TALAS E-newsletter – November 19

Posted on November 19th, 2020
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Texas News
North Texas School Districts Make Hard In-Person Education Decisions As COVID-19 Cases Surge
There are hard decisions being made in Texas and across the nation as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations spike to record levels, bus drivers and teachers quarantine, students get sick and the holidays loom.

Facing equally grim conditions, some school districts are ending in-person teaching and switching to remote learning — at least temporarily.

Dallas Independent School District Superintendent Michael Hinojosa has been watching and worrying as case numbers rise around him. Texas surpassed 1 million cases this week. Health and Human Services officials reported 808 additional positive COVID-19 cases in Dallas County on November 12.

Texas State Board of Education considers first update to sex education curriculum in decades
The Texas State Board of Education is meeting this week to consider changes to how children are taught about health and sex—curriculum that hasn’t been revised since 1997.

Texas requires public schools to follow an abstinence-first education model, and it doesn’t require any instruction about sexual orientation or gender identity. The SBOE is expected to hold a final vote on revisions Friday which would continue the state’s focus on abstinence, but with new attention on prevention.

The SBOE has spent more than a year considering revisions to sexual education guidelines for schools. This week, hundreds of people registered to address the board about the revisions before the final vote.

Houston ISD trustees vote 6-3 to resume national search for superintendent
In a charged vote that drew over 100 public comments, Houston ISD trustees decided against offering interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan a permanent post and instead opted to reopen the position to a national search.

“Best practice dictates that we must do a national search,” Trustee Judith Cruz said, the first of several trustees to argue in favor of the process.

The first of the two agenda items, which would have named Lathan the sole finalist for the role, failed 6-3. Trustees Wanda Adams, Patricia Allen and Kathy Blueford-Daniels supported hiring the interim superintendent, who has held the post for over two and a half years. The same three subsequently voted against resuming a national search. A Texas Education Agency official intervened to suspend the district’s search process in March 2019 amid an investigation into several members of the board.

Texas Schools Receive 700K Rapid Test Kits From Federal, State Government
With Covid-19 cases rising again in Texas, schools have the ability to test their students and faculty quickly and free of charge.

The school districts and private schools opting in, receive the Abbott Lab BinaxNOW tests provided by the Trump administration and PPE from the state.

The state also provides training on how to use the tests.

The Chief of the Texas Division of Emergency Management, Nim Kidd said Thursday the tests deliver results in 15 minutes. “We’re quickly able to differentiate the sick from the not sick or the positive from the not positive. And that’s how we slow the spread.”

Garland ISD drops ties to Confederate past after board votes to change a high school mascot
Garland school trustees voted to remove the remnants of Confederate symbolism that one of the district’s high schools adopted at its founding more than 50 years ago.

The district’s board voted unanimously Tuesday night to drop South Garland’s current mascot, the colonel.

For the past three decades, trustees and school administrators have grappled with South Garland’s use of Confederate symbols, slowly removing them piece by piece.

Superintendent Ricardo López remarked that changing the mascot would alter the ambiance of the school in a positive way. Trustees agreed and voted to support the administration’s recommendation, even though a few community members expressed opposition to the decision.

Denver schools Superintendent Susana Cordova taking on leadership role in Dallas ISD
Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova may eventually succeed DISD’s superintendent.

Denver Public Schools Superintendent Susana Cordova will join Dallas ISD as the district’s deputy superintendent. She announced her departure from DPS on Friday.

Outgoing trustee Miguel Solis hinted that Cordova may be Superintendent Michael Hinojosa’s successor when his contract ends in 2024.

“Susana will be a great add to the team,” Solis tweeted. “Dr. Hinojosa has made it clear that he would like this position to be the ‘successor to the throne’ of superintendent so I wish her well and hope the succession planning is now complete. Congrats, Susana!”

Which Texas schools are ‘pandemic proof?’ New ranking gives insight
Several magnet schools and early college programs in Dallas County stand out for their efforts to equitably educate children of color, according to a new analysis by a statewide education advocacy group.

Officials with Children at Risk said the nation’s reckoning with systematic racism opened a window for them to create a “racial equity index” to analyze how well schools are serving students of color.

The Houston-based nonprofit plans to release the index, which factors into its annual ranking of Texas schools, during a virtual news conference Monday morning.

“In the past, people didn’t really want to talk about racial equity, but the climate has changed,” said Bob Sanborn, Children at Risk CEO. “Race does matter. A lot of kids get the short end of the stick when it comes to public education. And many times, those are children of color.”

Bipartisan group of lawmakers calls on TEA to cancel the STAAR exam
68 members of the Texas House of Representatives sent a letter to Commissioner Mike Morath of the Texas Education Agency to request that the agency seek the federal waivers necessary from the United States Department of Education to cancel the administration of the State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness (STAAR).

