Austin educators ask TEA to renew ‘hold harmless’ protections
Officials from Austin ISD, teacher’s union Education Austin, the Austin Association of Public School Administrators, and the Austin Council of PTAs, have signed a letter to the Texas Education Agency advocating for the continuation of “hold harmless” protections. This would allow districts to be funded for the first half of the 2020-21 school year based on the previous year’s enrollment as opposed to current attendance numbers. Read more
Education Austin files grievance over Austin ISD employees denied medical accommodations
TSTA’s local affiliate Education Austin has filed a grievance on behalf of 127 educators who were denied medical accommodations to teach remotely during the spring semester to protect themselves, students and family members from COVID-19. Austin ISD has denied more than 1,000 accommodation requests from teachers and other employees, including many who had been granted accommodations for the fall semester.
The district said it is expecting more students to return to campuses for in-person instruction in the spring despite the fact that the COVID pandemic is surging in Texas. Under current state policy, which TSTA is working to change, districts lose funding if they don’t offer in-person instruction to students who request it.
“We firmly believe that the accommodations need to continue,” Education Austin President Ken Zarifis said. “COVID is worsening. Why would you lighten it up? Why would you lessen the accommodations?” Read more.
Texas still blocked from taking over Houston’s school district, appeals court rules
In a 2-1 ruling, the Texas Third Court of Appeals upheld a temporary injunction that stops the Texas Education Agency from replacing the elected school board of its largest district with an appointed board of managers. The appeals court ruling sends the case back to the lower court that in January blocked the state’s takeover effort. TEA did not follow proper procedure and acted outside its authority as it moved to sanction the district. It also ordered the state to pay all costs related to this appeal.
The TEA plans to appeal the ruling to the Texas Supreme Court. Read more
Dallas ISD heading towards hybrid plan for high schools
All Dallas ISD high schools are likely to move to a hybrid form of class when in-person instruction begins October 5, after an overwhelming 82 percent of parents responded to a district survey indicating that they would prefer their kids to return to in-person learning. DISD Chief of Schools Jolee Healy explains: “The hybrid model we are using at most schools would have half of the students on Monday and Tuesday, a flex day on Wednesday, and then the other half of the students on Thursday and Friday.” District leaders say the plan is to use the hybrid model for nine weeks and then reevaluate. Read more
San Antonio districts publishing COVID-19 numbers against Metro Health guidelines
Some San Antonio’s school districts have broken with the health authority on its guidance to publicly report the total number of COVID-19 positive cases and absentee rates related to coronavirus on their websites. While Metro Health guidance issued August 7 asks districts to report certain public health data and outcomes, including the number of COVID-19-positive staff and students, weekly, North East ISD is one school systems which does not plan on posting the information. San Antonio ISD and Judson ISD too do not plan to post such numbers to their websites. While Alamo Heights, East Central, Edgewood, and Southwest ISDs plan to post this information online, and Harlandale ISD is already posting such a report online, Northside, South San Antonio and Somerset ISDs have not yet decided on a policy about publicly posting data on the collective coronavirus case totals. Read more
Harlandale educators rally for remote learning, no STAAR
Harlandale ISD educators staged a socially distant motorcade parade to advocate for greater latitude for school districts to set their own back-to-school dates based on the effects of COVID-19 in their areas, full funding of schools regardless of enrollment losses because of the pandemic, and a moratorium on STAAR testing.
