The courts have become the arbiters of much that happens in American education.

The U.S. Supreme Court now has a 5-4 conservative majority, due to Trump’s appointment of two Justices.

This article summarizes the most important court cases of 2020. 

The country is three years deep into Donald Trump’s presidency, which has seen, among other changes, significant policy overhauls from the U.S. Department of Education and a right-leaning Supreme Court bench ruling on landmark cases.

With multiple lawsuits pending in federal courts, the nation’s public education landscape could change significantly in 2020. 

Recent oral arguments before the Supreme Court on DACA that will affect thousands of educators, students and their families are just the tip of the iceberg. A five-year-old Virginia case over transgender students’ rights to bathrooms and other school facilities could finally be heard by the Supreme Court if it doesn’t reach its end in the lower courts, and justices are set to hear a Montana case over state aid given to religious schools in January. 

This is one of the cases that will be decided by the courts:

Houston ISD vs. Texas Education Agency

Details of the case: An announcement in November by Texas education officials cited Houston ISD’s “inability to address long-standing academic deficiencies” and the elected school board’s “breakdown in governance” as reasons for a state takeover just days after voters elected new school board members, who were unable to take their seats and were booted alongside the superintendent under the takeover. 

In response, the Houston Federation of Teachers filed a lawsuit saying the Texas Education Agency and education commissioner “seek to disenfranchise the largely minority population of HISD and prevent it from being served by its elected school board members.”

Plaintiffs are suing the state agency for violating the Texas and U. S. constitutions, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965, claiming the takeover decision violated Houston residents’ voting rights based on race and national origin. 

Why it’s significant: The union is calling the takeover a “power grab” and says it believes the state’s goal is to turn the district into privately operated charter schools, while the state points to the chronically failing Wheatley High School as one of the primary reasons for its decision.

The lawsuit is a last-ditch effort to save the largest school district in Texas (and one of the largest in the nation) from a takeover, which would be unprecedented in size if it proceeds. 

Where it is now: The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Texas in Austin last month. Houston ISD’s request for a temporary injunction was heard on Dec. 5.

Texas American Federation of Teachers says it expects a ruling on the injunction, which would hold off the takeover if passed, by U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel in the next few days. “After that, it could be a lengthy process,” Rob D’Amico, a spokesperson for the union, said. 

My view: What is bizarre about this case is that the state is throwing out the elected school board and taking over the Houston public schools based on the low test scores of one school, Wheatley High School. Houston did well on the urban NAEP. It is the only urban school district to win Eli Broad’s award as the most improved urban district (will Broad revoke his prizes?). This seems to be one of those cases where a majority white state government decided to teach a lesson to a majority-nonwhite urban district by removing control from its elected school board. Is rightwing governor Greg Abbott and his non educator State Commissioner Mike Morath taking this opportunity to open more charter schools in Houston? Morath served on the board of education in Dallas (where he promoted charter schools); he is a software developer and an investor. The takeover is a hoax, but who knows what the courts will rule? The only qualification to be state commissioner of education in Texas is that one must be a U.S. citizen. No expertise or knowledge needed.