The letter argued that, instead of proceeding with the administration of STAAR as planned, the agency, along with our districts and campuses, should be focused on providing high-quality public education with an emphasis on the health and safety of educators and students. While data from the STAAR exam may be a good indicator of where our students are currently, the data should be used to chart a path forward as opposed to being used to sanction our districts and campuses.

You can view the letter here.
In This San Antonio Classroom, A Teacher Divides Her Time Between “Roomies” And “Zoomies”
“Ms. Boyett! Ms. Boyett!”

When the squirming third graders sitting six feet apart in her classroom tried to get Abigail Boyett’s attention, she pointed to the pair of leopard ears sitting on her head.

Months into the school year at San Antonio’s Northside Independent School District, the Lewis Elementary School third graders knew the fuzzy headband meant their teacher was focused on the other half of the class, the students sitting at home tuning into the lesson through Zoom. Both “roomies” and “zoomies” were supposed to be working independently on multiplication assignments, while Boyett pulled aside two who had struggled to grasp the concept.

“My friends in my classroom, I’m putting on my cat ears. When I have on my cat ears, we ask three before me,” she reminded them last Thursday, looking out at the room of masked 8-year-olds sitting behind plexiglass partitions. “You ask three of your friends before me.”

“Cancel gatherings, large and small”: Texas officials raise alarm ahead of Thanksgiving holiday
Health experts worry that increased travel and mingling over Thanksgiving and into the December holidays could exacerbate an already dangerous situation as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations are rising across Texas.

The original plan for Thanksgiving was that nothing would be different.

Eight members of Jesse Gonzales’ family would come from all over North Texas for a traditional turkey dinner in his Dallas home, just like they do every year. His grandchildren would run around the house and Jesse would watch football with his son while other family members caught up and retold old stories.

Then, the family got a wake-up call.

El Paso is fighting the coronavirus and state resistance as officials desperately try to keep up with sick and dying Texans
The county has turned to jail inmates to staff mobile morgues, and local officials say hospitals are nearing a point where they could have to ration care.

El Paso has been so depleted by the coronavirus that the county’s makeshift morgues are relying on jail inmates to move bodies, and hospitals are nearing a point where health workers could have to decide who gets care and who doesn’t.

And in their attempts to stymie the deadly virus with dwindling resources, local officials have faced both passive and active resistance from Texas leaders.

‘Never Without a Fight’: How Texas Has Stood Up for Ethnic Studies
Ethnic studies have never been granted to us without a fight. 

From the late 1960s to now, students and educators have slowly seen the implementation of ethnic studies courses at the college level and in some places, high school programs. 

“For all people, as with individuals, the time has come when they must reckon with their history.” 

That opening line to El Plán de Santa Barbara was released just 50 years ago and is considered the foundation of what is today Chicano/a Studies, yet the words continue to resonate with all ethnic groups. However, a K-12 ethnic studies curriculum isn’t yet a priority across the board. That’s set to change, though, as states like California and Texas add the option for ethnic studies courses—a win achieved through extensive community organizing and political activism.

Así Suena Tejas, A Selection Of Four Playlists With Artists From The Lone Star State
Texas is a large state with an immense roster of artists that have played a role in shaping and redefining genres. Latinx artists such as Lydia Mendoza, Selena Quintanilla, Flaco Jiménez, A.B. Quintanilla, Intocable, The Mars Volta, and Pauline Oliveros are just a few that have proudly represented the Lone Star State wherever they’ve performed.

Below are four playlists carefully curated by Chulita Vinyl Club, Nina Diaz, Santa Muerte and our own staff, spotlighting current and past Texas’ musicians and singers.

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Supporting Your Career
Five Steps For Nailing Your Video Interview, No Matter What Your Age
In today’s remote working reality, an online presence can be a two-edged sword. Done right, and you own the space. Done haphazardly, and your professional persona could be doomed. If you are interviewing for a job in this competitive COVID-19 environment, mastering online presence is critical. If you are an older candidate, it is non-negotiable.

“The job search can leave us feeling especially vulnerable,” said Natalie Venturi, an executive presence coach. “Because most job interviews today are over Zoom, feeling confident and self-assured makes it easier to focus on connecting with the interviewer and leaving no doubt that you can do the job.”

Due to stereotypes about candidates age 50+ not being tech savvy, mastering an online presence is even more important. Showing comfort on camera and easily navigating remote tools helps you own the space.

National & International News
How Our Biggest ISPs Are Failing Students During COVID-19
Early in the pandemic, one of our MediaJustice Network members reached out to us in hopes we could support a group of high school students in Baltimore who were trying to amplify their campaign. The students are leaders in a Latinx and immigrant student organization called Students Organizing for a Multicultural and Open Society (SOMOS), and this was their first time organizing for digital equity.

