Month: May 2020

The Drive-Thru Graduation Extravaganza

By COVID necessity, school graduations are coming in various forms and degrees of ingenuity this spring. There are the motor speedway variety, the football stadium version, the major league ballpark venue, the drive-in theater event and the Zoom virtual, maybe more.

Last Saturday morning, at Murchison Middle School in Austin ISD, there was the “Drive-Thru Graduation Extravaganza” for daughter Caroline and her eighth-grade classmates. During a two-hour window – with staggered time slots based on where last names fell in the alphabet – family cars, with the graduates’ names displayed in the windshields, drove slowly around the corner, up the line and then around the school’s front circle driveway past the front door, the normal drop-off spot for students every morning during a normal school year.

The last three months of this school year, of course, weren’t normal, but the drive-thru graduation was fun and greatly appreciated by my graduate, who wore a new red blazer for the occasion and rode shotgun, while her mother took video from the back seat.

The front lawn of the school was decorated with rows of colored photos of the graduates, courtesy of the PTA. Teachers and school staff, wearing masks, lined the driveway, holding signs and calling out to the graduates, and the kids returned their greetings. As we slowly drove past the front door, a school counselor with a microphone — and aided by the signs in the windshields — called out each graduate’s name.

The emailed instructions to the parents had been clear: “You may absolutely drive slowly/leisurely to enjoy the good vibes, but there will not be stopping and getting out.” And there wasn’t.

Through the open window, Caroline called out to teachers and administrators she recognized behind their masks and held out a sign reading, “We miss you guys.”

Our part of the drive-thru graduation lasted five minutes at most. We spent a lot longer in a Starbucks’ drive-thru line afterwards. But Caroline got a kick out of it, and so did her parents. We thank Principal Beth Newton, Assistant Principal Anthony Bromberg and all the Murchison teachers, staff and PTA for the thoughtfulness and hard work making it possible.

We returned to the school that afternoon to collect Caroline’s souvenir graduation photo from the lawn. Honor roll and other special recognitions will be emailed later.

No, a promotion from eighth grade is not a graduation from high school or college, but it is an accomplishment and a big deal for eighth graders. And I feel for the high school and college graduates who didn’t get to walk across the traditional stage or enjoy the real proms and real parties normally associated with these landmark accomplishments.

But I congratulate all of them and hope they and their families have stayed safe and well during this health crisis. I also hope everyone will be able to enjoy a more-normal graduation season next year.

Clay Robison

Attorney General Paxton to educators and other Texans: Vote, but you may get sick

Some of you may recall that Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton misused his office two years ago to try to intimidate educators from actively supporting pro-public education candidates in state elections. He failed then, but he is at it again now, on a larger and, in the current pandemic, a potentially deadly scale.

You may not be thinking about voting yet because you have more pressing needs at present: keeping yourself and your family safe from the coronavirus and, if you are an educator, adjusting to distance learning. But because of the coronavirus and its devastating effect on our economy, this election cycle, especially the general election in November, is extremely critical, and that is why Paxton is trying to suppress voter turnout again. And he is not alone.

Partly because of the premature political reopening of Texas and other states, health experts are warning that the pandemic may still be posing a serious health threat in July and even in November, the next times Texans go to the polls. This is why many Texans (63 percent, according to a recent poll) are concerned about voting in person and would like to have the option of voting by mail. But Paxton, with the obvious support of Gov. Greg Abbott and other state Republican leaders, says no and is fighting the mail-in alternative in court.

Many states make wide use of mail-in ballots. But under Texas law, you can get a mail-in ballot only if you are older than 65, are a member of the military, have a medical condition that makes voting in person dangerous or impossible or will be away from your home county during the early voting period and on Election Day.

In a lawsuit brought by the Texas Democratic Party, a state district judge in Austin ruled that the medical condition provision applied to people who were concerned that voting in person would put them at risk of contracting the coronavirus and endangering their health. He said anyone who felt that way could legally apply for a mail-in ballot.

But Paxton is appealing that judge’s order and has warned local election officials of “criminal sanctions” if they advise voters to seek mail-in ballots. As far as Paxton is concerned, let educators and other voters who want to exercise their constitutional right to vote put their health and maybe even their lives at risk.

Paxton is following President Trump’s lead. Trump has said publicly that he expects to lose reelection if too many people vote.  If too many people start voting by mail during this pandemic, he said, “all of a sudden you lose elections you think you’re going to win.”

Paxton doesn’t want educators, health care advocates and other Texans who value public services to vote for president or in this year’s legislative races. The legislative winners, when they convene in January, will deal with a huge revenue shortfall because of the millions upon millions of tax dollars being lost during this pandemic.

The lower the voter turnout, the greater the likelihood of electing legislators who will attack education and health care budgets with chain saws, rather than writing new budgets based on serious thought about the future of public education in Texas and the critical needs of millions of Texans. Being an ideologue, Paxton prefers chain saws to serious thought – or serious, capable leadership, in Austin and at the highest level of government.

Clay Robison