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HISD

Back to school

Sort of.

Roughly one-quarter of Houston ISD students were absent Monday, the first day back following the district’s winter break, according to the district.

District officials released figures Tuesday that showed 45,515 students were absent on Monday and 26,259 on Tuesday, resulting in attendance rates of 76 percent and 85 percent, respectively. The district’s average daily attendance was 95 percent in the 2018-19 school year, the latest figures available from the Texas Education Agency.

While the data did not include reasons why students missed school, the absences offered a clue about the potential impact of the COVID-19 omicron variant surge on schools as they resumed instruction following breaks in the Houston region.

One possible reason for the high absenteeism on Monday: At least in my house, we all thought school didn’t start until Tuesday the 4th. Most years, the first Monday in January is a teacher in-service day, so schools are open but not for students. That was not the case this year, and it wasn’t until we saw an email from the Superintendent on Friday that we realized our error. I would not be surprised if some number of families had made travel plans that didn’t have them back in town until Monday. Obviously, COVID diagnoses and exposure and plain old fear played a role as well, but the difference between Monday and Tuesday is big enough that I think failure to understand the schedule was a factor. Just a thought.

Now that we’re a week into the school year, my kids, at two different HISD high schools, did not say anything about having a lot of substitute teachers or empty classrooms or anything like that. HISD does still have its mask mandate, so maybe that has allayed some fears, I don’t know. The younger kid has finals next week, so I am hoping for as much normality as the fates will grant us. Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, on a tangential note:

Houston Independent School District is calling on students and alumni for help to address the loss of learning its elementary students suffered due to challenges from the pandemic.

The district announced Wednesday that it is hiring 500 HISD students and alumni for spring semester tutoring positions at elementary schools throughout the district. The district is seeking students ages 15 and up and alumni currently in college for the position which pays $12 an hour, according to a release.

[…]

Student tutors will work in-person with shifts available during the school day, after school and on Saturdays, according to the release, and will be paired with a certified teacher for up to 20 hours a week to help third to fifth-grade students with core subjects like English, Math and Science.

The program begins in January and runs through the end of June, according to the release. Those interested should apply by Jan. 12 at apply.ieducateusa.org. No experience is required and the district welcomes all majors.

The HISD press release is here. Go check this out if you’re interested.

Back to school, kids

It’ll probably be fine. And honestly, there’s no appetite for anything else.

Most of Texas’ roughly 1,200 school districts will welcome students and staff back within the next week, even as other states debate whether to mandate vaccines for teachers and staff or even return to remote learning. Almost 1 in 4 COVID tests in Texan are coming back positive for the virus, and hospitalizations have increased by 1,613 patients compared with a week ago. As of Dec. 28, 4,917 Texans were hospitalized for the coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, there were 220 Texans under the age of 18 hospitalized for COVID-19, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services. That number has been increasing since Christmas. Texas saw the highest number of people under the age of 18 hospitalized for COVID-19 in early September, when it was at 345.

The omicron variant has been surging across the United States. So far, it has generally been less severe and deadly than the earlier delta variant. However, the federal government recommends that all children 5 or older get the vaccine.

At Cook Children’s Health Care System in Tarrant County, positive cases among children have climbed sharply since Dec. 21 — going from a 5.7% positivity rate to 22.1%. “We are seeing upwards of 400 positive COVID-19 cases among children per day,” Dr. Mary Suzanne Whitworth said in a statement. “This is similar to where we were in early September when delta was spreading rapidly in our area.”

Despite those numbers, education leaders have largely urged a return to regular in-person instruction, with precautions in place.

Superintendent Millard House II of the Houston Independent School District, the state’s largest, announced Wednesday that it will maintain its mask mandate and will start to offer free COVID-19 testing for students and staff.

“We are looking forward to adding this layer of protection to our COVID-19 mitigation strategies,” House said in a statement. “We remain committed to keeping our students and staff safe and working toward implementing strategies that can help us continue offering safe and sustainable in-person instruction.”

In Austin, the school district will continue to require masks on campus and will offer testing to students and staff and vaccination clinics for anyone 5 and older.

In an email sent to Austin parents, district administrators said they were keeping schools open because they were confident that mitigation strategies were working and because vaccines are now widely available.

“Our layered protocols work! We have been here before. We can do this. Our kids need the schools to stay open,” Superintendent Stephanie Elizalde wrote in the email.

She added that the Austin ISD would continue social distancing, serving lunches outdoors and using its advanced air filtration system to slow the spread.

HISD’s mask mandate has been a big success, though it hasn’t really been tested by omicron yet. If people are properly wearing appropriate masks, they can protect themselves pretty well. Better ventilation and doing whatever possible outside is helpful. I’d feel a lot better if a whole lot more kids were getting vaccinated, but maybe getting them back into schools will nudge a few more in that direction. Some universities have pushed back the start of in person classes for their spring semester in favor of online learning, but I just don’t see that as viable for the independent school districts, at least not at this time. Mask, ventilate, vax, test, and isolate as needed, and we can get through this. I’m hoping for the best.

HISD will not lift its mask mandate

Seems like an easy call at this point.

The Houston Independent School District will maintain its mask mandate and offer free COVID testing at campuses for students and staff in 2022, Superintendent Millard House II announced last week.

House previously said the district would review the mandate after the holidays. The largest public school district in the state, HISD remains one of the few school systems regionally with a mask requirement.

“In light of the surge of COVID-19 cases in Houston and the surrounding areas, HISD continues to prioritize safety, including providing additional vaccination and COVID testing opportunities,” House said in an email to parents.

The ongoing spread of the omicron variant, which has proven capable of evading some immunity from vaccines, has triggered a steep surge in cases nationwide. The average number of daily cases has more than doubled since Nov. 29, from 80,680 to 201,330, according to the New York Times COVID data tracker. The numbers are also climbing in Texas, which reported 10,600 confirmed new cases last Thursday, the highest total since Oct. 6.

HISD data only shows confirmed cases up to Dec. 17. The district reported 143 positive cases on that day, up from 22 on Dec. 10.

Starting in January 2022, the district will offer free COVID-19 PCR tests on campuses to HISD students and staff. A one-time consent is required for testing and can be filled out at the following link https://bit.ly/HISDC19Test.

See here and here for some background, and here for a copy of Superintendent House’s email. It was reasonable, back in November when things were looking good and Harris County was lowering its threat level to consider whether the mask mandate was still needed after the holidays. For obvious reasons, things have changed since then, and it would be more than a little unwise to take other action. If omicron burns itself out quickly, if the kid vaccination rate skyrockets, the district can consider the question again later. For now, there was no other call to make.

And by the way, isn’t it nice how HISD called Greg Abbott and Ken Paxton’s bluff on their mask mandate ban and threats to sue over HISD’s totally correct action? That has paid off in spades, and brings with it the extra zest of knowing we beat them fair and square. A whole lot more districts should have followed this path.

Indictments and guilty pleas in FBI investigation of former HISD officials

Woof.

A former top Houston ISD official and vendor were indicted Thursday in connection with an alleged bribery scheme over the last decade that federal prosecutors estimate cost the district millions of dollars and resulted in plea agreements with at least five other former district officials, including a former president of the district’s Board of Education.

Federal authorities arrested former Chief Operating Officer Brian Busby, 43, and contract vendor Anthony Hutchison, 60, both of Houston, on Thursday, hours before their initial court appearance. Both men pleaded not guilty to all counts and were expected to be released under conditions that include no contact with current and former HISD employees with the exception of Busby’s wife, who prosecutors said has filed for divorce.

Prosecutors accused Busby of helping award HISD construction and grounds maintenance contracts to Hutchison in return for cash bribes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in home remodeling, according to a 26-count indictment unsealed Thursday.

