In the final weeks of Texas’ regular legislative session, public education advocates are making a final pitch to lawmakers to pass key reforms that would hold schools accountable to parents.

Texas Education 911—a network of parents, educators, and pro-family organizations from across the state—has advocated all session for fixes to the troubled public education system that will put students and families first.

In a letter to legislators, the alliance called the need for reforms “so urgent and serious” that a special legislative session is warranted to act on parent-identified priorities and solutions that lawmakers fail to address during the regular session that ends May 29.

“We, Texas parents, are counting on you to be truly heroic in supporting these priority enforcement and transparency bills in the closing days of the 88th Regular Session,” said the letter, signed “The Parents of Texas Education 911.”

One of the major reforms endorsed by Texas Education 911 is removing school districts’ governmental immunity and allowing parents to sue schools that violate students’ rights—for example, when a Prosper ISD bus driver was accused of sexually abusing two elementary school students for most of a school year.

The girls’ family sued, but the district and Superintendent Holly Ferguson claimed sovereign immunity from any legal responsibility. A year later, no one in the district has been held accountable for the abuse or the subsequent cover-up, in which district officials failed to notify other families whose children rode the accused molester’s bus until the lawsuit became public months later.

State Rep. Harold Dutton (D–Houston) proposed House Bill 5290 to lift schools’ sovereign immunity.

Texas Education 911 said Dutton’s bill “could bring the single most significant reform to schools, all self-driven. We believe that this bill would make schools self-regulate, and quickly. Parents, children, staff, and taxpayers win. Corruption loses.”

House lawmakers allowed HB 5290 to die in committee.

Thursday at midnight was the deadline for House bills to receive a preliminary vote of approval by the full House.

Another of the network’s parental rights priorities is the creation of a parent ombudsman to help “level the playing field” for parents forced to fight local school districts on behalf of their children.

In the grievance process that families must follow when lodging complaints, the deck is stacked against parents, students, and teachers.

Two proposals to create an independent education ombudsman—House Bill 1924 by State Rep. Jared Patterson and Senate Bill 2114 by State Sen. Angela Paxton (R–McKinney)—failed to receive committee hearings.

“Unfortunately, without enforcement of the laws, parents and children, as well as teachers, are left in tenuous situations, often full of fear and frustration,” said Texas Education 911.

The group’s letter highlighted more than a dozen in-school attacks and district violations that parents reported this year alone, including the sexual assault of a 6-year-old girl by another student in Plainview ISD while a teacher was in the classroom (which authorities are now calling “mutual inappropriate sexual contact”).

“These things are happening all over Texas, and we have solutions,” the letter said.

“If legislators truly understood what was going on in our schools and why we need them to take up our solutions and protect parental rights in education, would they use their power to do good?” asked Texas Education 911 organizer Melissa Beckett in a social media post sharing the letter.

“Would they turn a blind eye to these horrible stories experienced by children and parents DURING SESSION, while parent solutions are right there waiting for them to act?” Beckett asked.

Judging by the results of the regular session so far, lawmakers are turning a blind eye.

Some of Texas Education 911’s pro-parent reforms were allowed to die in the House. More than a dozen of their priorities never received any legislative action at all.

Several priority bills are still on life support, though:

Texas Education 911 recently announced it will be issuing legislator ratings identifying which lawmakers take action on parent-identified education concerns and solutions in either the regular or a special session.

Only Gov. Greg Abbott can call a special legislative session, but Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has said he’s willing to force a special session if the House fails to pass the Senate’s priorities.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.