AUSTIN (KXAN) — On one of the final days of the 87th Texas Legislative Session, the Texas Senate added 23 new amendments to HB 1525, a clean up bill intended only to make subtle corrections to the historic public education funding from last session.
One of those changes would give the Texas Education Agency discretion to use more than half a billion dollars.
That’s not sitting with some lawmakers and education advocates who say it’s the district’s that need full control of that money, not the state.
“At a minimum, we need to understand what is going on here. Why are we taking this money from the school districts and giving it to the TEA?” questioned Representative Gina Hinojosa, a democrat from District 49.
Hinojosa tweeted on Friday, pointing to the last-minute amendment that pulled $ 620 million earmarked for school districts to spend on technology and books.
Sen. Larry Taylor, the author of the amendment, explained school districts will have a wealth of funds to use at their disposal from the billions of dollars the U.S. Department of Education is providing as a stimulus package for COVID-19 relief.
In addition, Taylor said the TEA will be required to use that money to implement intensive support for school districts, like college and career readiness grants and high level tutoring for struggling students.
Even still, Hinojosa said this change is rushed and isn’t allowing for discussion from both chambers.
“I think it’s important to shine a light on what we are doing, create transparency, especially when it comes to our public schools,” Hinojosa said.
On Friday, Rep. Dan Huberty refused to concur on Texas Senate amendments, so the final details will be ironed out behind closed doors in a conference committee.
Mark Wiggins with the Association of Texas Professional Educators said it’s important to keep an eye on what changes are made during that conference meeting.
“It’s really incumbent on members to take a good look at what the legislation is, what it does, the amendments that were added on both sides, and we cannot take our eyes off the ball,” Wiggins said.
Author: Alex Caprariello
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin
Author Jennifer Sanders
This post originally appeared on KXAN Austin
GEORGETOWN, Texas (KXAN) — It was a call Martine and Amos Keith never thought they would get from their fifth-grade daughter about a class assignment.
She’s a student at Carver Elementary School in the Georgetown Independent School District, and during one of her remote-learning courses she received this assignment: “Record a speech from the viewpoint of a Southerner explaining why slavery is necessary.”
“When I pulled out the assignment, I couldn’t believe my eyes, what I was reading, it was very disturbing, especially in the time we are in now,” said her mom, Martine.
The Keiths said the teacher told them their daughter had a choice whether to do the assignment, and she (the teacher) was just teaching the lessons provided by the district.
The next day, the Keiths pulled their daughter out of that class.
“I was informed that this particular bonus assignment has been removed from the curriculum, but how long has it been going on?” asked Martine.
After KXAN asked several questions about the assignment and its origin, Georgetown ISD sent the following statement.
“Georgetown ISD is aware of this and deeply regrets the pain this may have caused for students and their families as a result. This is not reflective of Georgetown ISD or our beliefs.
We believe in equity for all learners, which includes developing and nurturing a true sense of empowerment and belonging for every learner no matter their race, gender, ethnicity, language, ability, family income, sexual orientation or any other social factor. We realize that questions like the one posted can be setbacks in making meaningful progress in that area.
We have taken measures to ensure the lesson is no longer available and will continue to engage our staff, our parents and our community in our work to ensure equity for all learners. Curriculum resources have been updated.”
-Georgetown ISD Office of Communications & Community Engagement
A spokesperson for the district also said the assignment has not been in circulation and has not been used otherwise. The spokesperson said it is her understanding that it was part of an older curriculum draft that was never used and simply overlooked in our files.
The spokesperson added the Civil War is a sensitive topic — in and out of school. Georgetown ISD said it is continuing to do work around equity and professional learning, including how to teach sensitive topics in ways that honor Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) while being inclusive and thoughtful to students.
The Keiths want accountability and assurance other students aren’t impacted by this. In the below handwritten letter, their daughter explained people have suffered from slavery, and she wants to make an impact in a world where people aren’t judged by their skin color.
“We always taught her to stand up, if you know something is right or wrong, let us know, and she knew that this was wrong,” Martine said. “We were hoping both of our children would be able to graduate from Eastview High School [in Georgetown ISD], but that’s not the case anymore, so we are looking for another district.”
AUSTIN (KXAN) — Anderson High School is wrestling with a spike in COVID-19 exposures after positive cases quadrupled during the week STAAR testing began.