“This investigation and resulting indictments reflect my office’s commitment to rooting out public corruption,” Acting U.S. Attorney Jennifer B. Lowery said in a statement. “We will not stand idly by when there are people in positions of trust who are suspected of such wrongdoing.”

Dick DeGuerin, Busby’s lawyer, denied any wrongdoing by his client.

“For most of his adult life, Brian Busby has been a loyal employee of HISD, rising from the lowest employment to chief operating officer,” DeGuerin said. “He has never taken a penny from any contractors or any illegal money — ever. I am sure that a fair jury will find him innocent.”

[…]

Rhonda Skillern-Jones, who served two terms as HISD trustee between 2012 and 2019, and as board president in 2015 and 2018, was among the former officials charged in connection with the alleged bribery scheme and pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges. She currently serves as a Houston Community College Trustee. It was not clear Thursday whether she would have to resign or be fired. A spokesman for the college did not respond to a request for comment.

She also worked for Harris County Precinct 1 Commissioner Rodney Ellis’ community and government affairs team until Thursday.

“The news today came as a shock to us, and we never had any indication of such inexcusable wrongdoing during her time at Precinct One,” Ellis’ office said in a statement. “Upon learning of this news today, her employment was immediately ended.”

Attempts by the Chronicle to contact Skillern-Jones, as well as the other former officials who entered plea agreements, were unsuccessful Thursday.

Those other former employees were identified by prosecutors as Derrick Sanders, 50, Missouri City, officer of construction services; Alfred Hoskins, 58, Missouri City, general manager of facilities, maintenance and operations; Gerron Hall, 47, Missouri City, area manager for maintenance; and Luis Tovar, 39, Huffman, area manager for maintenance.

Sanders had joined Aldine ISD in September 2020 and voluntarily resigned Oct. 22, school officials there said.

Saying he was “extremely outraged,” HISD Superintendent Millard House II, who began leading the largest public school district in Texas in July, told the Chronicle he had ordered a review of the internal team and systems for contracting and vendors, as well as an external review of the district’s procurement procedures before he was even made aware of the charges. He said he had made changes “to make sure everyone on my staff knows it is a new day inside HISD.

“I am outraged. Outraged that we’re talking about this. Outraged how adults who are supposed to be working for the public trust may have taken money from children,” House said. “In my 26 years as an educator — in Oklahoma, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Tennessee — I have never seen such a failure. As a parent, as a teacher, as a taxpayer, I promise you – HISD will do everything in its power to never be vulnerable to this kind of alleged misconduct again.”

He added: “I will not be deterred by 10 years of corruption, waste, and fraud that came before me. My team did not create this problem, but we will solve it. Permanently.”

See here for the background. The Chron’s editorial board ripped into Skillern-Jones for her role in this debacle. I wish Superintendent House all the best in cleaning up whatever remains of this mess. And a note to the other HCC Board members: You should probably try to get Trustee Skillern-Jones to resign from that position.

On a completely tangential note, the story that the FBI raided Brian Busby’s house was in late February of 2021, so about 21 months ago. There’s another FBI probe of interest happening in this state, and it began in November/December of last year, or about 12-13 months ago. Just offering that data point as some perspective on how long it can take for these things to go from beginning to indictment, in case your mind works like mine does.

UPDATE: Rhonda Skillern-Jones has resigned as HCC Trustee. Good. The HCC Board will name a replacement for her, with that person having to run again in 2023.

2021 runoff results

Here are the vote totals, and here’s an early Chron story which has the results right but was just before the last batch came in. To summarize:

– Sue Deigaard had the only easy night – she led by 30+ points early on and cruised to a 64-36 win.

– Bridget Wade had a modest early lead, which stretched out to a 54-46 win.

– The next closest race was in HCC, where Eva Loredo had a small lead all the way, eventually winning by five points.

– Elizabeth Santos held on by 41 votes, and unfortunately Kendall Baker finally managed to get elected to something, by 78 votes. It would not surprise me if there are recounts in either or both of these, though as we know, those seldom make any difference.

– The HISD board has Republicans on it again, for the first time since the 2017 election that put Deigaard and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca on and gave Anne Sung a full term. Democrats now hold a 7-2 advantage on the board. I fully expect Wade and Baker to make trouble, but they’re not going to be able to get anything passed unless they can convince at least three other members to go along with them.

– So is this a portent of Bad Things to come for Democrats? Eh, maybe, but I wouldn’t read too much into it. These were pretty solidly Republican districts – as was Deigaard’s – before 2017, and both Sung and Vilaseca were caught up in the Abe Saavedra fiasco. For what it’s worth, Harvin Moore beat Anne Sung by a similar 53-47 margin in the 2013 race, while Mike Lunceford in V and Greg Meyers in VI were unopposed. In fact, the last election in District VI before 2017 that wasn’t unopposed was in 1997.

– Total turnout in the four HISD district was about 35K, which is right about where I thought it would be.

– Election results came in at normal times, with the first Election Day numbers coming in at 8:15 and the final tallies being posted three hours later. Isabel Longoria tweeted that it was a wrap at 11:27. I saw some concerns about slowness at the voting sites related to the processing of the paper receipt, but I think that can be ameliorated by having more scanners at voting locations for future, higher-turnout elections.

It’s 2021 Runoff Day

The interactive map of voting locations is here, and a list with addresses is here. I do believe that most of the votes for the runoff have already been cast, but I’ve been wrong before. I’ll have results tomorrow. Those of you in HISD district V (Sue Deigaard), VI (Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca), and VII (Anne Sung) really need to make sure you vote.

Final 2021 runoff early voting totals

The last day of early voting is always the busiest. (Well, other than the 2020 election, but you get the idea.)

Early voting for four Houston ISD board seats and local council races ended Tuesday with 21,732 ballots cast, according to unofficial county totals.

The final day of voting saw its largest turnout for in-person balloting, with 2,851 voters hitting the polls, about 1,200 more than the next highest one-day total.

Election day will be Saturday for the HISD seats, individual city council races for Bellaire and Missouri City, and a trustee race in the Houston Community College System that were forced into runoffs after none of the candidates in the contests secured at least half the vote during the Nov. 2 election.

Polls will be open Saturday from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. To find your ballot, go to harrisvotes.com

You can see the final totals here. While the mail and in person totals were almost identical as of Saturday, there were about 5K in person votes cast on Sunday through Tuesday, but only a thousand mail ballots were returned. I thought we’d get to about 20K votes by Tuesday, so I was a bit pessimistic, but in the ballpark. My estimate from the weekend of 30-35K total votes overall may be a bit low as well, but I’m sticking with the idea that more than half of the votes have been cast already. Put the over/under at 35K, and we’ll see what happens. That would make turnout for the runoff about 75% of turnout from November for the affected districts. We’ll know by Sunday. Have you voted yet?

2021 runoff early voting report: Just checking in

I haven’t been following the daily early voting reports for the runoffs very closely. Only a small portion of the populace is voting, so comparisons to the November EV totals don’t mean anything. But we’re most of the way through the EV period, and I voted yesterday, so I thought I’d take a look. You can see the report through Saturday here. So far, about 15K votes have been cast, with an almost exact 50-50 split between mail ballots and in person ballots.

For what it’s worth, there were about 48K votes cast in the HISD districts that have runoffs. I’m not including the HCC 8 total as there’s overlap – I’m in both HISD I and HCC 8. Maybe we get to about 20K early votes by the end of the period on Tuesday – I’ll take a look after early voting ends. I would guess that in the end maybe 30-35K total votes are cast – I’d bet that early voting will be a significant majority, maybe two thirds of the final total. All of this is of course extremely back-of-the-envelope, but I feel reasonably comfortable saying that final runoff turnout won’t equal or surpass November turnout. At least, not cumulatively – it’s possible one of the districts could be running ahead. I’ll revise all of this when I see the final EV numbers.

