TALAS E-newsletter – January 7

Posted on January 7th, 2021
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Texas News
More Vaccines On The Way To Texas This Week As The State’s COVID-19 Situation Worsens
COVID-19 hospitalizations in Texas are at record levels, but only about a third of the vaccine doses allocated for Texans have been given.

Less than a week into the new year, the rate of COVID-19 infections and the number of people hospitalized in Texas for COVID-19 are at record levels, while the 7-day average for new cases and deaths are spiking — but only about a third of the vaccine doses allocated for Texans have been given out, according to state numbers.

As Texas health care providers predict that the state’s COVID-19 numbers will get even worse, questions continue to swirl about the state’s vaccine distribution for the 1.9 million Texans who were eligible for the first phase and the millions more who fall into the second tier of eligibility.

AISD staff get first doses of vaccines, prepare for return to classrooms
Austin ISD is preparing for teachers, faculty, and some students to return to classrooms this week. At the same time, Ascension Seton is working to get high-risk AISD staff their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

Nearly 100 Austin ISD staff members received their first dose of the vaccine Saturday, according to Ascension Seton. Several more were able to get theirs Monday, but teachers who spoke to FOX 7 Austin said that doesn’t make returning to classrooms any easier.  

Wednesday, for the first time since March, Annie Dragoo will return to the AISD campus where she teaches musical theater. “I don’t really have a choice,” said Dragoo, referring to her financial situation. 

Ysleta ISD classes to remain online under latest health department guidance
The Ysleta Independent School District will follow the latest guidance from the City of El Paso Department of Public Health to continue online learning.

Monday morning, Dr. Hector Ocaranza issued an updated recommendation for local school districts to delay in-person, face- to-face learning. This delay will diminish the spread of COVID-19 after the recent holidays.

“The health and safety of our employees, students, and community remains our top priority,” said Dr. Xavier De La Torre, Superintendent of Schools. “We will continue to work with our local health authority to ensure we can resume classes in person under safe conditions.”

Socorro ISD could begin phased-in return to campus after Martin Luther King Jr. holiday
Socorro Independent School District announced Monday that it will follow the guidance from local health authorities and postpone the return to in-person instruction.

Based on a recommendation from the El Paso City/County health authority Dr. Hector Ocaranza, Socorro ISD will not begin in-person instruction until after January 18.

Socorro ISD also continues to follow the safety zones as per the Region 19 School System COVID-19 Campus Attendance Plan to guide its safe transition back to in-person learning.

Austin Latino Coalition asks local leaders for more equitable COVID-19 vaccine resources
Nearly half of the COVID-19 deaths in Austin-Travis County have been within the Latino community, according to local data.

The Austin Latino Coalition says there are barriers in place leading to inequitable access to COVID-19 vaccines for Latino residents – and the group wants local leaders to do something about it.

In a news release sent Monday afternoon, the coalition stated that “due to the historic discrimination that has often posed barriers to economic advancement, lack of access to health care, food and other systemic inequities that still exist today, Latinos, African-Americans and low-income communities have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Texas invested big in pre-K. Now a tight state budget could threaten that funding.
Lawmakers meet in January and might face a tough financial outlook.

After a massive expansion of pre-K across Texas, the future of early education funding could be at risk because of the pandemic-induced financial crisis.

Lawmakers face a tough 2021 legislative session with necessary budget cuts likely. School districts that benefited from the early education investment hope elected officials will protect that funding.

Carrollton-Farmers Branch schools, for example, received $4.5 million to grow their prekindergarten offerings from half- to full-day because of the historic 2019 school finance package that bolstered funding for early childhood education.

Texas hires two companies to run STAAR, moving toward statewide online testing
Contracts totaling $388 million have been awarded to Cambium Assessment and Pearson, a longtime player in testing Texas public school students, to develop and administer STAAR for the next four years.

Texas is once again shaking up its standardized testing contracts, signing four-year agreements totaling $388 million with two companies to develop and administer its controversial State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exams for public school students.

Cambium Assessment, a Washington D.C.-based testing company, will receive $262 million from 2021 through 2024 to manage the administration, scoring and reporting of all student assessments on one online platform.

82 Texas House members ask TEA to give school districts financial flexibility through end of school year
Texas Rep. Steve Allison wrote a letter to the TEA asking to ‘continue the Hold Harmless Guarantee’ for the rest of the 2020-21 school year.