The school has contacted some families, asking their children to remain quarantined after they were contact-traced back to the STAAR testing that occurred on campus last week. The district reports the positive cases are now isolated and did not originate in the classroom from the STAAR testing itself, but from outside extracurriculars.
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According to the Austin Independent School District COVID-19 dashboard on Monday, the number of positive cases at Anderson High jumped from three to 14. The number of new exposures on campus jumped from three to 94.
“I just have no words for what happened. This was the worst scenario and nightmare that we could have imagined. And we didn’t think it was going to happen to us, but it did,” said Nancy Thompson, whose ninth-grade daughter is one of the students now under mandatory quarantine.
Thompson said she has kept her daughter at home for the entire year but felt compelled to send her in to STAAR testing so she could finish her End-of-Course Assessments with the learning material still fresh in her mind.
“The odds were not in her favor. She was exposed to COVID during STAAR testing at Anderson High School,” Thompson said. “I have no words for what happened.”
Austin ISD officials wouldn’t respond when we asked about the exposures that occurred. We asked about the overall timeline and the preventative steps the district took to contain the virus once they found out there was a positive case. This story will be updated to reflect the response when it is received.
This comes as AISD and other school districts are encouraging families to bring their children back for in-person learning or risk losing state funding.
Last month, when the Texas Education Agency announced it would hold school districts harmless for drops in enrollment during the pandemic, most education advocates heralded the decision as a major win. But the TEA tied the promise to certain criteria:
A school district’s average on-campus attendance participation rate during the sixth 6-weeks attendance reporting period is equal to or greater than 80% of all students educated; or
A school district’s average on campus attendance participation rate during the sixth 6-weeks attendance reporting period is equal to or greater than the on-campus snapshot the district provided on a single day to the TEA in October.
In other words, to satisfy criteria 2 listed above, for the final 6-weeks of the school year, AISD must maintain a benchmark at or above 44% on-campus attendance or risk losing millions in state funding. The percentage is derived from the single day “snapshot” the district provided to the TEA in October.
As such, school administrators across Central Texas are encouraging families to bring their students in for the final weeks of the school year.
“There’s a lot of exciting activities that will take place these last six weeks and we’re eager to welcome your child back to campus. We’ve missed them!” AISD Superintendent Dr. Stephanie Elizalde wrote to families. “We’ve all done a lot of work to get to this point, and we want to encourage you to send your students back to school so they can enjoy the learning opportunities that happen on campus every day.”
At the San Marcos Consolidated Independent School District, almost every student was allowed on campus on Monday for in-person learning; it’s the first time since the beginning of the pandemic.
Nearly all San Marcos CISD students back in classrooms Monday
Pflugerville ISD administrators changed their policy: beginning Friday, all families can choose to switch their child to in-person learning at any time. Previously, you would have to wait for the grading period to end.
School officials say CDC guidelines are being closely met in order to keep kids safe.
“The data shows us that the positivity rate is much lower inside our schools than in the Austin area at large. We’ve also worked to make vaccines available to every single Austin ISD teacher and staff member,” Dr. Elizalde wrote. “The CDC says classroom instruction, coupled with protocols such as masks and social distancing, is safe.”
Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at [email protected] or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.
This article originally appeared on KXAN Austin
Olivia Weisinger, never a particularly political person, found herself outside the Comal Independent School District board meeting in New Braunfels late last month, rallying parents, students and teachers to voice their anger over the school board’s decision to eliminate the district’s mask mandate.
“I’ve never done any of this,” Weisinger said in a quiet voice with a tired edge.
Before the pandemic, her eldest was happily enrolled in a Comal ISD elementary school, with three younger siblings in line behind him. Now, after a long year at odds with the district over its handling of COVID-19 policies for its 25,000 students, she’s home-schooling her son while filing grievances with the Texas Education Agency, organizing protests and making videos challenging board members’ statements.
The pandemic, along with the economic and humanitarian crises it has created, has led many people to unlikely places. As they have risen to the occasion — feeding hungry kids, signing neighbors up for vaccines, holding public officials accountable — ordinary citizens have stepped into unofficial public life like never before. Weisinger, too, has found herself in a new role: activist.
Weisinger and her growing band of parents have battled the board not just about safety but even more about accountability for the seven-member board. To make her point, she self-produced a video to fact check claims made by trustee Marty Bartlett during the March 9 board meeting, when he voted with the majority to lift the mask mandate.