One more thing – I voted at the West Gray multi-service center, which used to be my go-to place but isn’t now that there are places closer to my house, and since I don’t have a commute that takes me past there any more. This was the first time I’ve voted there without seeing a single candidate or campaign volunteer. That place is always jumping, so that felt very weird. Have you voted, and if so did you encounter anyone with a campaign?

HISD will keep its mask mandate

This is in response to that recent Fifth Circuit ruling about mask mandates in schools and whether Greg Abbott’s ban on them violated the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The Houston Independent School District will keep its mask mandate in place, district officials said Thursday, despite a federal appeals court ruling halting an injunction on Gov. Greg Abbott’s order prohibiting such requirements.

“The ruling does not impact the requirement that students, staff, and visitors must wear masks while on HISD property. This mandate remains in place for HISD schools,” the district said in a statement. “While we are heartened that we have maintained the lowest rate of active COVID-19 cases in the state and vaccinations are now available for our youngest students, HISD’s mask mandate will remain in place for students, staff, and visitors in all HISD schools, buildings, and buses regardless of vaccination status.”

HISD plans to review the mandate at the end of its semester after the holidays, Superintendent Millard House II said last month.

House implemented HISD’s mandate shortly before the start of the school year and the board of trustees voted to express support for it.

The district, by and large, has avoided significant backlash from individuals opposing the mandate, outside of a handful of parents who have addressed House and trustees at board meetings and during a recent series of community forums.

The district’s statement noted that HISD and other districts sued over the governor’s order in state district court. The lawsuit, it said, is based on state law regarding the authority of Texas school districts to make health and safety decisions for their students. It remains in litigation.

See here for more on the Fifth Circuit ruling. As noted, Superintendent House did say that HISD would consider lifting its mask mandate after the holidays if conditions continue to improve; who knows what will happen now that the omicron variant is out there. The federal lawsuit really didn’t have much bearing on HISD anyway, since they were among the plaintiffs that had sued Abbott in state court over his mandate ban, and won an injunction that as far as I know is still in place; besides, Abbott and Paxton don’t have any authority to enforce it anyway. The district and the Superintendent are doing the right thing. Keep on keeping on. The Press has more.

Early voting starts today for the 2021 runoffs

You know the drill – It’s runoff time for the 2021 elections, and early voting starts today. There are nine early voting locations, which you will find in the various districts that have runoffs – HISD districts I, V, VI, and VII, and HCC district 3, as well as City Council races in Bellaire and Missouri City(*). Early voting runs from today through next Tuesday, December 7. Early voting hours will be from 7 AM to 7 PM each day, except for Sunday the 5th, when it will be 12 PM to 7 PM. You can vote in the runoff whether or not you voted in November, though of course you can only vote if you’re in one of those places.

The HISD runoffs are particularly important because there are some characters in those races that we really don’t want or need to have in positions of power. The race in District I, which is my district, is one where reasonable people may reasonably disagree on the better choice. The races in districts V, VI, and VII involve perfectly fine endorsed-by-the-Chronicle incumbents against people who are going to crusade against masks and “critical race theory” and a whole lot of other nonsense. District VI in particular features a perennial candidate who frankly got too damn many votes in November despite a documented history of sexual harassment, and as I have come to find out, credible allegations of domestic abuse following his divorce a couple of years ago. Vote for Sue Deigaard in V, for Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca in VI, and for Anne Sung in VII.

The race in HCC is also one where you can go either way; the Chron restated their endorsement of challenger Jharrett Bryantt over the weekend. Get out and vote, you have plenty of time to do so.

(*) Several non-HISD districts don’t have runoffs, as a plurality is enough.

Re-endorsement watch: This time it’s Anne

Time to start thinking about those HISD and HCC runoffs, kids. The Chron has started thinking about them, because they have issued their endorsements for the runoffs. Of the four HISD runoffs, three involve candidates they endorsed the first time around: Incumbents Sue Deigaard and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, and challenger Janette Garza Lindner. In the District VII race, the candidate they endorsed did not make it to the runoff, so they had to try again, and this time they went with the incumbent, Anne Sung.

Anne Sung

Now it comes down to incumbent Anne Sung, a 42-year-old, Harvard-educated, former award-winning HISD physics teacher, strong advocate for special education and truly experienced board member who unfortunately made some poor choices that dimmed our view of her performance. In 2018, she joined colleagues who met secretly with former Superintendent Abe Saavedra, which state officials say violated Texas’ open meetings law. Three days later she voted to swap Saavedra for interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Sung apologized and said she only wanted Saavedra’s advice on state oversight issues and didn’t know of plans to hire him until moments before she voted for it. That excuse wasn’t quite sufficient. Still, incumbents only lose our endorsement when there’s a qualified replacement, and now we don’t believe there is one.

In the runoff, Sung faces Bridget Wade, 53, who touts her service as former Briargrove Elementary PTO president and carnival chair. She also sat on the Episcopal High School Board of Trustees.

In our interview with Wade, she talked about putting kids first and restoring integrity to the HISD board but she failed to articulate specific plans for doing so. Parroting phrases such as “best practices” and “school choice” offers little.

Far more concerning has been Wade’s willingness to pander to the right wing of the Republican Party, where she derives much of her support. She doesn’t just oppose HISD’s mask requirement, she dismisses it, without an ounce of introspection, as a “partisan political battle.”

It’s not a partisan act to implement policies that keep kids and teachers safe. It’s a partisan act not to. Communicable diseases are spread in the community and they’re fought the same way.

Last month, Wade cheered on some unmasked parents who became upset at having to wait to speak at a long meeting and began surrounding Superintendent Millard House II and shouting him down: “You do not walk away from us!” one yelled at him during a break. “You work for us!”

“Exactly right!” Wade responded on Twitter. “And the good woman who screamed that will know I work for you.”

Yelling and dysfunction are not the way. Not for parents. And not for HISD board members. We believe Sung understands that. She was never one of the disruptive voices and we believe she’s learned her lesson from the shenanigans of the past.

Her experience and dedication to HISD students speak for themselves. We urge voters to back Sung in the runoff for District VII.

See here, here, and here for the previous endorsements. As I said before, Sung is in a tough spot, as she trailed Wade on Election Day and doesn’t have nearly the campaign cash as the challenger. The district was also a Republican one in the pre-Trump days, though perhaps if the runoff voters see Wade as in the Trump mold that could help Sung. She has her work cut out for her. Early voting for the runoff starts Monday and runs through the following Tuesday, December 7. Get ready to vote again.

HISD will consider lifting its mask mandate

After the holidays, depending on how things go.

Houston ISD will consider changing its mask mandate policy after the winter break in the wake of expanded vaccine eligibility for youngsters and improving pandemic conditions in the city, Superintendent Millard House II said Monday.

House noted there have been spikes of COVID-19 infections following holidays since the pandemic began and said he would like to get through the winter holidays before deciding whether to lift the face-covering rule.

The district will seek feedback from the community about whether it should modify its mandate before making a decision, he said.

“We would like to get through the holidays and then we will come back from the holidays and consider what the data is telling us at that particular point,” House said. “And if we are continuing to push forward in the right direction — like we are heading right now — there will be consideration around, you know, not making the mask mandate mandated.”

[…]

Earlier this month, County Judge Lina Hidalgo reduced the threat level of COVID from “severe” to “significant” due to a decrease in new cases and hospitalizations. She encouraged unvaccinated persons to avoid gatherings, wear a mask and get a vaccine while asking those fully vaccinated to wear masks indoors due to significant transmission.

