EduLege Update Volume VI, Number 25
April 23, 2018
By Andy Welch
A Service of the Texas School Public Relations Association
An 11-year-old El Paso-area student died last Friday after he was struck by a pickup truck while his schoolmates were participating in the nationwide walkout to protest gun violence.
The boy, Jonathan Benko, and a group of about 12 to 15 other students from Parkland Middle School in Ysleta, decided not to participate in the walkout and instead left the campus to visit a nearby park across a busy highway.
The sixth grader was the last student to try to cross the roadway, but was struck by a truck. He was transported to the University Medical Center of El Paso, where he died.
On social media, some blamed the nationwide walkout for Jonathan’s death, and called for school districts to stop endorsing the protests. But Ysleta superintendent Xavier De La Torre said the students who left the campus were an “isolated group.”
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Fueled by the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, thousands of students in Texas and across the country walked out of their classes on Friday to protest gun violence in America.
It marked the third nationally coordinated gun control protest in the last three months—each led by students, some of whom have had to participate in school lockdown drills since they were in kindergarten.
In the Austin-Round Rock area, students from McCallum High School, McNeil High School and Austin High School all participated in walkouts. Students from Stony Point High School marched to Republican Congressman John Carter’s district office to deliver a petition calling for gun reforms.
Students in Dallas, Arlington, Frisco and San Antonio also participated in what was billed as National School Walkout Day.
At Heritage High School in Frisco, students learned a lesson about Texas gun laws during their walkout.
Several men were spotted carrying long rifles slung across their shoulders just off campus. Student organizers said in a tweet that the men were protesting the walkout.
“We didn't know people could just legally carry AR-15s in the street,” said junior Kundai Nyamandi. “That was really jarring for most of us.”
At Texas City High School, students set up 17 empty desks on the football field to honor the 17 victims of the Florida shooting.
Out in far West Texas, Alpine superintendent Becky Watley warned that students who missed class without permission would be disciplined.
“Any student who violates the Student Code of Conduct, including by leaving class or campus during the school day or by disrupting school activities, will be disciplined in accordance with the standards of behavior in the (student) handbook," Superintendent Watley said.
In Waco, Midway High School students did not participate in last week’s walkout, due to a previous agreement between students and the school board. Instead, the students used the day to launch an anti-bullying campaign and released a school safety plan.
State Representative Briscoe Cain, R-Deer Park, who chairs the ultra-conservative Texas Freedom Caucus, says school districts should be financially penalized if students were allowed to walk out last week without facing any consequences.
Representative Cain says that he plans to draft a bill for the 2019 Legislature to consider to “recoup tax dollars from any public school who gave students a free pass to walk-out in protest of the Second Amendment.”
Incidentally, Representative Cain was named one of “The Worst Legislators of 2017” by Texas Monthly magazine, which wrote, “We tried really hard to give Briscoe Cain a pass. But he left us little choice,” and described him as “uninformed and belligerent.”
For them, it’s personal…
The parents of the students who were killed in the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, have filed a lawsuit in Austin against combative talk show host Alex Jones and his conspiracy theory-prone program Info Wars, for suggesting that the death of their children was a “hoax.”
Legal experts say the lawsuit could set the stage for what may be a landmark trial on where to draw the line between free speech and libel in the era of fake news. University of Texas law professor David Anderson said that because the plaintiffs are private citizens, and not public figures, “I would think that these people have a pretty good case.”
Bill Ogden, one of the Houston attorneys who filed two lawsuits on behalf of the Sandy Hook parents, said, “There’s not a financial interest in filing these lawsuits. It’s personal.”
“We have filed for in excess of $1 million in damages, but we’re going to let the great citizens of Travis County, Texas, decide the actual number to show the consequences of Mr. Jones’ actions,” attorney Ogden said of the lawsuits filed on behalf of Sandy Hook parents Neil Heslin, Leonard Pozner and Veronique De La Rosa.
In a segment on his show called “Sandy Hook Vampires Exposed,” which aired on April 22, 2017, Mr. Jones highlighted an interview that Ms. De La Rosa conducted with Anderson Cooper of CNN after the shooting. While they are standing outside a downtown Newtown building, Mr. Cooper turns his head to face Ms. De La Rosa.
During that quick head movement, Mr. Cooper’s nose seems to disappear—evidence, Mr. Jones alleges, that the interview with Ms. De La Rosa was conducted in a studio. In reality, the glitch is known as a “compression artifact,” a distortion that is common in digital video encoding.
Full disclosure: Mr. Jones began his broadcast career on local cable access television in Austin, where this correspondent—then serving as the communication director for the Austin school district—often had to deal with his belligerency.
