Texas sues nine more school districts over mask mandates
Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton has announced another wave of lawsuits against school districts over their masking policies, but one of them says it doesn’t even require face coverings. Midway ISD is among nine that Paxton announced on Tuesday that he is suing for allegedly defying Abbott’s executive order banning public schools and local governments from enacting local mask mandates. However, the district says it has been unable convince the attorney general's office that it has no such mandate in place. Under Midway’s virus protocol, campuses can issue 10-day “mask directives'' that encourage mask-wearing on the premises if virus transmission reaches a certain level, but doesn’t require it. Those directives are not the same as mandates, district spokesperson Traci Marlin said, adding "There are no punishments or repercussions." In addition to Midway, Mr. Paxton announced lawsuits against Diboll, Honey Grove, La Vega, Longview, Lufkin, McGregor, Paris and Waco, on top of the six districts he announced action against last week.
San Antonio Schools Chief Likely To Lead Chicago Schools
Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot has selected Pedro Martinez to be the next chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, according to the Tribune, which suggests that his appointment will be formally announced later this morning. Mr. Martinez has led San Antonio ISD in Texas since June 2015 and previously served as chief financial officer at CPS under former CEO Arne Duncan. Mr. Martinez will replace Janice Jackson, who announced in May that she was stepping down. José Torres, a former CPS official and former chief of Elgin-based District U-46 has been leading as interim chief since Ms. Jackson's departure. By the end of the second week of the school year, more than 5,600 CPS students had been directed to quarantine because of potential in-school exposure to COVID-19, according to new data made public Tuesday. Those quarantines represent about 2% of the 290,000 students at non-charter schools, yet they’re almost double the number of students the district had previously identified that have been exposed to the virus.
Longview OKs COVID-19 vaccine incentive for employees
Longview ISD employees have until November 1st to get vaccinated against COVID-19 if they want to take part in a new, one-time $1,000 incentive program. “We understand there may be strong feelings about this, but our priority is to provide the absolute best quality instruction in a safe, healthy environment for our students and staff,” Superintendent James Wilcox said. “We feel a responsibility to encourage every possible preventative measure to help mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in our community.” Employees who can’t get vaccinated for medical reasons may still receive the incentive “upon submission of medical certification and proof of completion of other mitigating measures, including weekly COVID testing.”
McAllen school board OKs updated Quinta Mazatlan agreement
McAllen ISD trustees have voted in favor of an updated memorandum of understanding between the district and the city outlining responsibilities tied to a $4m investment from the district into an expansion project at Quinta Mazatlan. The $4m will fund the McAllen ISD Discovery Center, a five-acre outdoor park with teaching pavilions and outdoor classrooms that is itself just a component of a larger Center for Urban Ecology expansion at the sanctuary. For 25 years the district is entitled to a 50% discounted rate for using the MISD Discovery Center. For seven years after it opens, the district will pay the lower of $3.50 per child or rates charged by the city to other local districts for services rendered.
Mineral Wells ISD trustees OK city officer deal
Mineral Wells ISD school trustees have approved agreements with city of Mineral Wells for on-campus school resource officers for the new school year as well as for use of the city's gun range for school staff participating in the Guardian Program. The district and police force have partnered in the SRO program since 1995. Under this year's agreement, the district will fund one of the full-timers and two part-time officers, at a cost of $141,070. Trustees approved another agreement with the city that will allow staff participating in the Guardian Program, which trains armed school staff members, to access the city's shooting range, at a cost of $500 to $1,000 depending on how often they take practice.
School officials cautious on using ARP funding for construction
A survey by the School Superintendents Association (AASA) reveals that school districts across the country don't plan to spend much of their American Rescue Plan funds on facilities renovations or new construction. Close to half of districts indicated they would spend no more than 10% of ARP funding on school facilities improvements, while 16% of districts said they would spend between a quarter to half of ARP funding on such improvements. About 25% of respondents indicated the 2024 spending deadline was an obstacle in using the ARP funds for infrastructure and construction. ARP funding alone is not enough to remedy the nation's school infrastructure, said Sasha Pudelski, AASA advocacy director, pointing to the Reopen and Rebuild America's Schools Act introduced by Sen. Jack Reed (D-RI). "We desperately need Congress to pass the Rebuild America's Schools Act, which would provide $100 billion in direct aid for new facilities projects," said Ms. Pudelski. "While ARP money can be utilized for school facilities, we are underinvesting roughly $80bn a year behind where we should be in school facilities, so we need a significant federal uptick in spending to get us on track."