The Texas Medical Center reported 43 new hospitalizations on Sunday. Approximately 56.7 percent of the county’s population is considered fully vaccinated, per county data; that reflects nearly 69 percent of population aged 12 and older who are eligible for the vaccine. Across Texas, 54 percent of the population is considered fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Dr. Omar Matuk-Villazon, a pediatrician and Chief Medical Officer at the UH College of Medicine, said he has heard from children who are excited to get a shot because they see it as a way to get rid of masks. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still recommends universal masking in schools, but he said discussing paths to getting rid of mandates is a worthwhile conversation.

“Let’s have every kid who wants to be protected get protected and then let’s decide after that,” Matuk-Villazon said. “We may lose public health care trust. … We need to have a plan.”

At HISD, House has repeated since implementing the mandate less than two weeks before a full return to in-person instruction in August that it could be changed, depending on the circumstances of the pandemic. During recent town halls, he told some parents who asked him to consider changing it that it was his hope to, when the time is right.

Since the start of school, the district of nearly 195,000 students, has logged 3,569 cumulative cases among kids and 496 among staffers. As of Monday, it reported 241 active cases, 213 of which were students and 28 staffers.

As the story notes, some area districts have already lifted their mask mandates, while others haven’t made any plans to do away with theirs. HISD is also partnering with the Houston Health Department to provide vaccines for children ages 5 and up at select schools. I’m basically fine with this plan, and if you’ve listened to any of my HISD candidate interviews, you know this combination of “more vaccinations plus a sufficiently low case rate” was the consensus view for when the mask mandate should be eased up. I don’t think we need to be in any rush, so waiting to see if there are any post-holiday spikes is a good idea.

HISD really has done a good job of keeping everyone safe so far this semester. I can tell you, the number of calls and emails I’ve gotten about confirmed cases at my kids’ schools is far less than it was last spring. We should want to get to a point where it’s safe to let people go maskless. I hope this means that the vax rate among HISD teachers and staffers is sufficiently high to pursue this, and I would be very happy for them to continue to enforce masking among those who aren’t vaxxed. They’re the risky ones, after all. In the meantime, let’s set this goal, and then work to make it reachable. It’s worth doing.

It’s mostly about the gay books

Color me not surprised.

Greg Abbott in the 80s

While a Texas House committee chairman’s inquiry into schoolbooks has often been linked to new state laws limiting how teachers address slavery and racism, most of the literature he’s called into question deals with a wholly different subject: LGBTQ issues.

That has also been the focus of Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent demands of the Texas Education Agency to work with other statewide agencies to set standards to prevent schoolchildren from exposure to what he’s defined as “pornography or other inappropriate content” and to investigate any possible related crimes. The books that prompted such labels and backlash from parents at a handful of Texas school districts are written by LGBT authors and discuss LGBT identity and relationships.

Democrats have denounced the Republican efforts as politically motivated attacks meant to gin up support from their base that they say will ultimately result in censorship and harm students, especially those who are already marginalized.

It’s part of a trend of conservative-led fights across the country over how schools can teach about issues of race, particularly systemic racism, as well as sex and gender, blurring the already faint line between local and national politics.

Rep. Matt Krause, R-Fort Worth, chairman of the House General Investigating Committee, had given the districts until Friday to respond to his inquiry. Several reached by Hearst Newspapers — including Katy and Fort Bend in the Houston area and Northside and Spring Branch in the San Antonio area — said Thursday that they were still reviewing the request and/or did not expect to make the deadline.

The letter had asked districts whether they carried any books on a list of about 850 that included Pulitzer Prize winners and other acclaimed literature.

Krause, who has not responded to multiple requests for comment, has said the purpose of his request is to verify that the districts are in compliance with new laws passed this year.

[…]

Danika Ellis, who runs The Lesbrary, a blog about lesbian and bisexual books, reviewed the list of titles Krause ran by school districts. She found — as a Hearst Newspapers analysis also concluded — that more than 60 percent of the books had to do with matters related to LGBT topics. About 20 percent touched on transgender issues or featured a transgender character. At least 9 percent related to sex education.

That’s compared with just about 8 percent that relate to race and racism. The rest of the books were not as easily categorized but related to topics such as teen pregnancy, abortion, contraception, sexual assault and sexually transmitted diseases.

“This house bill is supposed to prevent ‘discomfort,’ but what about the discomfort of kids who experience racism or who never see themselves represented in the curriculum or the books on the shelves?” Ellis wrote on her blog. “What about the discomfort of queer kids who see that even mentioning people like them is categorized as inappropriate or obscene or even ‘pornography’?”

HB1525 was primarily meant to make adjustments to the major school finance bill, HB3, passed in 2019. But a last-minute amendment by Sen. Bryan Hughes, R-Mineola, inserted language that required school boards to develop a policy for the adoption of human sexuality curriculum and set new guidelines for boards to follow in approving the curriculum.

They now have to take into account the advice of local school health advisory councils, parent groups appointed by school boards that give recommendations. They also were already required to ensure any approved materials were “suitable for the subject and grade level for which the curriculum materials are intended” and “reviewed by academic experts.”

Hughes did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Mary González, D-Clint, who co-authored the bill and chairs the Texas House LGBT Caucus, said it “never had the breadth” that Krause is claiming it has.

“The SHAC was put into a school finance bill to continue to target sex education when we know research tells us the opposite: that medically accurate, age-appropriate sex education is really important to holistic development,” González said. “However, what Rep. Krause has been trying to do over the last few weeks is beyond sex education and beyond the SHAC’s work, and he is primarily doing this not out of concern for children but out of political advantage for his own attorney general race.”

See here and here for the background. As of Friday afternoon, Austin and Dallas ISDs had said they will not respond to Krause’s request; it’s my hope that more ISDs, including Houston, will follow suit. The Trib has two more stories about this publicity/campaign stunt by Krause, which you can read as you see fit. I hate giving the little twerp any more attention for this, but ignoring it doesn’t seem right, either.

Some years ago, I was having a discussion with a friend about then-Mayor Annise Parker’s victory in the 2009 election over Gene Locke. I was trying to figure out why Parker did better in the Republican City Council districts than Locke did, given that Locke had made some effort to woo Republican voters. My friend’s response was “they’re more racist than they are homophobic”, which I still think about from time to time. From the vantage point of today, maybe that’s not so clear anymore.

Runoffs will be on December 11

As is usually the case, the second Sunday in December for municipal and school board/community college runoffs.

Runoff elections will be held Dec. 11, the Harris County Elections Department announced Friday.

Four Houston ISD board seats, and individual council races for Bellaire and Missouri City, as well as a trustee race in the Houston Community College System will be decided in runoffs after none of those candidates won more than 50 percent of the votes cast.

Early voting is scheduled to begin Nov. 29 and end Dec. 7. Voters can cast ballots between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. during early voting, except for Dec. 5 when polls will be open from noon to 5 p.m.

Election day voting hours will run from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., and permit individuals in line by the cutoff time to vote even if their ballot is not cast until later.

Elections officials said they must wait for a Nov. 8 deadline before completing a final canvass of results and officially announcing runoff races. Four of five open HISD board seats were forced into a runoff, per unofficial returns.

The runoffs include four HISD trustee races, one Houston Community College board seat, and a single city council race in Bellaire and Missouri City.

The HISD runoffs have the potential to bring significant change to the Board of Trustees, though I think in the end the effect is likely to be fairly small.