Packed rooms are rare during the pandemic, but the March 25 Comal ISD board meeting was just that. A center aisle divided over 100 parents, teachers and students who had come to testify on the district’s decision to lift its mask mandate.
On one side of the aisle, masks were scarce. Those parents carried professionally printed signs that read “Kids Need Smiles” and “My Student My Choice.” On the other side, masked parents and students carried homemade signs that said things like “Love Thy Neighbor, Wear A Mask” and “Schools are Supposed to Protect Kids.”
During the pandemic, the center aisle has come to represent a seemingly unbridgeable divide between politics and science, and between personal freedom and community responsibility. In Comal County, it now divides those who feel their school district’s governing body is speaking for them, and those who feel they have been betrayed.
Weisinger started a Facebook group, Open Comal County Schools Safely, in August to show the board that parents wanted more caution as schools reopened. She offered to help the district write grants for more air filtration and outdoor classroom spaces. No one was interested, she said. “It was very apparent what you’re seeing now. They weren’t taking COVID seriously.”
As the school year went on, concerns quieted. With a mask mandate and social distancing protocols in place, schools have proved safe. Huge outbreaks have been few, and case numbers in most schools remain lower than in the general population. In-person learning has been a boon to kids who have it, and remote learning has proven to be inadequate and taxing for many children.
Then, on March 2, Gov. Greg Abbott announced that the state’s mask mandate would end a week later, on March 10. The night before the state order lifted, the Comal ISD board voted 5-2 to lift the district’s mandate as well — even though neighboring districts like New Braunfels ISD and Northside ISD, and North East ISD kept theirs in place.
Some parents implored the board to listen to science, while others thanked them for dropping the mandate. Some cited Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines; others claimed that COVID-19 has been overblown to increase government control. Some referenced a survey conducted by Weisinger’s group. Others questioned the validity of the survey because it was disseminated by a pro-mask Facebook group.
The 74 Million reached out to multiple members of the Comal ISD school board for comment. None replied.
Since the district did not survey parents on the issue, as New Braunfels ISD did, Weisinger’s group decided to conduct its own survey of parents and staff, and found similar results.
The survey went out broadly, Weisinger said, with paper copies and QR codes delivered to families without reliable internet access. Of the 724 respondents, 82% wanted to see the mask mandate continue. Support for a mask mandate was highest in the city of New Braunfels and lowest in the rural areas of the county.
Some of the respondents to Weisinger’s survey shared beliefs that masks are both dangerous and tools of government control, she said. But the numbers were small.
“This division here is a much smaller faction than it feels like,” she said.
That may be true, but they have the board on their side.
Weisinger’s survey showed the majority was with her, but that doesn’t translate to an angry mob. On the whole, Comal ISD parent Susan Ostrand said, “people just aren’t that upset about it.”
Open Comal County Schools Safely organized a stay-home protest, encouraging families to keep their students home last Tuesday, the day fourth and seventh graders took state standardized tests. Participation was small.
It was indicative of another sentiment in the district: Many would prefer to keep the masks. But fewer are bothered enough to challenge their friends, neighbors and teachers who are not wearing masks.
Even parents who were ambivalent about masks say that the board could have done a better job considering the needs and perspectives of parents when they lifted the mandate.
Those who did not want to send their children to school with unmasked classmates had about 12 hours to figure out a plan, said Comal ISD parent Chrissy Dyer. She’s OK with the new policy, she said, but knows some working parents were scrambling. “It just wasn’t fair, to me, to do that to those parents.”
That disregard is felt by many, Weisinger said, and is why the resistance mounted by her group isn’t going away. Parents reached out to The 74 Million expressing frustration over how the board has handled their concerns involving racist incidents, special education services and remote learning for bilingual students.
People of color felt their concerns were minimized after school board President David Drastata referred to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” which sparked conversation about how racist slurs among students had also been written off as “profanity.” In the district’s push to reopen schools, special education and bilingual services have been substandard, parents said.
Some of these concerns have come through to Weisinger as well, and she’s helping the families figure out what legal recourse they have with the Texas Education Agency. Figuring out how and where to file complaints and grievances has taken up a lot of time, and she had a hard time finding a lawyer familiar with the Texas Education Code.
She’s committed to continuing, though, because there doesn’t seem to be another way for parents in Comal County to have their concerns taken seriously — those related to the pandemic and beyond, she said.
“This is so much deeper,” Weisinger said, “than COVID and masks.”
The 74Million.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization focused on America’s schools, education policy and 74 million children.
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