After threatening to publicly shame any Texas school districts that are behind on implementing school safety strategies, Governor Greg Abbott now says, in effect: “Never mind.”
The governor says all Texas schools and junior colleges are in compliance with the state law which says they have up-to-date safety and disaster plans in place.
Following the February shootings in Florida, the governor had threatened to publicly shame any school districts that were not up-to-date on their safety plans.
Gambling for education…
Declaring a dire “education emergency” exists, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew White wants to expand casino gambling and horse race betting in Texas to help fund public schools.
Mr. White, the son of late Democratic governor Mark White, says that he would expand gambling in the state so that the extra money can go toward public schools and scholarships for high school students. That would generate an estimated $3 billion of new revenue, he projects.
“Texans are driving hours out of state to gamble in Louisiana and invest in Louisiana schools, and Oklahoma's health care, and New Mexico's highways,” Mr. White said. “Let's keep that money in Texas and invest in our own schools.”
According to Mr. White's plan, if public high school students graduate with at least a 3.0 grade point average, they would receive $5,000 to attend to any Texas university. And if they study to become teachers, the scholarship would be doubled to $10,000.
Mr. White faces former Dallas County sheriff Lupe Valdez in a May 22 Democratic runoff election to see who will face Governor Abbott in November.
Misappropriation, misconduct, and cronyism…
The Greenville school district may become the focus of a criminal investigation after an external forensic audit found evidence of financial fraud, theft and misconduct.
Addison-based CA Forensics, which conducted the audit, said that its investigators “found sufficient evidence to conclude that former GISD officials engaged in cronyism, misappropriation of payroll assets, misconduct to include mismanagement and abuse of position and theft by gift of taxpayer monies.”
“We realize that our financial house has to get in order,” said Superintendent Demetrus Liggins, who joined the Greenville school district one year ago.
For now, the forensic audit remains under wraps, but Superintendent Liggins plans to share the full report with the Hunt County District Attorney.
“We will be discussing some of the findings in the audit and then it will be up to him to move forward, as he sees fit,” Superintendent Liggins said.
With 6,000 students, the Greenville school district has an annual budget of approximately $48 million. It incurred a $6.4 million shortfall this fiscal year, and has a projected deficit approaching $3 million for next year.
The Katy school district’s embattled superintendent says that he would like to have a one-on-one meeting with the man who has accused him of being his tormentor decades ago, while both were junior high students.
“I just hope at some point we can sit down—and not in a big, public forum,” Katy Superintendent Lance Hindt says.
About 150 people gathered outside Katy school headquarters prior to a meeting last week, in a show of support for Superintendent Hindt, who has denied attacking—or even remembering—his former classmate, Greg Gay, in a boy’s bathroom at a Katy junior high school more than 35 years ago.
Superintendent Hindt has acknowledged that when he was “young and dumb (he) did dumb things.”
Another former student has come forward to back up Mr. Gay’s account of the events in the boy’s bathroom.
Superintendent Hindt said he would like to speak with Mr. Gay, and “piece together a timeline” of what actually happened that day.
Mr. Gay, who is now a Katy-area businessman, accused Superintendent Hindt of the bullying incident during a March meeting of the Katy school board. The Superintendent subsequently became the focus of criticism when video surfaced, showing him appearing to smile and laugh at Mr. Gay’s accusation.
Superintendent Hindt has insisted that his initial reaction to Mr. Gay’s comments was one of shock, not insensitivity or disrespect.
If the technology’s available, use it…
The University Interscholastic League will utilize instant replay in all of the State Championship Football games in December.
However, UIL’s implementation of instant replay has drawn concern from some coaches because it departs from officiating protocol for the rest of the season.
Replay will not be permitted during regular season games, or during playoff games prior to the State Championship.
“I don’t necessarily like it,” said Cedar Park’s Carl Abseck, who has coached in three state championship games, either as a head coach or an assistant. “It seems kind of silly to do something all season and then change it up for the title game.”
According to UIL Executive Director Charles Breithaupt, having each title game in the same stadium—scheduled this year for AT&T Stadium in Dallas—played a major role in adapting the new policy.
“With all UIL state championship football games at a single location, we have the technology and ability to utilize these powerful tools to make the state championships the best possible experience for coaches, players, officials and fans,” Mr. Breithaupt said. “Instant replay will help ensure that the calls during the biggest games of the year are as correct as possible.”
The UIL will use the NCAA rules for instant replay with two exceptions: There will be no coaches’ challenges, and all reviews will be initiated by the replay officials. All reviews will take place in a replay booth, with a collegiate replay official reviewing plays.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more updates on education news from throughout the state, visit the TSPRA website.