Three incumbents — Elizabeth Santos in District 1, Sue Deigaard in District 5, Holly Flynn Vilaseca in District 6 — all were the leading vote-getters in their races, but failed to garner at least 50 percent of the ballots cast. Trustee Anne Sung in District 7 finished about 4 percentage points, or 631 votes, behind challenger Bridget Wade in unofficial returns. Neither passed the 50 percent threshold.

The only HISD race decided by voters Tuesday was for District 9, where Trustee Myrna Guidry fended off two challengers with nearly 61 percent of the vote.

The outcome of the runoffs, which will be scheduled for next month, could alter the board just as the district has reached a sense of stability with new Superintendent Millard House II preparing a multi-year strategic plan and the district considering its first bond referendum in nearly a decade.

The district still faces a potential takeover threat by the Texas Education Agency, but that effort remains tied up in litigation.

Two paths led to runoffs, said Jasmine Jenkins, executive director of education nonprofit Houstonians For Great Public Schools.

First, she said, there have been national conversations led by conservatives to encourage people to run for local office, sometimes by playing to racial divides and appealing to grievances, such as those surrounding mask mandates to fight the spread of COVID-19.

At the same time, and more locally, Jenkins said there may be voters who are happy with the district’s direction and current stability but wary of any board members “steeped in the dysfunction of years past.”

[…]

“I am still cautiously optimistic about what is to come no matter what the results of the runoffs are,” Jenkins said. “I am hopeful not just for stability and improved governance, but I am hopeful that the bold ideas of a new superintendent will be really supported and will be given shape by the vision and direction that the board gives him.”

I’m the least worried about Sue Deigaard, who came very close to getting fifty percent. Elizabeth Santos is in a similar position as she was going into the 2017 runoff, except this time she’s facing a Latina instead of an Anglo opponent. I think she’s a favorite to win again, but it’s not a sure thing. This is the one race where the ideology of the Board member won’t change that much either way, at least on the current hot button issues like masking and whatever the “critical race theory” debate is supposed to be about.

I think Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca is also the favorite to win in District VI, mostly because her opponent is a clueless perennial candidate, but the margin in round one was a lot closer than I would have liked. She’s going to need to work it to win, and I really hope she does because Kendall Baker would be a disaster on the Board. As for Anne Sung, she’s clearly in trouble. Running behind a candidate who has more money than you is never a good spot to be in. This is the one race in which the Chron will have to redo their endorsement, and I’ll be very interested to see if they care more about Bridget Wade’s opinions on those hot button issues or the quality of Anne Sung’s apology in the Saavedra/Lathan open meetings fiasco. They either overlooked or didn’t notice the “critical race theory” issue with their initial endorsement, so we’ll see.

As for HCC, we’re stuck with Dave Wilson again sigh but at least the runoff in District 8 between incumbent Eva Loredo and challenger Jharrett Bryantt isn’t a threat to the board’s functioning. Please remember that these elections are as important as the November elections, and make a plan to vote if you live in one of these districts.

More on the November 2021 election results

Here’s the Chron story on the Tuesday election results. It is mostly a straight recording of the individual races, including those I covered yesterday and others that I didn’t. Of the most interest to me is this:

Results were delayed until late Tuesday, in part because of a reported power outage at Harris County Elections’ counting center. Early and absentee totals were not available until after 10 p.m.,

“The machines are sensitive to any interference, so to ensure the integrity of the computers we conducted a full logic and accuracy test, which takes about two hours,” according to a Facebook post by the county’s elections administration office. “Though we want to get the results out quickly, we prioritize processing everything accurately even if it takes some extra time.”

The post said judges were dropping off equipment at the central counting location at that time.

People still were voting at 8 p.m., about an hour after polls closed, at one poll location, Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria tweeted.

“Standby, watch the Astros, and we’ll catch you soon,” Longoria said in the Tweet.

The Astros advice probably didn’t help anyone’s mood, but that’s hindsight. The Facebook post in question, which contains video of Longoria explaining what is happening, is here – there are more vids further up the page as well. Campos was furious, called it a “botched” night and an “epic failure”, and expects “outrage” from Commissioners Court. Stace was more measured, saying “these glitches give the County a chance to fix things so we can avoid them when everyone shows up next November”. I lean more in that direction, but I get the frustration – I wore myself out hitting Refresh on Tuesday – and there are a lot of questions to be asked and answered. I will be interested to see how the Court reacts.

Longoria also had this to say, on Twitter:

The line about jail voting refers to this. Not sure where she’s getting the 12% turnout figure from – going by the Election Day totals posted, there were 227,789 votes cast out of 2,482,914 registered voters, for 9.17% turnout. Still, that’s a significant increase from 2017, which had 150,174 ballots cast out of 2,233,533 voters, for 6.72% turnout. That’s a 52% increase in voters, or a 36% increase in turnout as a percentage of registered voters, in a year where there was nothing sexy on the ballot. What gives?

It could be an effect of a more energized Republican base, going to the polls to express their feelings about President Biden. I don’t know that the Constitutional amendments were a great vehicle for that, but maybe the school board races were. Conservative challengers are in runoffs in three races, so maybe that had something to do with it. Here’s a comparison of turnout from 2017 to 2021:


Year  Dist   Votes  Voters  Turnout
===================================
2017     I   9,784  78,479   12.47%
2021     I  10,108  87,671   11.53%

2017     V  12,431  85,309   14.57%
2021     V  17,153  89,123   19.25%

2017    VI   7,399  73,575   10.06%
2021    VI   8,972  77,508   11.58%

2017   VII  12,219  89,177   13.70%
2021   VII  15,596  99,824   15.62%

2017    IX   8,622  84,185   10.24%
2021    IX   8,935  90,067    9.32%

On the one hand, the two races that didn’t prominently feature conservative candidates actually had less turnout (at least percentage-wise) than they did in 2017. On the other hand, outside of the District V race, the increase wasn’t that much. In District VI, it was a jump of 21% in total voters, and 15% in turnout of RVs, and in District VII, it was 27% for voters and 14% for turnout of RVs. Not nothing, but much less than Harris County as a whole. Even District V, at a 38% increase in voters and 32% increase in turnout of RVs, was below the county level.

So who knows? Final turnout was definitely higher than I thought it would be, and in the end it was still the case that almost exactly half of the vote came in on Election Day. Again, more than I thought it would be but still a big step down from 2017, when 59% of the vote was on E-Day. Given the huge turnout in 2020, it may be the case that there are just now more habitual voters. If that’s so, we’ll see some of that effect in 2022 and especially 2023, when the open Mayoral race will also drive people to the polls. I don’t think there are any big conclusions to draw here, but let’s put a pin in this and see what we think a couple of years down the line.

November 2021 election results

At 9:45 PM last night, this is what we had:

I think there was a power outage, and apparently a long line. This is why you test new equipment in lower-turnout elections. I guess the good news is there will be a May election next year, to give it one more test drive before a higher turnout election. But this wasn’t a great look.

All of the constitutional amendments appear to be on their way to passage. Austin’s divisive Proposition A is losing badly. The special election runoff in HD118 is close – Frank Ramirez had the early lead, which widened when the first seven voting centers reported, then John Lujan caught up when the next eight reported. There are nine centers to report as I type this, so who knows what to expect. The proposal to incorporate The Woodlands was losing.

And that’s all I’ve got. When there’s something on the HarrisVotes page, I’ll update this.

UPDATE:

Partial results are here. In HISD, Sue Deigaard and Myrna Guidry are above 50%, while Elizabeth Santos is in a runoff with Janette Garza Lindner, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca is in a runoff with Kendall Baker, and Anne Sung is in a runoff with Bridget Wade, if everything holds. In HCC, Adriana Tamez is leading, and Eva Loredo is in a runoff with Jharrett Bryantt. John Lujan held on to win the runoff in HD118.