Eighty-two Texas lawmakers are asking the State to assure full funding to all school districts through the rest of the year. In a letter to Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath, State Rep. Steve Allison wrote, “Our school districts need full funding so they can continue to focus on student learning and mental health.”

“I’m optimistic that we’re going to get it accomplished,” said Allison. “We know there’s going to be continuing obligations and concerns with the pandemic and otherwise, but the concern and the interest is just to make sure that our schools are fully funded through the school year.”

Proposed Bill Would Compel Schools to Rehire Teachers Who Quit Due to COVID-19 Concerns
COVID-wary teachers driven from the job by the virus would be entitled to return to the same pay and benefits under the bill.

Teachers that quit their jobs due to COVID-19 concerns would get the chance to return to their old desks with benefits and all if a newly filed bill in the Texas Legislature sees the light of day.

Under Senate Bill (SB) 256, filed by state Senator José Menéndez (D-San Antonio), school districts would have to rehire teachers who quit for fear of the coronavirus if those teachers were to seek their old jobs again.

Appeals court: TEA takeover of Houston ISD trustees must remain on hold
The Texas Third Court of Appeals has ruled that a Travis County District Court was correct to temporarily block the Texas Education Agency’s effort to take over Houston ISD.

In the 2-1 decision, the court found that because the agency did not follow its process for seeking to impose a board of managers in place of the board of trustees, the district has a viable case to argue in court.

HISD “has a probable right to the relief sought because Appellants’ proposed actions are not authorized by the Education Code,” the court wrote in the Dec. 30 ruling.

The appeals court previously ordered the Travis County court injunction order to remain in place in April while the case underwent the appeals process.

El Paso ISD superintendent hiring process discussed by board of trustees
The El Paso Independent School District’s board of trustees met in a special meeting Tuesday to begin discussion on the hiring of a new superintendent.

“We have a big job ahead of us and its the most important job that anyone of us on this board can do,” Al Velarde, Vice President of the board, said.

Board members were divided on the issue of whether or not to make use of a search firm to conduct the hiring process as they have done in the past.

Upcoming Events
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Thursday, January 21st, 2021 | 5:30–6:30 pm EST | Free Virtual Event
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Your Dose of Inspiration
How a janitor at Frito-Lay invented Flamin’ Hot Cheetos
Richard Montañez went from cleaning toilets to being one of the most respected execs in the food industry.

On an early morning in the late 1980s, a group of the highest-powered executives at Frito-Lay—the CEO, CMO, and a platoon of VPs—gathered in a California conference room to hear what Richard Montañez had to say.

Montañez didn’t share their pedigree. He wasn’t an executive. He had no fancy degree. He had a 4th-grade-level education, and couldn’t read or write.

Montañez was a janitor. But he was a janitor with an idea—an idea that would make the company billions of dollars and become one of history’s most celebrated and iconic snack foods: Flamin’ Hot Cheetos.

But first, he had to convince the world to hear him out.

National News
What School Leadership Can Learn From 2020
Truly 2020 was a difficult year for so many reasons. As the executive director of the Association of Latino Administrators & Superintendents, I am acutely aware of the pandemic’s impact on our most marginalized and students of color—and of the mammoth efforts of school leaders to support them and continue providing them with an education in what seemed to be an impossible situation. This year has drawn more attention to equity issues and forced our nation to deal with them head-on. It has also forced school leaders to become more creative, outspoken and innovative in their advocacy and leadership—lessons they will take with them to help drive change in 2021. Here are some of my thoughts on what 2020 has taught us, and about what lies ahead.

Biden Selects Miguel Cardona as Education Secretary
Miguel Cardona, education commissioner in Connecticut, is a strong defender of public schools. Biden reiterates support for free community college and all public colleges for families earning less than $125,000.

President-elect Joe Biden has selected Connecticut education commissioner Miguel Cardona as his education secretary.

“Dr. Cardona has a proven track record as an innovative leader who will fight for all students, and for a better, fairer, more successful education system,” Biden said in a pre-Christmas announcement. “He will also strive to eliminate long-standing inequities and close racial and socioeconomic opportunity gaps — and expand access to community colleges, training, and public four-year colleges and universities to improve student success and grow a stronger, more prosperous, and more inclusive middle class.”

