Advocates Threaten To Sue If Austin ISD Doesn't Do More To Help Students Of Color

Sep 5, 2018

A group of education advocates has released what it is calling a manifesto, demanding the Austin Independent School District immediately address inequities for schools in East Austin.

The group is demanding that the district make the student achievement of minority and low-income students it first priority, compensate and train teachers to work with these populations of students, and address segregation in the district by redrawing boundary lines.

A main point the coalition discussed at a press conference Wednesday was the issue of segregation within the school district and how it affects student achievement.

Black and Latino students perform worse on standardized tests compared to white students in AISD. Almost two-thirds of the district’s students are minorities and most of them go to schools in East Austin.

"It might be frightening for some to look at change, but a boundary change impacts everybody in this community. This progressive community that loves itself so much can actually do something progressive that will actually impact and benefit kids in this city." – Ken Zarifis, Education Austin president

“When I’ve raised the problem of segregation with the board members and with the administration, almost no one is willing to touch that because it is so politically problematic, especially for folks on the West Side,” said Board of Trustees Member Ted Gordon, who represents much of East Austin.  

He and the group are asking AISD to change the district’s boundaries.

Ken Zarifis, president of the teachers union Education Austin, said that would help integrate schools in the city.

“It might be frightening for some to look at change, but a boundary change impacts everybody in this community,” he said. “This progressive community that loves itself so much can actually do something progressive that will actually impact and benefit kids in this city.”

The group also called for the district to get rid of its open-transfer policy, which allows families to enroll their children in a school other than their assigned one. Even though East Austin is growing, its schools are under-enrolled.  

“[The transfer policy] has facilitated many families moving out of schools that are black and brown and into schools that are not, supposedly to increase the academic possibilities and the quality of education," Gordon said. "[That] basically means the school district can continue to offer a sub-quality education to some kids because those families that are most economically and politically powerful are able to take their kids elsewhere and get a good education.”

Getting rid of the policy and changing the boundaries could help under-enrolled schools, which don't get as much state funding and face consolidation or closure.

Gordon said if AISD doesn’t work with the group, it will call for splitting the district in two: one that includes schools mainly in East Austin, focusing on the needs of these students.

Vincent Tovar, who has children in East Austin schools, said he wished more teachers and parents in the community were involved in the "manifesto" and press conference, especially since the group is demanding such drastic changes.

“I think the black and brown families and staff that were being spoken for today should have been the leading voice in any efforts to help meet the needs that they have,” he said.

The group said it wants AISD to hire outside consultants to look at the financial and equitable outcomes of splitting the district and changing boundaries.

It is also demanding:

  • teachers in Title 1 schools (those with high populations of low-incomes students) be paid at a higher rate than teachers not at those schools
  • AISD prioritize restorative justice practices and anti-racism programs to address racial disparities 
  • AISD sell real estate only to provide affordable housing for staff and families
  • AISD address the influx of charter schools in East Austin 
  • AISD be split into two districts if that would reduce the money paid back to the state in recapture

The group is meeting with Superintendent Paul Cruz on Sept. 18 to go over its demands. It said if the district doesn’t commit to the demands, it will pursue legal action or organizing actions such as walkouts.