UPDATE: A much larger batch of votes has come in, though it looks like there are still a handful to be counted. Sue Deigaard is now slightly below 50%, so add one more HISD runoff to the pile. Other results are the same.

UPDATE: In re: those last ballots:

November 2021 final early voting totals

A busy final day, and a significant uptick in early votes over 2017.

Friday was the last day to vote early in the 2021 school board and state constitutional amendment elections with early numbers showing an uptick in turnout in Harris County compared with four years ago.

County election data shows the estimated total of those voting early in person as of Friday night to be 63,358 compared with the 46,224 in-person ballots cast in 2017, a 37 percent increase. Mail-in ballots also jumped in this early election period with tentative numbers showing 47,243 ballots cast compared with the 12,205 counted in 2017, almost a four-fold jump. .

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria said extended hours of operation, drive-thru voting and five 24-hour polling places helped boost election access for voters. On Thursday, polls that were open until 10 p.m. also saw increased activity.

“Voting until 10 p.m., we see from the stats last night, worked. People still came out to vote,” Longoria said of voters taking advantage of the longer hours. “We’re seeing that we just surpassed the 2017 in-person voting, which is amazing. When you help people remove those barriers — even something as small as having to print a form online — people go and vote, even in these ‘off-year’ elections.”

The final early voting report is here, and you can compare to the final 2017 EV report here. Overall, 110,601 people have voted in this election. That’s nearly double the total for the same period in 2017, with mail ballots being the biggest difference maker. It was only on the last day, when nearly 18K people voted in person, that the in person total surpassed the mail ballot total. Of those 63,258 in person voters, 3,100 used drive-through voting. Six hundred and eleven voted during the extended hours, including overnight voting.

How is that likely to affect final turnout? Compared to 2017, when 150,174 people voted in total. Based on past history, we’d expect turnout of over 200K, given that in the past most people voted on Election Day in even-numbered years. I strongly suspect that a much larger fraction of the voters have already shown up, thanks in part to the surge in mail voting, and in part to the increase in early voting from 2020. I’m betting that just as elections that came after 2008, the first time we ever had more than half the votes cast early, we’ll see a bump in early voting for other elections as well. By the way, that surge in mail ballots is due in part to the Elections office sending a mail ballot application to every eligible voter. Which they’ll not be able to do again because of the voter suppression bill that was passed by the Lege. I’m sure we all feel so much safer now. Anyway, I’m going to take a wild guess and say that about 2/3 of the vote has already been cast, which means I figure final turnout will be in the 160-170K range. That’s a notch up from 2017, but we also have more registered voters. The number to look for is turnout as a percentage of registered voters, which was 6.72% in 2017. My guess is we’ll still be pretty close to that. But we’ll see! Have you voted yet?

8 day campaign finance reports: HISD

I don’t often go to the 8-day finance reports, mostly because there’s too little time to squeeze everything in, but HISD is the main story this year, so let’s have a look. The 30-day report summaries can be found here, and the July reports are here.

Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

Sue Deigaard, District V
Maria Benzon, District V
Caroline Walter, District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Kendall Baker, District VI
Greg Degeyter, District VI

Anne Sung, District VII
Bridget Wade, District VII
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

Myrna Guidry, District IX
Gerry Monroe, District IX
Joshua Rosales, District IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        16,677     25,640        0       6,565
I     Lindner       29,530     46,115        0      44,217
I     Kopinsky       4,225      6,087        0       2,523
V     Deigaard      20,560     14,077        0      47,097
V     Benzon         3,161      2,587        0       5,344
V     Walter         2,050      9,953        0         633
VI    Vilaseca      13,345     40,716        0      39,403
VI    Baker          5,150      1,553        0       1,765
VI    Degeyter       1,616      5,688    5,781         212
VII   Sung          21,872     58,920        0       3,358
VII   Wade          36,256    110,643    7,000      89,071
VII   Jefferson      9,200      9,080        0         119
VII   Walker        
IX    Guidry         5,555      5,550    7,500       5,000
IX    Monroe        11,406      1,247        0      10,159
IX    Rosales        6,150      7,975    2,177         352

All of the finance reports for each candidate can be found here. There was not an 8-day report listed for Mac Walker, so the link for him is to his 30-day report.

The 8-day is generally where you start to see more money being spent than raised. There’s less time to raise it – barely three weeks since the previous report – and now is the time to send mail, do robocalls, run ads, pay canvassers if that’s your thing, and so forth.

I’m not surprised that Bridget Wade is the top spender here, given that she was the big fundraiser from the jump. She has TV ads running – I saw one during “Monday Night Football” this week. Not necessarily the best use of campaign money, given that plenty of people who are not in District VII (such as myself) will see the ad, and not all of those who are in District VII will make the connection, but the first job of any campaign is to make sure people know there’s an election and that this candidate is running in it. A TV ad checks those boxes, and as a bonus you may get other people to talk about it. Mission accomplished. Her report shows $50K for a cable TV buy, plus another $10K for radio. Anne Sung has put the bulk of her spending – over $46K – into mail, plus $3K for digital ads.

Here in District I, I’ve gotten a ton of mail from both the Santos and Garza Lindner campaigns; I’ve also been stalked on the web by Santos online ads. The Santos campaign has had canvassers out in the neighborhood – we got door-knocked on Wednesday – which led Campos (who consults for the Garza Lindner campaign) to grouse about PAC money being spent, in this race and in others, with little disclosure about how the funds are being spent and who it is that is doing the spending. This is the report he’s talking about – the PAC in question is Patriot Majority Texas, funded by the American Federation of Teachers, and in support of trustees Santos, Vilseca, and Sung. Indeed, it does not tell you much. Sung is getting more than Santos – given her opponent, Sung needs all the help she can get – with Vilaseca getting considerably less. Make of it what you will.

Both Gerry Monroe ($10K) and Dwight Jefferson ($17K) had outstanding loan totals listed for their 30 day reports. Neither reported any such total on the 8 day report, and I don’t see how either of them could have been paid off. The omission is probably an oversight on their part. Finance reports are weird, man.

Not much else to say. What campaign activity have you observed in your district?

2021 Day Seven EV report: After the weekend

Let’s get right to it: These are the early voting totals for the 2021 election after Sunday:

Mail ballots: 36,517
In person: 19,901

You can see the full Day Seven report here. The “voters by type” breakdown on the last page only goes through Saturday, so I don’t have the most up to date numbers on drive through voting, but it’s a pretty small fraction of the total.

The thing that I noticed when I looked at the numbers was that Saturday was not the biggest day of in person voting, as I had expected it to be. My first thought was that this was an outlier, and that there had to be some reason for it that I would need to speculate on. Turns out, this is the new normal, at least for odd-numbered years. Look at the EV daily totals for 2019, 2017, 2015, and a few elections before then, and you’ll see that Saturday is a good day for turnout, but generally only the second best day. It’s the Friday that leads the pack, and that has been true for odd-numbered years going all the way back to 2009, the last year in which Saturday led the first week’s totals.

Odd years continue to be unlike the even-numbered years in that early voting is a much smaller piece of the pie. I consider the year 2008 to be an inflection point in voter behavior, in that it was the first year of any in which more than half of the total vote was cast before Election Day. That very much persists in even-year races, with nearly 88% of the vote in 2020 being cast early. Looking at previous Presidential years, 2016 followed this year’s pattern of Saturday not being the biggest day of the first week, but in 2012 and 2008 Saturday led the way. 2020 was a different kind of outlier because of the extra week of early voting and the supercharged early energy, but there you can see that there was a significant dropoff on Saturday after that frenzied first week.