Push for Native American curriculum in schools makes gains
Connecticut, North Dakota and Oregon have all adopted measures requiring the teaching of Native American studies, with an emphasis on local tribes. A 2019 report from the National Congress of American Indians, which surveyed 35 states with federally recognized tribes, found nearly 90% of states said they had efforts underway to improve the quality and access to Native American curriculum. While a majority said it’s included in their schools, less than half said it was required and specific to tribal nations in their state. “We are seeing a focus on different races and issues,” said Aaron Payment, first vice president of the National Congress of American Indians and chairperson of the 44,000-member Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians in Michigan. The Connecticut legislation makes it mandatory for schools to teach Native American studies starting with the 2023-2024 school year. It passed despite concerns raised by teachers unions and state Education Commissioner Miguel Cardona. Cardona, who is now the U.S. education secretary, had said it is important to teach about Native Americans but he was wary of unfunded mandates for school districts that are still working to implement other courses lawmakers and the governor have required them to teach. In North Dakota, a bill became law this year that requires all elementary and secondary schools, public and private, to include Native American tribal history in their curriculum, with an emphasis on tribes within the state.
HEALTH & WELLBEING
Surgeon General backs Biden's vaccine mandate for schools
Surgeon General Vivek Murthy has rallied behind President Biden's new COVID-19 vaccination requirements, saying they are "an appropriate legal measure" in line with traditional safety requirements in schools and workplaces. The Biden administration's measure could affect up to 80 million workers and is expected to be issued by the Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration within the coming weeks. Employers will be expected to ask all employees to either test weekly or be fully vaccinated against the virus — or face fines of $14,000 per violation.
UTSA criticized for removing 'Come and take it' flag at football games
The University of Texas at San Antonio has been criticized by the UT System's board of regents for its recent decision to stop displaying the famous “Come and take it” flag at football games after some in the university community argued the slogan has a racist history. UTSA started displaying the flag in 2011, the school’s first football season, and it became an official tradition in 2016 to inspire fans and challenge opponents on the field. The origins of the flag, which includes the slogan and an image of a cannon under a star, stem from the Battle of Gonzales during the Texas Revolution in 1835, when Mexican authorities loaned a small cannon to the town of Gonzales for protection from Native American tribes. When the troops asked for the return of the cannon, the people of Gonzales responded by raising a handmade flag with the words “Come and take it.” UTSA stopped displaying “Come and take it” flag at football games and now faces criticism from its Board of Regents The Come and Take It flag and motto are part of the University of Texas at San Antonio's Athletics program. Sign up for The Brief, our daily newsletter that keeps readers up to speed on the most essential Texas news. The University of Texas at San Antonio is taking heat from the UT System’s board of regents for its recent decision to stop displaying the famous “Come and take it” flag at football games after some in the university community argued the slogan has a racist history. Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife said in a statement last week that he was disappointed by UTSA President Taylor Eighmy’s decision to end the six-year-old tradition, which included unfurling an enormous flag with the slogan across the student section during the fourth quarter of the game and firing a cannon. “The Board of Regents does not support abandoning traditions and history that mean much to students, alumni, and other Texans,” Eltife said. “I am very disappointed with this decision and will immediately ask our Board to establish policies that ensure that the governing body of the UT System will have the opportunity in the future to be consulted before important university traditions and observances are changed." Eltife and a system spokesperson did not provide additional details as to what policies he’s seeking. UTSA started displaying the flag in 2011, the school’s first football season, and it became an official tradition in 2016 to inspire fans and challenge opponents on the field. The origins of the flag, which includes the slogan and an image of a cannon under a star, stem from the Battle of Gonzales during the Texas Revolution in 1835. As the story goes, Mexican authorities loaned a small cannon to the town of Gonzales for protection from Native American tribes. When the Mexican troops asked for the return of the cannon, the people of Gonzales responded by raising a handmade flag with the words “Come and take it.” The flag has long been a symbol of Texas’ pride and has commonly been adopted by groups sending a message of defiance or protesting government overreach, such as Second Amendment supporters and abortion rights advocates. Opponents of the tradition at UTSA raised concerns that versions of the motto were superimposed onto Confederate flags and flown at the January 6th insurrection, and had been co-opted by groups that expressed anti-Mexican and anti-immigrant sentiments. “I am very disappointed with this decision and will immediately ask our Board to establish policies that ensure that the governing body of the UT System will have the opportunity in the future to be consulted before important university traditions and observances are changed," said Regents Chairman Kevin Eltife.
Lewisville ISD names new athletic director
Lewisville ISD is promoting from within for its next athletic director. The district has announced that Cristie Liles, currently its associate athletic director, will take over from Tim Ford in January. Ms. Liles moved into an administrative role with LISD in 2012, assisting with the day-to-day responsibilities of the athletic department. Prior, she spent 10 years coaching at Marcus as the high school's head volleyball coach from 2002-12. Ms. Liles amassed over 250 wins, leading the Lady Marauders to five district championships and three appearances in the regional finals.