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EduLege Tracker 3-26-18

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EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 17
March 26, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association

From Philadelphia to Pflugerville…

In a historic groundswell of youth activism, hundreds of thousands of teenagers, their parents and supporters rallied across the United States over the weekend, protesting gun violence and vowing to transform fear and grief into a “vote-them-out” movement for tougher laws against weapons—especially assault rifles.

Billed as the “March For Our Lives,” young people took to the streets of the nation’s capital and in such cities as Boston and Austin, San Francisco and San Antonio Minneapolis and the Metroplex.

In Texas, rallies were also held in such communities as Abilene, Corpus Christi, Killeen, McKinney, Pflugerville, Round Rock and Victoria.

They protested in the nation’s streets in numbers that have not been seen since the Vietnam War era—called to action by the school shooting in Parkland, Fla. on Feb. 14 that left 17 people dead.

Many carried signs voicing opposition to the National Rifle Association, while others implored replacing lawmakers who have opposed gun control proposals.  Volunteers worked to register young voters.

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Students at the Texas Capitol

The main march in Washington DC, was a heady mix of political activism, famous entertainers, and the undisguised emotion of teenagers confronting the loss of friends and loved ones in a national spotlight.

Sam Fuentes, a senior who was shot in the leg during the Florida shooting, threw up on stage while delivering her speech to a national television audience.  She recovered and led the crowd in a rendition of “Happy Birthday” for a slain classmate who would have turned 18 on the day of the march.

Down in Austin, an estimated 20,000 protesters gather at City Hall and marched to the State Capitol.

Jack Haimowitz, another student who survived the Florida massacre, was among the first to take the lectern on the Texas Capitol steps, his hair died a bright blonde to honor a friend he lost in the shooting.

“On February 14 I was shown the darkness with which our world has been permeated and tainted by,” he said.  “Now I am seeing the light that will shine down on our future generations.”

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Student marchers in Abilene, (L), and in Killeen(R)

In Houston, organizers estimated that a crowd of between 10,000 to 20,000 assembled in Tranquility Park and marched toward U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s office.

“Today, I hope our voices are heard, because we are the ones that go to school,” said Azariah Haro, a high school junior from Cypress-Fairbanks, who traveled to the protest with three friends. “I really hope we’re able to make a change.”

More than 1,000 people marched through downtown San Antonio to the Alamo, and SA Police Chief William McManus shook hands with many of those who approached him.

“The crowd is fantastic—99 to 100 percent of them are here for one particular reason, and that’s to keep our kids safe and to reduce violence,” Chief McManus said.

There were also “March For Our Lives” protests in the downtown streets of Dallas and Fort Worth—where Grandmothers Against Violence carried banners that read, "We Have Your Back”—and in El Paso.

An event at DeLeon Plaza in downtown Victoria was organized by Anna Sciba, a 17-year old high school senior, and drew a crowd of about 70 people.

A chalk outline of small bodies with the names and ages of victims of school shootings were drawn on the sidewalk throughout the downtown park.

Yet, as they marched, the students faced criticism for using their First Amendment rights to bring new safeguards to the Second Amendment.

One such attack came from Colion Noir, a host on NRA-TV, who took to the airwaves on the eve of the marches, telling the students from Parkland, Florida, that, “No one would know your names” if a student gunman hadn’t stormed into their school and killed three staff members and 14 students.

More rain…

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar is proposing to restructure the state’s so-called Rainy Day Fund, which Republican legislators have been loath to touch in recent years.

At $11 billion, the Economic Stabilization Fund, which is the formal name for the Rainy Day Fund, is the largest state savings account of its kind in the country, funded largely by oil and gas revenue. Comptroller Hegar, the state’s chief financial officer, says that he wants legislative authority to restructure the fund to generate more revenue.

The Comptroller would like to split the fund into two tiers. The first tier would be a low-risk, low-return savings account that is equal to eight percent of the state budget. Anything above that amount would be deposited into the second tier, a more aggressive fund that functions less like a savings account that state legislator could use in a financial squeeze.

But unless changes are made, Comptroller Hegar warns that the state’s credit rating could be affected.

The credit ratings of seven states have been downgraded in recent years over their pension liabilities. In a December report, the investment ratings firm Moody’s said Texas’ public pension liabilities, coupled with the financial pressures of health care, education and transportation, could place the state’s rating at risk.

Last year, the Texas House and Senate disagreed on a proposal to withdraw $2.5 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to pay for the state’s border security initiative, help cover a shortfall in the retired teacher health care program and improve state assisted-living facilities and state hospitals, among other programs. The House voted in favor of using the fund, but the State Senate rejected the idea.

As a result, legislators left Austin without touching the fund.

Tackling a difficult issue…

The University Interscholastic League, in conjunction with the Texas High School Coaches Association, will require that high school and middle school football coaches across the state receive training in football tackling techniques beginning with the 2018-2019 school year.

The initiative makes the UIL the first such organization in the United States to mandate a tackling certification program on a statewide level.  

The training will be administered by Atavus Sports, a Seattle-based company that focuses on tackling techniques and tackle data analysis, with the goal of making the sport safer.

“The game is changing, and we have to be willing to change with it," THSCA Executive Director D.W. Rutledge said. “Preventing injuries is paramount for all coaches and players, and we felt that as an organization it was our duty to seek out the best possible solutions to keeping our players safe.”

