s not possible to make anything better.”
By Matt Dulin
Matt joined Community Impact Newspaper in January 2018 and is the City Editor for Houston's Inner Loop editions.


MOST RECENT

George Floyd protest
Houston-area officials, advocates react to guilty verdicts in George Floyd murder

Across the city of Houston, local officials and advocates shared messages of solidarity and urged for more reforms in the wake of the announcement.

Hurricane Harvey hit the Houston region in 2017. (Vanessa Holt/Community Impact Newspaper)
How Harris County residents can prepare for hurricane season

After the most active hurricane season on record in 2020, Harris County officials said residents should be prepared for the upcoming season starting June 1.

Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo speaks at an April 19 press conference at a mass-vaccination site at NRG Park. (Screenshot courtesy Facebook Live).
Harris County accepting walk-ins for vaccine at NRG Park

As demand for vaccines has fallen, officials are looking for ways to make them more accessible.

The Market, one of the concepts at the Asch Building, features a selection of groceries including prepared foods, pasture-raised chicken and Texas produce. (Courtesy Asch Building)
Featuring local and international goods, Asch Building in the Heights holds grand opening

The building includes three small shops and two "micro" shops out back.

Black, indigenous and people of color-owned businesses will be the aim in The Ion’s new Aerospace accelerator. (Hunter Marrow/Community Impact Newspaper)
Minority-owned businesses aim for Ion’s new aerospace accelerator launch

The accelerator will take four businesses through a 12-week program designed to further develop their innovations.

Vaccinations at any of Kelsey-Seybold Clinic's 26 Greater Houston-area locations are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. by appointment only at no cost to the individual or family. (Courtesy Adobe Stock)
Houston-based Kelsey-Seybold Clinic expands vaccine eligibility to age 16 and older

Vaccinations at any of Kelsey-Seybold Clinic's 26 Greater Houston-area locations are available Monday through Friday from 8 a.m.-5 p.m. by appointment only at no cost to the individual or family.

Artists with Ink Dwell Studio created the mural, which depicts birds that migrate seasonally to the Houston area. (Courtesy Anthony Rathbun/Houston Parks Board)
Photos: New mural 'Confluence' celebrates Houston's bayous, birds

"It is so important to use art to lift everyone’s spirits and look at the world in a different way,” Houston Parks Board's Beth White said.

Costco Business Centers, of which there are only about 15 in the country, carry different products and provide a different shopping experience to members than do traditional Costco Wholesale stores. (Courtesy Costco Wholesale)
Costco Business Center being built in Stafford; see live music in The Woodlands and more top Houston-area news

Read the top business and community news from the Houston area from the past week.

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations. (Courtesy Amazon)
Amazon begins rollout of statewide vaccination clinics for employees

The program, which began this week in San Marcos, gives Amazon and Whole Foods employees and contractors direct access to COVID-19 vaccinations.

Clutch City Coffee opened in March at 4733 Richmond Ave., Houston. (Courtesy Clutch City Coffee)
Locally owned Clutch City Coffee opens near Galleria area

It exclusively serves Houston-roasted coffee and locally made breakfast tacos and pastries.