Millions of families with mixed immigration status in US are eligible for Covid relief for first time
Families with an undocumented person who pays taxes were excluded from the first Covid relief bill earlier this year

Millions of Americans who live in families with mixed immigration status will be eligible for coronavirus stimulus checks for the first time as part of the new federal aid package.

On Sunday Donald Trump signed the $900 billion spending bill, which means that US citizens and permanent residents who file joint tax returns with their undocumented spouses will be eligible to receive the law’s $600 relief checks, as well as claim $600 per dependent child.

When the CARES relief bill was enacted in March, families who were registered to pay taxes but lacked Social Security numbers because of their immigration status were excluded from the rescue package.

Here Are All Of the Latinos Set to Serve in Joe Biden’s Incoming Administration So Far
President Elect Joe Biden’s inauguration is just days away and the entire country is buzzing with the prospect of change. Joe Biden ran his campaign on a message of unity and healing, and part of that message included a promise for more diversity in his upcoming administration. 

As he stated in his victory speech, his campaign was supported by “the broadest and most diverse coalition in history.”

“I said at the outset, I wanted to represent this campaign to represent and look like America,” he stated. “We’ve done that. Now that’s what I want the administration to look like and act like.”

The Elephant in the Room for the New Education Secretary
The racial and wealth inequality built into our nation’s most viable system of opportunity—the education sector—should be at the forefront of any policy conversation, argues Stella M. Flores.

If realized, President-elect Joseph R. Biden’s nomination of Connecticut’s education commissioner, Miguel Cardona, as the new U.S. secretary of education will be a historic appointment—Cardona would be the first Latino in this position during a time when Latino students represent a critical force in K-12 education and the likely new majority in U.S. postsecondary education over the course of the next four decades. Some higher education experts worry that a K-12 practitioner may not adequately know our sector. But we can’t move forward on improving the educational advancement of the most vulnerable students in the nation, including bilingual and immigrant students, without having a profound knowledge of racial and wealth inequality that exists in the public schools and how these two key forces influence college access and success. The K-12 and higher education sectors and wealth and racial inequality are highly interdependent, and that can no longer be ignored at any level of government.

Is the pandemic our chance to reimagine education for students with disabilities?
Special education was imperfect before the coronavirus crisis. As districts contend with the fallout from slapdash online classes for kids with disabilities, will the pandemic prompt a reckoning?

Single mom Nicole Vaughn has spent the better part of her adult life advocating for her five adopted children with disabilities. But when schools shuttered for the coronavirus last spring, Vaughn gained a slew of new responsibilities, like helping her kids access virtual classrooms and coordinating the special education services they receive.

“I had to send emails to the speech and language provider saying, ‘Hey, they haven’t seen you, I haven’t seen you. What’s going on?’ ” said Vaughn, who lives in the Detroit metropolitan area.

The National Museum of the American Latino Is Finally Happening
While the big news coming out of Congress is the long awaited COVID-19 Stimulus Bill finally passing, there’s another piece of big news coming from DC—we are finally getting a National Museum of the American Latino!

“Twenty-six years in the making, the determination of so many in Congress, in business, the arts and across our communities, finally pays off. A museum that highlights the contributions of Latinos and Latinas to our nation at a time when the pandemic has so disproportionately impacted our community seems very fitting,” said Estuardo Rodriguez, President & CEO of FRIENDS.

The legislation passed by Congress is heading to the President’s desk to be signed, after years of lobbying and petitioning. The Smithsonian Women’s History Museum Act and the National Museum of the American Latino Act were folded into the massive legislation that included Covid-19 relief and government funding. A lone Republican senator, Mike Lee of Utah, blocked the two bills from passage earlier this month.

These Latinos made a mark in our communities and nation. We lost them in 2020.
Acclaimed novelist Rudolfo Anaya, Afro-Latina actress Naya Rivera, “Ugly Betty” co-creator Silvio Horta and U.S. soldier Vanessa Guillén are among those we remember.

2020 has been a year marked by grief and loss, but it is in the spirit of remembrance, not sadness, that we highlight the lives of several Latinos we said goodbye to this year. From Hollywood to Washington, from academia to the armed forces, these are just a few of our “familia” who enriched our communities, our lives and our nation before leaving us.

Las Tienditas
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