Category Archives: education news

Be careful with Open Meetings Law

You run into this once in a while: a governing body will convene an executive (or closed) meeting to discuss something that in the strictest sense of the word doesn’t qualify as an item worthy of such secrecy.

It happened the other evening at a Princeton (Texas) school board meeting that I happened to be attending.

The Princeton Independent School District board of trustees met in regular session to discuss school business. During the course of the meeting, the board convened three executive sessions to discuss employee grievances; it’s all according to the Open Meetings Law that governs public governing bodies’ conduct. The board convened an executive session then reconvened its public meeting to vote on what it had discussed in secret. Then it went back into private session. This happened three times.

Then the board welcomed two new members who were elected in Nov. 8 school district trustee election. They swore them in and bid goodbye to two outgoing trustees.

The board then convened a fourth secret session. Why? To discuss election of its officers for the coming term. I believe that fourth session was an inappropriate reason to convene an executive session. Trustees cited personnel matters as their reason for speaking out of public earshot. That’s not right.

Personnel matters, as I interpret the Open Meetings Law, deal with paid employees. They do not cover elected officials’ duties. A better way for the board to handle it would have been to keep meeting in public and then go through the motions of selecting a board president, vice president and secretary.

Now, in the grand scheme this isn’t a scandalous breach of transparency. It was a routine process that boards such as the Princeton ISD board go through every year.

Taking this routine matter into the closet, though, was an unnecessary attempt to shroud it in secrecy.

Uvalde commences housecleaning

Well now, this was something I didn’t see coming … the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District suspending its entire police department and then learning that the superintendent is going to retire.

Whenever you think of “Uvalde,” you know the first thing that pops into your head: the slaughter in May of those 19 precious children and two teachers who sought to protect them from the madman who opened fire with an AR-15 rifle at Robb Elementary School.

The fallout from that horrifying event just continues to shower a school district that is searching deeply for answers.

The Texas Tribune reported that the Uvalde district fired a police officer after it learned he was one of the first Department of Public Safety troopers on the scene when the carnage exploded. The trooper, it turns out, has been under investigation by DPS for her conduct when the shooting erupted. The district also has fired former Police Chief Pete Arredondo. This week, it suspended two school district officers and reassigned all the others to various assignments within the district.

Now comes the report of a pending retirement from Superintendent Hal Harrell. Get a load of this: Harrell graduated from Uvalde High School and has spent his entire career as an educator within the school district, serving as superintendent since 2018.

There once was a time when you thought of “Uvalde,” you would have thought, perhaps, of Oscar-winner Matthew McConaughey — a native of that community. No more.

Uvalde school district suspends its entire police department | The Texas Tribune

All of this makes this latest development so astonishing.

Our entire state continues to grieve over the horrendous loss of life on that day. This year’s campaign for governor has focused intently on the action — or inaction — by the state in response to what happened that day.

The Uvalde CISD has many issues to unpack and correct as it moves forward. I am going to believe the district will enlist officers from the city police department and the sheriff’s department to assist in securing its campuses.

The state and nation will be watching … intently.

Pay attention to these contests

I am going to pay careful attention to the Princeton Independent School District Board of Trustees election coming up this fall.

It’s not because I have children in the school system. I don’t. My two sons are middle-aged men and one of them is Daddy to our 9-year-old granddaughter and they reside in nearby Allen.

I am interested in the PISD contests because I want to be mindful of the campaign material they put out. I want to look for evidence of any candidate who is going to sound off on that idiotic notion of banning what they call “critical race theory” from our school curriculum; or whether they intend to champion the banning of other textbooks that seek to cast any sort of negative eye on our history.

I keep hearing about how the MAGA crowd is seeking to penetrate our public schools. They are running candidates who adhere to some of the goofier — and frankly, dangerous — notions about how we should run our public-school systems.

I also intend to stay alert to candidates who talk openly about siphoning public money away to pay for school vouchers to allow parents to enroll their children in private schools. Moreover, I’ll be listening for rhetoric that suggests we should allow the re-entry of state-sanctioned religion into our public classrooms. I have said many times that religion should be taught in church, not in school.

Finally, I intend to listen for those candidates who want to put firearms into the hands of teachers and give them the go-ahead to use those weapons in the event of trouble inside our schools.

This will be a critical election. My intention simply is to learn as much as I can about these candidates and work — if I deem it necessary — to prevent certain candidates from being elected.

Blast from violent past

The tumult and tempest arising from the arrival of immigrants and, yes, refugees from Latin America have in their way taken me back to an earlier time in Texas when such new arrivals spawned violent protests and outright hatred.