“No to STAAR, 100 percent virtual and governor, our school districts need to have 100 percent funding from you,” association president Julie Gimbel said before the motorcade of about 50 vehicles left a parking lot at Harlandale Memorial Stadium. Read more
Austin ISD planning blended teaching approach
Austin ISD is working toward a blended approach for classes for the 2020-21 school year to better enable the switch from in-person learning to virtual learning when needed. A new calendar will also include intersectional breaks throughout the year, as recommended by the Texas Education Agency. While the district typically follows a 22-to-1 student to teacher ratio within a classroom, they will be limited to 6-8 students each due to social distancing requirements and available space next year. Read more
District deploys Wi-Fi buses for students
Austin ISD is deploying 110 Wi-Fi equipped buses to neighborhoods and apartments identified as having the highest needs to help students access the internet to complete online classes. Students, who must be within 300 feet of the buses for access, will be able to access the internet on their school computers on weekdays between 8 am and 2 pm. Read more
San Antonio officials concerned about state funding
The widespread closures and unemployment claims resulting from coronavirus are putting the state’s finances under pressure, with the future sustainability of pay raises for teachers and additional funding allocated for every student in Texas included in a 2019 school finance package now under threat. School district leaders in San Antonio are now starting to seek alternative revenue to cover the unexpected costs associated with a large-scale move to remote learning. Read more
Fort Worth ISD moves to pass/fail grading for remainder of the year
Teachers will monitor student progress and will assign a P for passing or F for failing for each of the final two grading periods. This method will be used for all students in grades 1 – 12 and for all courses. Students will continue to receive assignments to complete; the district recommends one assignment per class per week. Read more
Southside ISD board announces decision on bond election and superintendent search
Southside ISD ’s board has decided that an election on a bond to build two new schools will not take place until November, while Rolando Ramirez, superintendent of Valley View ISD in Hidalgo County Monday was named lone finalist for the position of superintendent. Outgoing Superintendent Mark Eads had announced earlier that he would retire this summer after over three years in the role. Read more
Houston ISD abruptly halts food distribution program after suspected COVID case
Food distribution at Houston ISD campuses has been suspended indefinitely after it was found that an individual now under self-quarantine had attended a distribution location. All volunteers and staff have now been asked to self-quarantine for 14 days. Read more
Austin-area districts prepare to close for remainder of school year amid coronavirus pandemic
A handful of Austin-area school districts have announced they are extending closures until mid-April or later, but behind the scenes, many are preparing to be out the remainder of the school year amid the spread of the coronavirus. While no decisions have been made, district leaders recognize the cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, are rising daily. Read more
San Antonio-area school districts tackle employee pay issues amid coronavirus closures
Local school district boards met last week to ensure that paychecks will keep arriving for teachers and other employees, including hourly workers and support personnel such as bus drivers, as campuses stay closed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Even before the closures, as districts were extending their Spring Breaks, employees and state and local unions asked if staff would have to use personal days off if unable to physically go to work. Read more
Austin ISD releases “frequently asked questions” document on coronavirus
AISD has published a document outlying how parents receive learning standards, and resources after spring break or once school starts on April 6 along with additional resources for teachers and staff to engage with students in this new mode. Read more
Austin ISD to distribute meals during school cancellations
Austin ISD Food Services will prepare and distribute meals for children under the age of 19 at 14 sites while school is closed due to COVID-19 precautions. AISD is working in collaboration with the Texas Department of Agriculture. Curbside lunch meals will be provided for each child in the car. Read more
Former district leaders pushing charters
Several former leaders of South San Antonio ISD have joined charter school start-ups that want to open campuses in the district. Former trustees Angelina Osteguin, Edward Mungia and Elda Flores now are on the board of the 7Cs Academy, which wants to open in the 78227 ZIP code and recruit elementary-aged students from Edgewood, Southside and South San ISDs, while former superintendent Abelardo Saavedra is on the board of Royal Public Schools, which hopes to open four campuses targeting families in Southside, Harlandale and South San ISDs. Read more
FBI and IRS search Houston ISD offices, administrator’s home
FBI and IRS agents spent more than three hours at Houston ISD’s administration building conducting an investigation on February 27, 2020. At least a dozen federal agents made their way in and out of HISD’s Hattie Mae White building, at one point carrying several boxes and containers to vehicles parked nearby. The bureau called the search a “court authorized law enforcement activity,” but did not elaborate. It did, however, assure the public there is no danger to HISD students, staff or the greater Houston community. Read more
Austin schools chief to step down
Austin ISD Superintendent Paul Cruz is leaving his post for a teaching position with the University of Texas’s Cooperative Superintendency Program. Cruz, the first Latino to be named Austin superintendent on a permanent basis, served in various roles during his 14 years at the district, including as chief schools officer, overseeing educational support services, high school redesign and the academic management of schools. He also worked as the district’s associate superintendent of middle schools and is a previous deputy commissioner with the Texas Education Agency. Read more
Dallas ISD to get funding to increase teacher stipends
Dallas ISD is now in the final stages of qualifying for the Teacher Incentive Allotment cash, which was made available through Texas’ House Bill 3 to encourage school districts to provide differentiated pay for high-performing teachers in high-poverty and rural areas of Texas. As one of the few school districts poised to receive funding next year because of its existing teacher merit pay and evaluation system, DISD expects around $28m from the allotment for 2020-21. Read more
Pflugerville ISD moves forward with public comment policy
The Pflugerville ISD board is standing firm on a controversial public comment policy that some teachers fear could limit citizen participation at board meetings. The board‘s public policy committee recommended last week to leave a new public comment rule — which only allows citizens to comment on agenda items during regular board meetings — unchanged. Read more
Pflugerville Educators Association scores a big victory for ESPs, but more work ahead