Coaches can complete their tackling certification by receiving on-site training at the annual THSCA convention scheduled for July 22-24 in San Antonio. An online version of the course also will be available beginning April 1, 2019.

What’s next: suing to prevent banjo lessons?

A divorced Pennsylvania father has gone to court to prevent the youngest of his three sons from playing high school football, because, he says scientific studies have revealed the perils of repeated blows to the head—especially for an athlete, like his son, who has a history of concussions.

The boy’s mother believes he should be allowed to continue playing the sport, because he understands the risks.

In the decade since scientists began to link football to long-term brain damage, the debate over the future of the sport has moved from locker rooms to research laboratories to the halls of Congress.

And now parents’ concerns are surfacing in legal battles between divorced couples, leading to an increase in fights over whether to amend custody orders to prevent their children from playing the game.

It is impossible to say precisely how many disputes over football are occurring in family courts. But Joe Cordell, the founder of Cordell & Cordell, which specializes in divorce law, says that about one-third of the 270 lawyers at his firm have seen an increase in custody battles over whether a child should be allowed to play football.

Most of the disputes over football are occurring in states where football remains very popular, like Texas, Oklahoma and Ohio, according to Mr. Cordell.

In states where football appears to be on the wane, including those in the Northeast, disputes are less common, because both parents have already decided that the game is too dangerous for their child to play.

One more time…

The Marlin school district will remain open for at least another year.

The announcement came about a month after the Texas Education Agency revoked the district’s accreditation and threatened to shut-down Marlin schools at the end of this academic year.

Despite making some significant academic gains, Marlin still failed to pass state accountability standards last year. It has not met those standards for six consecutive years, and has been fighting closure for the last few.

But superintendent Michael Seabolt, who’s been with the district for only three years, says TEA recognizes that Marlin has finally begun to turn things around.

“We’re finally to a point this year where we have quality instruction across every grade level,” Superintendent Seabolt said.

Battling an extraordinarily-high teacher turnover rate, Marlin school trustees last year increased the starting salary by $15,000-a-year, hoping to build an experienced staff.

Nobody’s immune…

Edgewood superintendent Emilio Castro has resigned following a month-long investigation into a harassment complaint made against him.

Superintendent Castro's resignation comes roughly one month after a female employee filed complaints with the district and the San Antonio Police Department.

The woman said Mr. Castro placed his hand on her shin and applied a "a small amount of pressure," before running his hand down her leg, making her uncomfortable, according to a police report.

The woman also told police that there were several other incidents in which Mr. Castro made her feel uncomfortable.

She said Mr. Castro shook her hand once and wouldn't let go and that he once placed his hands on her shoulder and wouldn't remove them when she tried to shake him off, she told the police. The report also says the woman alleged that Mr. Castro ran his hand across her lower back.

* * *

Katy superintendent Lance Hindt is vigorously denying an alleged bullying incident that the victim says occurred more than 30 years ago.

Greg Barrett, a Katy-area businessman, recently told a public forum of the Katy school board that Mr. Hindt had bullied him as a boy in a middle school restroom.

Mr. Barrett, who now uses his mother's maiden name, said he was taunted because of his legal last name—Gay—and that Mr. Hindt had shoved his head into a boys' urinal.

Superintendent Hindt seemed to laugh as the man lodged his complaint at the sparsely attended meeting, but did not respond. The following day, Superintendent Hindt issued a statement saying he didn't remember his middle school classmate, and that the allegation "simply isn't true."

But the incident, which has gone viral on social media, has raised questions about Superintendent Hindt's initial reaction, the lingering effects of teenage bullying and what is the statute of limitations for teenage misbehavior.

Exploiter-in-Chief…

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton is coming under criticism, both for trying to suppress school district efforts to increase voter participation, and now for spreading incorrect information to the conservative news media about the series of recent bombings in Austin.

The Republican attorney general—a darling of the conservative Tea Party movement—has been sending so-called cease-and-desist letters to several Texas school districts, alleging “electioneering” on their part.

But Ross Ramsey, the Executive Editor of the Texas Tribune, says encouraging students and school employees to vote is hardly illegal:

“It’s perfectly legal for schools to register their 18-year-old students to vote and even to take those new voters to the polls—as long as they don’t tell them how to vote when they get there.

“It’s even legal for a school district to do that get-out-the-vote business with teachers and school board members and other education officials who have—on their own time, with their own resources—expressed opinions about what they hope voters will do.

“This isn’t nearly as tricky or as risky as it sounds.

“It’s a simple rule every reasonably paranoid politician in Texas should follow. If it’s politics, use your own money, your own equipment and do your work on your own time and not in government buildings.”

Meanwhile, Attorney General Paxton is also being accused of spreading false information about the recent series of package bombs that had Austin on edge last week.

R.G. Ratcliffe, the political editor of Texas Monthly, says the attorney general ignored the details that law enforcement agencies were releasing about the bomb explosions, so he could go on cable television and pander to his conservative political base:

“Texas’s exploiter in chief—Attorney General Ken Paxton—stepped forward to step in it again as a politician willing to turn any tragedy to his personal advantage by grabbing some television time, especially on Fox News. Paxton not only got it wrong on national television, but he used incorrect information to spread fear to people in Austin.”

Both articles are well worth reading, and you should do so.


EduLege is provided by the Texas School Public Relations Association as a service to its members.

Long-time TSPRA member Andy Welch, the retired Communication Director for the Austin School District, compiles and writes EduLege.  Questions or comments may be directed to him at andywelch1@gmail.com.

For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.