On Monday, the same day a big new elementary school re-opened in Jubilee Park, a woman who lives near the school called us from the hospital. She said her husband was recovering from a heart attack. "He's been kind of a silent partner with this fight," Norma Hernandez tells Unfair Park. She was speaking about her long-running fight against the school district, and her role as one of the most visible activists in the battle.
A few years ago, the Dallas Independent School District decided to give the O.M. Roberts Elementary School in Jubilee Park a little makeover. It was not pretty. DISD officials wanted the O.M. Roberts campus to be bigger, with a big parking lot that would eat much of the neighborhood around it.
While many agreed that the school's building had become dilapidated, homeowners questioned why the plan had to be so destructive. In fact, the DISD's original blueprint called for some 20 homes to be razed, as we reported back in 2010.
Hernandez was one of the hold-outs who refused to leave her house. But she and others accuse the DISD of using dirty tactics several years ago to try kicking them out anyway.
One Jubilee homeowner named Yvette Laster was the subject of 11 code violations from the city, part of what she suspected was the city's bogus way to try getting her out of the house to make way for the school.
Hernandez, meanwhile, says that the DISD sent its law firms door-to-door to pressure people into signing contracts so that they would sell their homes. ("You need to talk to the DISD to get any comments about anything," Florentino Ramirez, an attorney from one of the DISD's law firms, Ramirez and Associates, tells Unfair Park. We left a message with the DISD as well but haven't heard back yet).
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Shawn Busari, another hold-out, had been in her Jubilee Park house since 1964, when she was just a baby. She says that officials tried to kick her out in 2010 by claiming that her home was infested with rats and roaches, a tactic that Hernandez remembers as well. "We have been bullied, and our community has been divided," Busari says.
After the district got much of the land it wanted from homeowners who agreed to sign on the dotted line, it stopped fighting with locals.
In 2010, the DISD sent the remaining Jubilee Park residents a little white flag: "The district will not be pursuing the acquisition of your property at this time," it says.
It's that uncertain, final phrase, "at this time," that still bothers Hernandez as the new O.M. Roberts Elementary finally opens more than two years later. "Those three little words continue to haunt the community," she says.