After a year of hard work, members of the Pflugerville Educators Association won an impressive victory. The Pflugerville school board approved an across-the-board, 5 percent pay increase for the district’s ESPs. Read more
TEA again revokes Marlin ISD’s accreditation
Closure looms over Marlin ISD for the fifth consecutive school year after Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath revoked the district’s accreditation for this school year. A letter from Morath says the district failed state academic accountability ratings based on last school year’s state standardized exam scores for the eighth consecutive year. The district has faced the same possibility the past four school years and has continued operating under abatement agreements with the TEA since 2015. Read more
Some Edgewood teachers to reapply for positions
As the district implements a new educational model, officials at Edgewood ISD have this week told teachers and administrators at two schools that they will need to reapply for their jobs. After the State graded 10 of EISD’s 20 campuses as failing in 2019, Superintendent Eduardo Hernández decided to take a drastic step to change course. The district can choose not to renew the teacher’s contract or lay him or her off. Read more
Dallas ISD approves budget plan for tornado-damaged schools
Dallas ISD trustees approved plans to renovate three campuses that were severely damaged in the October tornado outbreak. Trustees passed a plan to consolidate Walnut Hill Elementary and Cary Middle School with a new pre-K through 8th-grade facility at the Cary Middle School site. Thomas Jefferson High School will be renovated with additions, with a total cost not to exceed $82,100,000. The three campuses have been unusable since the October 20th twister tore through North Dallas. Read more
Austin ISD considers opening a school for young adults with autism
A local nonprofit wants to start a school in Austin that serves young adults with neurological conditions like autism. The school would help students older than 18 who have autism or other conditions learn important life and workplace skills. Students would attend the school after completing high school graduation requirements. Read more
TEA appeals injunction blocking it from taking over Houston ISD board
The Texas Education Agency has filed an appeal to overturn an injunction by a Travis County judge blocking it from replacing Houston ISD’s trustees with a state-appointed board of managers. If the injunction is upheld, the TEA would not be able to move forward until a lawsuit by the Houston ISD board of trustees has been decided. Hearing is set for June 22. TEA officials had hoped to replace HISD’s board by this spring. Read more
Marlin to consider charter status if state closes district
The Marlin City Council will this evening consider hiring a consultant to study the possibility of applying for a city-operated charter school in case the embattled Marlin ISD is closed. The district has not met state academic standards based on standardized exam scores since 2010, longer than any other Texas school district. Read more
BISD changes public comment rules
In response to the updated local policy outlined by the Texas Association of School Boards, Beaumont ISD has agreed to begin each meeting by hearing from members of the public who wish to speak. The only limitation on public comments under the new policy are “complaints, including matters involving district personnel.” Read more
AISD urged to reconsider school closures
Austin ISD trustees have been urged to reconsider their November 18 vote to close four elementary schools by the Save Austin Schools coalition. The schools included Sims, Pease, Metz and Brooke elementary schools. The coalition said Monday the trustees did not have time to read AISD’s Chief Equity Officer Stephanie Hawley’s report, which argued the decision to close four elementary schools would gravely affect under-served communities and continue racial and economic segregation. Read more
HISD urge judge to halt state takeover
Lawyers for Houston ISD have urged a federal judge to stop Texas education officials from replacing the district’s elected board until he rules on the merits of their lawsuit challenging the action. Houston ISD lawyers told U.S. District Judge Lee Yeakel that Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath exceeded his authority at nearly every step as he moved to appoint a board of managers to lead Houston ISD, a decision they said would disenfranchise voters of color. They said that if Morath seats a board of managers before Yeakel rules, the new board would be able to yank down the lawsuit, making a preliminary injunction against the takeover urgent and necessary. Read more
Pay increase for Dallas ISD substitute teachers
Per diem rates for substitute teachers throughout the Dallas ISD are to be increased in order for the district to “stay competitive in the market and provide the support needed for students and campuses.” The district said the cost would be met primarily by using the “cost savings of the decreased fill rate for the first part of the 2019-2020 school year in the existing substitute budget allocations,” with a new per diem rate for special education specialized unit substitute teachers and a special per diem for retired Dallas ISD teachers also agreed. Read more
Former school leader in San Antonio investigated over reporting dispute
TEA released a statement on November 21 revealing that it is reviewing a December 2017 incident at North East ISD, and whether former Superintendent Brian Gottardy’s failure to report it violated a requirement to let the state know about educator misconduct. The probe stems from an altercation between an assistant principal and a student, who shoved each other in the school cafeteria. Read more
Parents upset over Austin school closures
Parents are vowing to oppose future Austin ISD bond elections after school board members approved a plan to close four elementary schools and consolidate students at other campuses next year. The closures disproportionately affect Latino and black students, with all but one school located in East Austin. Counselors have been dispatched to the four schools to help families process the closures. Brooke , Metz, Sims, and Pease are the schools that will be closed. Read more
SAT scores for Austin ISD students exceed state, national averages
On Tuesday, Austin ISD released its annual SAT and ACT exam results and for the SAT, the district exceeded state and national averages. The average score in the district was 1109 on a 1600 scale. The national average was 1022. Read more
Austin to vote on school closures
Austin ISD is considering closing 12 schools, though the focus right now is on just four. The school board is scheduled to vote on a proposal to close Sims, Metz and Pease elementary schools next school year. The proposal also recommends looking further into the possibility of closing Brooke Elementary. Read more
Southside ISD to accept foreign-issued ID cards
Southside ISD is now accepting foreign government-issued ID cards after it was criticized for keeping parents out of their children’s schools because they didn’t have a state ID. Attorneys with the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund warned Superintendent Mark Eads in a letter last week that treating parents differently based on identification documents could be unconstitutional.