Republican governors have taken great joy in sending migrants to Democratically held jurisdictions in a ploy to stick it in their ear. You favor welcoming these folks? Here, you can have ’em!

The Vietnam War ended in 1975 and with the end of the shooting in Vietnam thousands of refugees fled from Southeast Asia to the United States. They didn’t want to live under communist rule, so they found their way to the Land of Opportunity.

Many of those refugees settled along the Texas coast, seeking to resume their lives as fishermen and women. They sought to capitalize on the shrimp harvest opportunities. Not everyone welcomed them.

The Ku Klux Klan reared its ugly and evil head, raiding the Vietnamese shrimp fleets, cutting their nets and threatening the newcomers with violence if they didn’t leave the country. There was violence. Klansmen were charged with bringing physical harm and death to the Vietnamese.

Over time, though, the violence subsided. Today, in communities such as Port Arthur — with its substantial Vietnamese-American population — you find the influence of the descendants of those refugees in a most remarkable way. Check out the honor rolls of public high schools and you see plenty of names such as Nguyen, Phang and Lam. Yes, the children and grandchildren of those refugees excel academically and take that excellence with them into successful careers as adults

Do we really want to deny the current refugees — who flee communist tyranny in places such as Nicaragua and Venezuela — the same opportunity to succeed?

Let’s get real.

Teachers want to bail

Finding and keeping high-quality educators is a difficult enough job even when conditions are ideal. Throw in a killer pandemic and then politics on top of that, then the public school system faces a seriously daunting task.

The Texas Tribune reports a disturbing trend: Results from a new online survey of K-12 teachers in Texas, released on Thursday, shows most “seriously considered” leaving the profession this year, a 19% increase from two years ago.

Not good, man. Not good at all.

Earlier this year we saw Dallas-Fort Worth area school districts pummeled by resignations of superintendents, some of whom were leaving districts that as recently a year ago were honored for superlative work in educating children.

What drove them away? In too many cases, it was the constant hectoring from parents over mask mandates and other restrictions made necessary by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Tribune reports:

I tried my hand at substitute teaching in 2012 and learned right away I am not wired to work with other people’s children. My brief exposure to classroom work filled me with admiration for those who see it as a calling.

Therefore, I am unsettled to learn that politics is getting in the way of those who are dedicated to guiding young minds and to teaching them skills they will need to succeed.

New survey indicates more Texas teachers want to quit | The Texas Tribune

It shouldn’t need to be said, but Texas can ill-afford to let good teachers go because of political pressure. Our public school system, for which we all pay, suffers as a result.

Police chief had to go!

Pete Arredondo had become a household name in communities throughout the nation for reasons he likely never imagined when he first strapped on a firearm and pinned a badge on his chest.

Well, now the embattled top cop for the Uvalde Consolidated Independent School District no longer works for the school district. Its board of trustees today voted unanimously to fire Arredondo because of the former chief’s shameful response to the massacre that erupted at Robb Elementary School in the South Texas community.

Nineteen precious children were slain that day, along with two heroic teachers who fought to save their lives. Arredondo led the UCISD police force that responded to the shooter who had walked into the school.

Then he did nothing! Arredondo said eventually in the aftermath that he didn’t know he would be in charge of the police response.

Imagine the full-on rage the community would have expressed had the school board decided to keep Arredondo on its payroll.

Yep, he had become far more than a “distraction.”

For my money, the man should find work far away from law enforcement.

I doubt that Arredondo’s discomfort will end just because the school board canned him. He will face countless lawsuits from the loved ones of those who died in the massacre. And he should!

Uvalde now can move on. It won’t ever forget what happened on that terrible day. At least, though, the community no longer will carry the burden of paying the salary of a law enforcement officer who failed to do his job.

Student debt decision? Eh …

You can count me as one American who has categorically mixed feelings about President Biden’s decision to forgive a portion of student debt across the nation.

Biden today said that anyone who earns $125,000 or less annually will see $20,000 taken off their student loan debt obligation. The president’s decision appears to be a compromise of sorts. Progressives want Biden to forgive a whole lot more; maybe even every penny that every American owes when they borrowed the money to pay for their college education. For my money, that was a non-starter.

As for what the president has decided, it doesn’t do much for me one way or another. Twenty grand is no small amount of change.

However, consider this aspect of the debt that these former students incurred: They did so willingly when they enrolled in college. Thus, aren’t they obligated to pay back what they borrowed?