So what has happened? Two things, I would guess. One is just that we are all used to voting early, even those of us who persist in waiting until Election Day. And two, because early voting is such a part of the fabric now, it’s more common for people to do it as part of their workday routine. I have voted during my lunch hour most years, and I think that’s pretty common. Whatever the reason, Saturday is not the huge narrative-setting day that it used to be in the EV process.

The rest of this week, if previous patterns hold, will wind up exceeding the first five days. I kind of think that won’t be the case, because of the large number of mail ballots, but we’ll see. In any event, the norm is for the first two to four days of this week to be similar to last week, with Friday being the biggest day of the whole period. I don’t know if that’s what we’ll get this time, but we’ll see. Have you voted yet?

Chron overview of the HISD Trustee elections

There is an election, with candidates, and they all deserve a paragraph and maybe a quote if they’re lucky so you can sort it all out and know how to vote.

Five seats on the Houston ISD Board of Education will be decided Nov. 2, potentially altering the shape of the nine-member board as the district finds a sense of stability with its first permanent superintendent in years but remains under threat of a state takeover.

Sixteen individuals, including the incumbents, are vying for the seats representing Districts 1, 5, 6, 7 and 9.

Several candidates pointed to the potential state takeover and previous board dysfunction as reasons that prompted them to seek office. Meanwhile, several incumbents noted recent progress and momentum with Superintendent Millard House II, who started in July and is working on a strategic plan for the district, as reason they wished to remain in their roles.

The board has changed in the two years since its infighting was laid bare by a video of a meeting for training on how to govern. Within the last five months, for instance, current trustees have unanimously hired House, expressed support for his decision to implement a mask mandate in defiance of a gubernatorial executive order, and approved a bigger-than-expected pay raise for teachers.

You can read the rest, or you can listen to my interviews with the candidates (you can see a full list of them in this post), or go back and read all the Chron endorsements, which give more than one paragraph to at least one of the candidates in each. And with all that, I do hope they have a similar piece about the HCC Trustee races. Even one paragraph is better than nothing.

Superintendent House’s listening tour

I like what he’s been doing.

During his first week as Houston ISD’s superintendent in July, Millard House II said he welcomed feedback from everyone, especially those who long have been left out of important discussions.

He has been receiving a steady stream of feedback on small comment cards and at microphones at a series of town hall meetings.

Residents, employees and parents have complained to the leader of the state’s largest school district about campuses that have been neglected, asked him about how he plans to address issues, both new and old, and have urged him to prioritize children.

Specifically, House has heard about transportation woes exacerbated by a driver shortage, the district’s struggles to appropriately educate students with special needs, the neglect of school libraries and unequal access to resources and funding across the district.

The issues have been brought to House’s attention at a series of town halls he hosted in recent weeks.

The discussions are expected to inform conversations about his first strategic plan for HISD as its superintendent. In a brief interview, House said the gatherings were just the first step in collecting information for the plan, the first draft of which he hopes to have ready in the next couple months.

As speakers lined up at microphones, House cautioned audiences he still was new to the role and did not know everything.

“I am just over the 60-day mark, so I am not going to have answers for you this evening,” he said Wednesday at Booker T. Washington High School. “My purpose in being here is to hear you and then to infuse what you are providing to me as a superintendent and let you hold me accountable when it is all said and done.”

At each meeting, House emphasized the strategic plan will not be his or the Board of Education’s but “our” plan.

From the rest of the story, he seems to be doing a good job hearing what people are telling him and taking action, often getting the person asking the question involved in the solution. Each of the HISD trustees and candidates I’ve interviewed so far has had positive things to say about Superintendent House. It’s early, and whatever plan he comes up with to deal with things like special ed and improving underperforming schools and more equitably distributing HISD resources will surely have its share of critics. But he seems to be going about this the right way, and of course we all want him to succeed. There’s a lot on the line here, and we have no time to lose.

Early voting starts today for the 2021 election

Time to strap on the pads and get yourself out to the polling places:

A sample ballot for Harris County is here – note that it covers all of the local elections, so much of what you see will not be on your specific ballot. Early voting hours will be 7 AM to 7 PM every day except Sunday the 24th (12 PM to 7 PM) and Thursday the 28th, which will be 7 AM to 10 PM with 24-hour voting at select locations. You can see a map of locations here – there are a lot of them – and you can use the “find your nearest polling place” utility here. Note that there are also some drive-through locations. This is because the new voter suppression law does not take effect until next year. Enjoy these things while you still can.

Here’s a list of all my interviews for the cycle:

Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Joshua Rosales, HISD District IX
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3
Reagan Flowers, HCC District 4
Eva Loredo, HCC District 8
Jharrett Bryantt, HCC District 8

There are also the Constitutional amendments. If you’d like someone to explain them all to you with advice on how to vote, the latest edition of the H-Town Progressive podcast, with guest Andrea Greer, has you covered. This is going to be a low turnout election, you should be in and out in minutes at any location, so get out there and make your voice heard.

More on the Mac Walker ballot name situation

Good move by HISD.

Mac Walker

Houston ISD on Tuesday took responsibility for failing to include the nickname of a trustee candidate when it entered his name in a county elections office portal.

Lee “Mac” Walker, vying for district 7, said last week he learned of the issue when a voter asked whether he was on the ballot. On his application to run, he listed his preferred name — Mac — as the name he wanted identified on the ballot. He has been campaigning under the nickname.

He is listed on the ballot, however, simply as Lee Walker.

“HISD acknowledges and takes responsibility for the error in inputting Mr. Walker’s name into the Harris County Elections Administrator’s Office Entity Portal,” district officials said in a statement Tuesday. “Corrective actions and systems in the Office of Board Services have been put into place to ensure that this does not happen again.”

County elections officials said last week the name cannot be changed on the ballot, citing the resources and time required to perform a logic and accuracy test for the entire election before voting begins.

HISD said it will use both Walker’s legal and preferred name in election notices it is required to publish in a newspaper, on the bulletin board used for posting board meeting notices and on its website.

The district said it additionally will publish election notices in the Forward Times, La Voz and Vietnam Post and mail notices of the Nov. 2 election to registered voters in all five of the single-member districts having an election.

See here for the background. Sometimes you make a mistake that can’t be corrected. When that happens, you can at least make amends, and do everything you can to make sure it doesn’t happen again. That’s what HISD has done here, and as someone who wants fair elections, I appreciate it. It’s not the best of all possible situations, but it was the best they could do given what had already happened. That’s all you can ask.

Endorsement watch: Incumbents go one for three

In HISD District VII, the Chron goes with a challenger, in this case Mac Walker.

Mac Walker

In unruly classrooms and school boards alike, you’ve got good kids, you’ve got troublemakers, and then you’ve got the good kids who, for some reason, follow the troublemakers down a path to mischief.

That was Anne Sung in 2018. Amid the HISD board’s dysfunction, this Harvard-educated, former award-winning HISD physics teacher and strong advocate for special education whom we had enthusiastically endorsed for District VII trustee joined colleagues who met secretly with former Superintendent Abe Saavedra, which state officials say violated Texas’ open meetings law. Three days later she voted to swap Saavedra for interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan.

Sung apologized and said she only wanted Saavedra’s advice on state oversight issues and didn’t know of plans to hire him until moments before she voted for it.

“I didn’t understand what was happening,” she told us. We don’t know what’s worse — premeditating a school board coup or hastily voting for it, without public input, after two minutes’ deliberation.

Incumbents only lose our endorsement when there’s a qualified replacement and luckily there’s Mac Walker.

Listed on ballots as “Lee Walker” due to a district error, he’s a first-time candidate whose motivation truly seems to be raising up the district that raised him.