Houston ISD school board could be replaced
Houston ISD ’s school board’s alleged “demonstrated inability to appropriately govern” could result in its being taken over by the state, after a recommendation by the Texas Education Agency. TEA said school board members had discussed district business without notifying the public, attempted to influence the awarding of contracts, and taken action on district issues without appropriate consultation, thereby violating state open meetings law. Read more
Austin approves new sex-ed curriculum
The Austin ISD board has unanimously approved a new Human Sexuality and Responsibility curriculum which, for the first time, will teach elementary students about sexual orientation, gender identity and sexually transmitted diseases. Under the new curriculum, educators will also teach lessons on healthy relationships, puberty, pregnancy and reproduction. Parents may opt their children out of one, multiple or all the lessons. Read more
Southside ISD Changes Its School Visitor Policy
The Southside Independent School District will no longer require a state-issued ID to gain full access to its campuses. School visitors can show any form of government-issued photo ID to gain entry to Southside campuses.
The district says they’re following state law by requiring a Texas form of ID before allowing entry inside schools. However, the Texas Education Code doesn’t require state-issued IDs. Read more
Waco ISD superintendent demotes administrators
Waco ISD Superintendent Susan Kincannon has demoted five administrators, replacing three of them with appointments from outside of the district. Ms Kincannon also promoted district spokesman Kyle DeBeer to the newly-created position of chief of staff, effectively putting him second-in-command of the district. Waco board secretary Norman Manning said that board members should have been informed of the reshuffle ahead of a meeting on Thursday; in response, Ms Kincannon said it had been important for her to move quickly, because of the multiple campuses that received an F accountability rating from the state this year. Read more
Two Dallas schools likely completely destroyed after storms
Several Dallas schools will be closed until at least Wednesday, October 23 and some will be closed indefinitely after three tornadoes touched down Sunday night in North Texas. Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa said in a press conference Monday that Walnut Hill Elementary School will likely be a total loss. Read more
Longview holds meetings on charter plans
Concerns remain about plans to convert the rest of Longview ISD’s campuses to a private charter school system, as a series of town hall meetings are held to address the issue. Unlike many districts across the state Longview is not partnering with a charter school, instead partnering with a private nonprofit organization, with officials saying the process enables them to fund innovative programs and receive state funding. Read more
Austin board meeting turns sour
Ken Zarifis, president of the Education Austin teacher union, has called for a series of roundtable discussions with Austin ISD police after officers searched his cellphone for a video recording of the last school board meeting. The meeting heard input on the district’s proposed changes to its sex education curriculum, until local activist Naomi Wilson – who complained that the lives of LGBTQ individuals are in danger from hateful speech – was escorted out of the room by police, and another woman, Sharon Armke, claimed she was assaulted in the melee. Zarifis said police were not respectful in the way they treated attendees.
Zarifis said the goal of the discussions would be to improve the way district police engage with community members. He also demanded the police department receive cultural proficiency and inclusiveness training and read books about the criminal justice system.
Teachers to get raises under new state budget plan
As Texan school districts receive new state funding for teacher raises, teachers are set to see significant pay increases. The passing of House Bill 3 into law earlier this month will see Texas’ public school system benefit from more than $11.5bn in additional funding, particularly aimed at providing teacher raises to attract and retain educators.