Thousands of Texans could benefit from student loan forgiveness | The Texas Tribune

My sons didn’t incur huge debt when they obtained their college degrees. My wife and took out a parent loan for one of our sons. We paid it off many years ago.  We never one time considered asking for any sort of waiver or request a suspension of our payback obligation.

I get that the pandemic brought a lot of havoc to families. Thus, to the extent that the president can seek forgiveness of debt on that basis, I guess that’s an acceptable reason.

I just don’t understand fully the notion of forgiving the debts of those who incur them willingly and with a clear thought about the consequences of refusing to pay it back.

School security: No. 1

We live in an era that is bordering on insanity, given that public school systems are having to clear the decks to ensure that the children and educators in their charge are safe from gun-packing madmen.

I am privileged to cover a public school system in North Texas that, to my way of thinking, is approaching this matter rationally and with all due diligence.

Farmersville Independent School District employs a full-time police force to keep its four campuses safe. They have a chief of police, Steve Wade, who is a seasoned, state-certified police officer. The men and women under his command are certified as well.

The school district recently went hunting for what they called “hall monitors” who would help lend extra sets of eyes and ears on student activity at the high school, the intermediate school, the junior high and the elementary school. The police department fell short of the applicants it needed to hire the monitors.

So, what did the district’s top cop do? He hired two more certified officers to join his force, which now will comprise five officers plus the chief. The officers are good ones, too. One of them is moving from the Farmersville Police Department to the school district force. She was named officer of the year for Farmersville PD in 2021. The other officer is retired from Garland PD, where he served — and this really is an attention-getter — as commander of the department’s Special Weapons and Tactics unit. Yep, Farmersville ISD’s department has a SWAT commander in its midst.

The school district has made a commitment to protect its students, faculty and staff with sworn law enforcement professionals and have decided that it will not arm its teachers. Superintendent Micheal French made that point abundantly clear to me, that Farmersville will not put guns in the hands of teachers.

In case of trouble the district is going to entrust the professionals it has on its payroll to protect and defend the precious children and the educators who teach them.

This is the world in which we are living. I applaud the school district for keeping its wits about it as it seeks rational solutions to quell this epidemic of violence.

School cops get a bum rap

Let’s examine this issue of public school district police forces and whether they are equipped and trained to respond to tragedies such as what unfolded recently down yonder in Uvalde, Texas.

The Uvalde Independent School District chief of police, Pete Arredondo, commanded a force of five officers. They were all certified by the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement that issues those certifications.

Put another way: Arredondo was not in charge of a corps of mall cops. 

The chief is on unpaid administrative leave pending a decision by the school board whether to fire him. My opinion? He needs to be cut loose and sent on his way to … somewhere other than another law enforcement job.

The officers under his command, though, do not deserve to be criticized — as they have been in some circles. Yes, other agencies’ officers responded to the slaughter of those children and their teachers. However, the Uvalde ISD officers were fully capable of responding appropriately when the need arose … and boy howdy, it arose that day at Robb Elementary School.

School districts throughout Texas are hiring police officers, putting them on school district payrolls and entrusting them to protect our children. I cover a school district in North Texas, Farmersville ISD, that has such a force. It is run by a veteran police officer with many years of experience.

Farmersville ISD, indeed, is set to hire at least one additional officer for its force of four officers — including the chief. Additionally, the district is considering the hiring of school campus “monitors” who will serve as eyes and ears on site for the police department.

I want to stipulate once more that the FISD officers are fully certified by the state and are fully qualified to respond to emergencies as they develop.

The Uvalde tragedy was a failure of leadership. Pete Arredondo, from what I have been able to discern, failed to act decisively in the critical moments early on as the tragedy unfolded. So, too, did other force commanders who arrived at the school to deliver assistance.

Let us not dismiss the actions of one small police force as emblematic of the kind of law enforcement that our children deserve and receive.

Pols step up correctly!

My previous blog spoke well of the Texas State Board of Education’s decision to keep teaching elementary public school students about “slavery” and to forgo the use of a term called “involuntary relocation” in our curriculum.

I want to highlight one aspect of that decision. It came unanimously. Yes, 15 members of the SBOE voted as one. Why is that a big deal? Because the SBOE comprises politicians who are elected to the office. They run as Republicans and Democrats. They have constituencies to which they must appeal. They represent vastly different districts drawn across our vast state.

They come from different ideological backgrounds, bias and political leanings.

Yet on this matter, they spoke with one voice.

Make no mistake, the SBOE made the correct statement. The term “slavery” should remain in our public school curriculum to remind our children of the darkest chapter in our nation’s history.

That the SBOE locked arms on this matter is cause for high praise.