The Texas Education Agency has revoked both Buckholts ISD and Marlin ISD's accreditations as public school districts in Texas after both failed to meet state standards five years in a row. Now, both districts are at risk of closing -- though no official decisions have been made.
Marlin was listed as "improvement required" in 2011, and then again for five consecutive years in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Buckholts also had below-acceptable TEA accountability ratings between 2013 and 2017, according to the TEA's latest accreditation status list published Friday.
According to the list, two other Texas districts also lost their accreditation this year: Sierra Blanca ISD in Hudspeth County and Winfield ISD in Titus County.
The school districts have the opportunity to appeal the TEA's decision, and both Marlin and Buckholts have done so. Buckholts ISD's review has already occurred, but Education Commissioner Mike Morath has yet to make a final decision. Marlin ISD will have the chance to plead its case to remain open during its review process next week.
Should the educator commissioner decide to close the schools, both would be shut down by July 1 because public schools in Texas cannot operate without being accredited.
"In terms of physically closing a district, it does not happen very often," said TEA Spokesperson Lauren Callahan, who again stressed that no final decisions had been made to close either Marlin or Buckholts.
She said, however, that each district has known this was a possibility for a while. Marlin has known since at least January and Marlin has known since at least November, according to public documents obtained by Channel 6. There was no timeline for when Morath might make his decision on the issue.
"He's going to attempt to give some sort of clarification or closer as quickly as he can, be he's also going to make a thoughtful decision on behalf of what is best for the students of these districts," Callahan said.
For its part, Marlin ISD said it did not expect to shut down.
“The sky is not falling,” Marlin ISD Superintendent Michael Seabolt said. "…This is nothing new. Ever since my arrival in the summer of 2015, this has been a process."
Seabolt said he had spoken with Deputy TEA Commissioner A.J. Crabill and was confident after that conversation that the district could remain open.
"We've already applied for an informal review, and A.J says we're approved, we're going to get an abatement agreement, and as long as we continue to show improvement we're going to stay open. And, we're showing significant improvement,” Seabolt said.
Marlin High School received a distinction as a Top 25 percent student improvement campus on its 2016-17 Texas Academic Performance Report.
Buckholts ISD said its Superintendent, Nancy Day Sandlin, was out of town and nobody else was available to discuss the situation.
Closing a school would be a very rare occurrence. For context, this year, the vast majority, 98-percent, of Texas school districts and charter schools were accredited without any problem by the TEA.
An accredited status means the districts or charter schools are classified as public schools that meet the TEA's academic and financial standards. A not-accredited-revoked status means the TEA no longer recognizes the district as a public school system after multiple years of deficiencies.
Neither Marlin ISD nor Buckholts ISD immediately responded to requests for comment.
Callahan said diplomas from both districts would still be honored for this year's graduating seniors. If one or both of the districts were to be closed down, the students would be annexed into another district.
Read the letters the TEA sent to each district below.