When school ended last year, SOMOS realized that many of their fellow Baltimore city schoolmates who’d relied on Comcast’s Internet Essentials discount program didn’t have a connection fast or reliable enough for online school. Whenever they could get into virtual classes, they’d often get kicked off multiple times a day and sometimes multiple times during a single class. Households with multiple students or family members working from home had to schedule who could be online, when and for how long. Families were put in impossible situations, forced to negotiate whose education or work was more important, and who would have to sacrifice and fall behind.

Push for a national Latino museum takes step forward at Senate hearing
“These museums are for all of us,” said Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., “to help us understand what it means to be American.”

No story in American history doesn’t include American Latinos, and adding a museum that tells their stories to the Smithsonian franchise would “send a message we belong,” actress, activist and philanthropist Eva Longoria told a Senate committee Tuesday.

Longoria testified before the Rules and Administration Committee, which was considering bills to establish a museum dedicated to American Latinos and another dedicated to women’s history.

No action was taken on the bills. With the end of this congressional session nearing, options for advancement of the bills are limited. There is a hope that the Senate will take up the House version of The National Museum of the American Latino Act and consider its passage by unanimous consent, which is used for noncontroversial legislation.

Fearful of COVID Lawsuits, Jittery School Officials Buy New—and Frequently Costly—Insurance Policies
Chris Pellettieri, superintendent of the Sachem Central School District, one of the largest on Long Island, checks his phone all day long. He’s constantly worried about a new directive from the state, or a complaint from within the school community accusing him or his staff of falling short in their response to COVID-19 despite their efforts to curb the virus.

“It’s like walking on eggshells all the time,” Pellettieri said. “I have our attorneys on speed dial.”

Sachem serves some 13,500 students. Its 10 elementary schools are open to all while its middle- and high schools operate on a rotating schedule with only half the population on site at any time.

3 ways K-12 schools can evolve post-pandemic
With COVID-19 creating a scenario where “things a year ago that seemed impossible are not,” educators and advocates see a system ripe for change.

The pandemic-driven upheaval of the K-12 education system is doing something many say has been nearly impossible — opening a door for significant reforms that would disrupt decades or century-old practices and rituals.

And even though school administrators are in the midst of responding to the immediate health crisis, they are setting aside time to discuss long-term planning for how post-pandemic schools could be even better than before the health crisis.

The Great Outdoors: Here’s How Learning Outside Could Become a Lasting Fixture in American Education
When students at Anser Charter School in Garden City, Idaho returned to in-person classes Sept. 28, everything about school looked different than six months ago.

Anser is an EL Education school, meaning it focuses on learning through projects and expeditions that regularly take students outside the school’s walls. Learning away from the classroom is nothing new for veteran Anser students.

What is new, for at least part of many days, is that the classroom itself will be outside the school walls as well. It’s an accommodation designed to decrease risk of COVID-19 transmission at the 375-student, K-8 school.

“We’ve put together a map where each grade level gets assigned a certain area of the playground or the parking lot,” said Anser Organization Director Heather Dennis. “So teachers know they can take their class outside anytime they want.”

Filmmakers Focus Short Projects on Latinx Essential Workers for New Docuseries
Latino Public Broadcasting (LPB) is recognizing and honoring the Latinx people on the frontlines of the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic in a new film docuseries that debuts November 16.

Latinos Are Essential is a new series of short films that will stream on all PBS platforms, including PBS.org, the PBS Video App and on PBS Voices, the YouTube channel for PBS.

The films focus on the Latinx “essential workers” who have kept the United States going since the pandemic began affecting everyone’s life back in March. This includes health care providers, teachers, food service workers, domestic workers, retail clerks and others.

Netflix’s ‘Ya No Estoy Aqui’ Will Represent Mexico At This Year’s Academy Awards
Mexico has a storied history of successfully competing at the Academy Awards. In fact, it’s this long shadow of worldwide successes – such as last year’s Roma by Alfonso Cuarón – that hang over any Mexican film productions with Oscar ambitions.

And although not everyone agrees with this year’s choice for the country’s selection for the competition, many are rallying around Mexico’s chance at winning another golden statue.

Netflix Mexico is sending another film for Oscars consideration: Ya No Estoy Aqui.

A Latina Dreamer who’s an Amazonian warrior goddess? ‘Wonder Girl’ series is in the works
The series revolves around Yara Flor, a Latina Dreamer who was born of an Amazonian warrior and a Brazilian river god.

Greg Berlanti could be adding yet another DC project to his CW roster.

CW is developing a “Wonder Girl” series based on the DC characters created by Joëlle Jones with Berlanti on board as executive producer, Variety has confirmed.

The prospective one-hour drama revolves around Yara Flor, a Latina Dreamer who was born of an Amazonian warrior and a Brazilian river god. She learns that she is Wonder Girl and with her newfound power must fight the evil forces that would seek to destroy the world.

Las Tienditas
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