Mayor Sylvester Turner rejected an invitation from Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles to visit campuses Miles is overhauling, accusing the new schools chief Thursday of creating an “apartheid situation” in the district.

Turner said the “gimmick” invitation — released by HISD’s press office Wednesday afternoon after the Mayor blasted Miles’ plans to turn dozens of school libraries into discipline centers — wasn’t for him, but rather the media. Turner said he didn’t see the letter until media outlets began reporting on it.

“I’m not looking to be a photo op with the superintendent when he’s taking the district in the wrong direction,” Turner said Thursday. “If he really wanted to have a conversation, he knew how to pick up the phone, call me or find his way to City Hall and ask to meet with me.”

The comments further amplify tensions between Turner, who’s finishing his second and final term as mayor, and Miles, who state officials appointed as HISD’s superintendent in early June.

In an intense speech during a city council meeting Wednesday, Turner slammed Miles’ plans to turn some school libraries into discipline areas, where misbehaving students will be sent to learn virtually. He said the change targets “selected communities.” All of the campuses that will undergo the change serve large percentages of students from lower-income families.

In a letter following the mayor’s speech, Miles proposed that Turner join him to visit HISD’s “New Education System” campuses during the first week of school to “see first-hand the unique attributes of this model and its ability to support student achievement.” Miles has labeled 28 schools seeing the most immediate and drastic changes as part of the New Education System, with another 57 campuses undergoing similar changes as New Education System-Aligned.

Miles defended the change, writing that libraries provide the physical space and resources to support “differentiated learning experiences.”

“The foundation of NES is equity — where the most disadvantaged students in Houston receive the most support,” Miles said in his letter.

Miles reiterated his invitation Thursday, saying it wasn’t a performative move and that he hopes to work with Turner in the future.

“If you see it, and you see kids in it, learning, I think everybody will understand,” Miles said. “So, grace to the people who haven’t seen the model, who don’t understand the model.”

But Turner said Thursday that Miles’ plans amount to “a glaring example of inequity.”

“This is an apartheid situation, as far as I’m concerned,” Turner said.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath appointed Miles to lead the state’s largest school district in June as part of state sanctions largely tied to chronically poor academic ratings at Wheatley High School.  

Turner said he and Miles had a brief phone conversation during the superintendent’s second day on the job, when the mayor questioned if the state provided the new governing regime with any additional resources to improve the district. 

When Miles told him no, Turner said, he wondered how the state takeover would be successful “without taking resources away” from some students. 

The district plans to eliminate librarians and media specialists from the 28 New Education System schools and redirect those resources elsewhere — a decision Turner questioned. 

Houston ISD Superintendent Mike Miles presents his plan for the district at a community engagement event July 13 at Marshall Middle School in Houston’s Northside Village neighborhood. (Marie D. De Jesús / Houston Landing)

“If (Miles is) saying a library is not important to them, why would he allow a library at any other schools?” Turner said. 

Most HISD schools have not employed a librarian in recent years, according to district records. HISD historically has given principals authority to decide which positions to fill with a set amount of money, and many opted against using that money to hire a librarian.

Turner urged other community leaders to speak out against Miles’ plans to “destroy” Houston schools. 

“The state may have put him in, but he shouldn’t assume that people are just gonna be quiet and not respond,” Turner said. “When you start closing libraries, you have crossed the line. You’ve certainly crossed the line with me.”

Staff writer Asher Lehrer-Small contributed to this report.

Updated, July 27, 9:10 p.m.: This story has been updated to include comments from Mike Miles.

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Miranda Dunlap is a reporter covering K-12 schools across the eight-county Greater Houston region. A painfully Midwestern native to Michigan’s capital region, Miranda studied political science pre-law...