In the beginning, black activist Quanell X pledged a protest like those in the civil rights era.

He would bus students from Key Middle School to the tony, tree-lined neighborhood of Houston Superintendent Abelardo Saavedra, and they would demand an equal education.

Instead, on Friday afternoon, the activist offered free food and a visit from a “surprise platinum hip-hop artist” to persuade about 50 students to board a chartered bus pointed toward Montrose.

But the bus never moved. And the artist never showed.

Quanell X said he canceled the plan to bus the children from Key to Saavedra’s Montrose-area house because he was unable to reach the mother who apparently had all the students’ parental permission slips.

“I didn’t want to take that chance with the liability,” said Quanell X, who added that he plans to reschedule the protest for next week.

The students and staff from Key have been at nearby Fleming Middle School for three weeks while environmental experts study what might have made numerous people sick at Key.

But the merging of the schools has sparked complaints that Fleming is too crowded and that the Key students are being deprived of a good education. On Friday, though, some students said classes had improved since Saavedra sent 10 temporary classrooms to Fleming this week.

“It’s better,” said Jacqueline Ortiz, a sixth-grader. “But I like my old school.”

Quanell X’s plan to protest how the district handled the Key situation hit its first roadblock earlier in the week. The activist initially asked students to skip school Thursday but abandoned that idea after district officials threatened that students would be charged with truancy and their parents would be taken to court.

The activist’s backup plan — to bus the children from northeast Houston to Saavedra’s house — didn’t pan out much better.

After school let out early Friday, the Key students lingered while Quanell X and a few parents debated whether to board the buses without the signed permission slips.

“Be patient. Don’t leave,” Quanell X told the students about 1:40 p.m.

About 20 minutes later, with some teens starting to walk away, he told them, “We have food and drinks for everybody. Go to the bus.”

Parents had bought fried chicken, so about 50 students sat on a big chartered bus and ate. About 3 p.m., Quanell X told reporters he was canceling the protest.

Still, for a few minutes, students and several parents marched outside Key and chanted, “Save our school.”