In Humble ISD, teachers, librarians nurses and counsellors will see at least a $4,000 raise in the fall, while Spring Branch ISD teachers will receive a 6-9% raise, Katy ISD teachers will see a 6% raise and Sheldon ISD teachers will get a 10-15% raise. Alief ISD teachers will receive raises of 6.83%-8.49% and Spring ISD teachers have been promised a 4-6% raise.
Elsewhere in the state, Pflugerville school board trustees have approved a minimum 6.7% pay increase for teachers, librarians, nurses, counselors and licensed professionals. Prior to HB3’s passage, Hays CISD had already earmarked $12 million to increase teachers’ pay by 5%, auxiliary staff’s pay by 4% and other staff members’ pay by 3%, but should the district receive the approximately $3 million additional funding expected from the state, teacher pay raises could rise as high as 7% to 8%. Hays CISD Superintendent Eric Wright said the district wants to make sure how much it’s getting from the state before committing to the higher percentage.
The Bastrop school district approved $3.4 million in pay increases for all employees as part of its $99 million budget for the 2019-20 school year. Classroom teachers and library media specialists with more than five years of experience will receive a 5% increase, all other teachers will get a 4.5% pay bump. Counselors, nurses, paraprofessionals and support staff will receive a 5% pay increase above the midpoint, and administrators will see an increase of 4% of the midpoint, according to the budget.
Two Lubbock members recognized as award winners
Three Lubbock ISD teachers, including two members of Lubbock Educators Association, are winners of the Frank and Nancy Newton Excellence in Education Award, announced last week by the Beaumont Foundation.
The awardees are Amy Drake from Evans Middle School and LEA members Melissa Funk from Waters Elementary School and Josh Shaw from Coronado High School. Each recipient will be honored at an awards gala in May when they will receive $10,000.
As part of the Beaumont Foundation’s ongoing commitment to supporting education, the Frank and Nancy Newton Excellence in Education Award was created to celebrate and recognize superior contributions of teachers whose leadership and dedication inspire a spirit of learning in students of all backgrounds and learning abilities. The program also strives to provide public recognition and financial incentives to teachers who are furthering excellence in their profession. A total of six teachers in Lubbock County are selected annually to receive the Newton Award, with three of the six from Lubbock ISD.
Help end the detention of children
At last count, more than 10,000 innocent immigrant children were being detained by the U.S. government. Teachers Against Child Detention held a Teach-In for Freedom on Sunday, Feb. 17, at San Jacinto Plaza in El Paso, and TSTA members and other concerned members of the community participated.
Check here for other suggestions on how you can get involved.
Every week at Pflugerville ISD’s Copperfield Elementary students and educators are encouraged to participate in “College Shirt Wednesdays,” when teachers and staff can celebrate their alma maters and students can look forward to their own college experiences.
But when Margaret Olivarez, a TSTA member who teaches third-grade bilingual education, looked around her classroom one Wednesday last fall, she didn’t see a single university represented. After polling her students, she discovered that not one of them had a college shirt to wear.
Copperfield is among several Pflugerville ISD schools that qualify for Title I funding, provided to schools with high concentrations of students in low-income families. Olivarez, who has taught at Copperfield for 16 years, had long been aware of this fact, but it perhaps had not been any more painfully obvious than at that moment.
“I want [the students] to know that the possibility of getting into college is there,” Olivarez said. “Nothing should hold them back of their dreams.”
So, she took to her email, sending messages to colleges and universities nationwide about her students hoping that enough would be willing to donate to outfit the kids in her classroom.
She ended up with enough for every student at Copperfield Elementary.
More than 30 colleges have donated shirts to the cause, including Yale, Notre Dame, Texas A&M International, Duke and SMU. The Air Force Academy was first to respond, sending more than 400 shirts, as well as pens, water bottles and backpacks. Other colleges have inquired about making campus visits.
“I was elated to receive such an overwhelming number of donations,” Olivarez said. “Our students know now that the purpose of College Wednesday is to inspire them to dream big and to look at the wide selection of college opportunities.”
Olivarez said she gives the students lessons on each of the campuses the shirts represent.
“It is amazing that one small idea could have turned into something so spectacular,” added Copperfield Principal Georgie Arenaz. “It’s inspiring to think about the shirt being a seed — one that will grow into not only the potential for college, but a destination.”
Locals around the state Marched to the Polls
To show our solidarity in Voting Education First locals across Texas Marched to the Polls to encourage educators and the community to block vote for improving our public schools. Visit our Texas RedForEd Facebook page for pictures and ongoing education events.