My interview with Mac Walker is here, with Anne Sung is here, with Bridget Wade is here, and with Dwight Jefferson is here. Clearly, Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca got luckier with her opposition than either Anne Sung or Elizabeth Santos did. The editorial also touches on the ballot name situation, so hopefully as many people as possible will be properly informed about that.

Over in the HCC races, the Chron stays with one incumbent, Adriana Tamez in District 3.

Adriana Tamez

In 2013, when the editorial board endorsed Dr. Adriana Tamez for an unexpired term on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, she represented a breath of fresh air on a board mired with longstanding issues of cronyism and dereliction.

Two years later, when we endorsed her again — for a full term this time — it was because she impressed us with her stalwart commitment to workforce development and unabashed calls for financial accountability in her first term. Today, she’s campaigning on the same platform.

Despite some clear blemishes on her record these past six years, her steady demeanor, deep well of educational, financial and managerial knowledge and focused grasp of the remaining gaps in HCC’s system leads us to recommend District III voters give Adriana Tamez, 57, another term representing southeast Houston.

Tamez can point to concrete achievements she’s helped usher in for HCC. From cementing partnerships with Apple and the PepsiCo Foundation to help students access career opportunities, to expanding dual-credit programs in high schools and working on investing COVID funds in resilient online infrastructure, she has put her nearly three decades of educational experience — as a bilingual teacher, principal, HISD central region superintendent, president and CEO of a charter school — to good use.

My interview with Adriana Tamez is here; I did not interview her opponent. I personally think she’s one of the better board members, and we’re going to need all the help we can get with sigh Dave Wilson coming back.

Over in HCC District 8, it’s another challenger as the Chron goes with Jharrett Bryantt.

Jharrett Bryantt

Since 2009, Eva Loredo has been a stalwart on the Houston Community College Board of Trustees, a former board chair who has provided stability and leadership through a storm of scandals.

There comes a time, though, when a bold challenger with fresh ideas can bring new vision to an entity sorely in need of it.

As such, we recommend Jharett Bryantt to represent this diverse district that stretches from southwest Houston to the Port of Houston.

Bryantt, 32, an assistant superintendent for HISD, is considered something of a rising star in education circles. Earlier this year, he was a finalist for superintendent for a mid-sized Utah school district.

His ambitions may go far beyond the borders of District VIII. Yet one of his areas of expertise — college readiness — dovetails nicely with HCC’s mission, and Bryantt impressed the editorial board with his ideas for improving HCC’s subpar 30 percent graduation rate. His proposal to tie graduation rates to the evaluation of HCC’s chancellor would bring much-needed accountability.

This kind of problem-solving was missing from Loredo’s pitch. Loredo, 69, talks about how she puts students first, but didn’t present a single idea on how to improve HCC’s declining enrollment — a 17 percent drop from 2019 to 2020. Loredo waved it off as part of a nationwide trend, which is true, but trustees should still act urgently to address it.

My interview with Jharrett Bryantt is here and with Eva Loredo is here. This is a legitimately tough choice – I have a lot of respect for Loredo, but Bryantt is an impressive and well-qualified candidate. Listen to the interviews and make up your own mind.

Interview with Joshua Rosales

Joshua Rosales

Every election I get at least one late response or contact from a candidate that I had not interviewed. This year I got a reply to my email to Joshua Rosales after the interview I did with Myrna Guidry had run. Rosales is another PTO dad as a two-term President at Hobby Elementary Dual Language Academy who works in strategic planning, marketing and growth at a global law firm. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, HISD District V
Anne Sung, HISD District VII
Elizabeth Santos, HISD District I
Janette Garza Lindner, HISD District I
Matias Kopinsky, HISD District I
Bridget Wade, HISD District VII
Maria Benzon, HISD District V
Dwight Jefferson, HISD District VII
Mac Walker, HISD District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, HISD District VI
Myrna Guidry, HISD District IX
Greg Degeyter, HISD District VI
Adriana Tamez, HCC District 3
Reagan Flowers, HCC District 4
Eva Loredo, HCC District 8
Jharrett Bryantt, HCC District 8

Endorsement watch: Garza Lindner and Vilaseca

The Chron goes against an incumbent in HISD District I.

Janette Garza Lindner

Trustee Elizabeth Santos, 39, is asking voters to keep her on the board representing Houston ISD District I. They shouldn’t.

Santos’ connection to the district is deep. She grew up attending its schools and taught English there. Her dedication to students shines through when she speaks. As a board member, she helped get raises for teachers and staff as a vocal champion for better pay in the district, whose teachers remain among the region’s lowest paid.

That record speaks in her favor, but it does not overcome her weaknesses as a board member.

An early strike against Santos came in late 2018, when she joined four other trustees to oust Interim Superintendent Grenita Lathan in a surprise vote that came after the five had met with a former superintendent whom they then named to replace Lathan. The Texas Education Agency cited that apparent violation of the state’s open meetings law as partial grounds for replacing the whole board.

Santos defends her actions, and claimed in our meeting with her she hadn’t known in advance that Lathan would be fired. But the episode was deeply disruptive and showed poor judgment.

That was an early mistake, but unfortunately Santos has not provided the steady influence and smooth leadership that the school board, with all its recent acrimony, so badly needs. In interviews with us and other outlets recently, she has also struggled to share a cogent vision for how she’ll use a second term to steer the district to further success.

On the other hand, Janette Garza Lindner, 45, is a strong candidate. The mother of two HISD students, she grew up in Brownsville, bilingual in Spanish and English, as an adopted daughter of a widow who left school in the second grade and never learned to read. She graduated from the University of Texas and is an energy industry consultant and project manager. In 2019, she received training as a board fellow of Latinos for Education and serves on the leadership committee of Arts Connect Houston.

My interview with Elizabeth Santos is here, with Janette Garza Lindner is here, and with Matias Kopinsky is here. I noted the issue about the Lathan/Saavedra mess when the Chron endorsed Sue Deigaard, noting that she was not involved in the non-compliant meeting, but I totally forgot to mention that Santos was one of the trustees they might have opposed as a result. I don’t know how much this hurts Santos – she was not the Chron-endorsed candidate in 2017, either – but in a low-turnout affair it may boost Garza Lindner a bit. I figure this is going to a runoff anyway, so we’ll see then if Santos may be in some trouble.

Over in District VI, the Chron did endorse incumbent Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca despite her involvement in that meeting.

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

Overseeing the nation’s seventh-largest public school system does not accommodate learning curves. After Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca was appointed to the board in January 2017, the editorial board endorsed her for a full term , reasoning that nine months is hardly enough time to garner a first impression, let alone demonstrate the breadth of knowledge.

Through five years, three superintendents, an attempted state takeover of the district, Flynn Vilaseca has acquitted herself well on the board as a steady voice and an open mind with a deep fluency on education policy. We recommend District VI voters give her another term representing West Houston.

Flynn Vilaseca, 40, a bilingual former early childhood teacher, wants to bolster the district’s investments in special education and better train campus principals on managing finances to avoid wasteful spending. Her support for wraparound services for special education students is admirable and desperately needed in a district still routinely failing students with learning differences.

Flynn Vilaseca’s role in one of the more shameful chapters in the district’s history is a vulnerability. She was among five trustees who allegedly met in secret with former HISD superintendent Aberlardo Saavedra to coordinate replacing the interim superintendent with him. TEA officials alleged the “walking quorum” violated the Texas Open Meetings Act and led the agency to recommend replacing the entire board.

Flynn Vilaseca claims Saavedra was a long-time mentor and that she arranged the meeting so trustees could discuss “concerns on the board,” but never talked about hiring him. Why, then, did she hand Saavedra a copy of another former superintendent’s contract? According to her 2019 affidavit: “Because he had previously asked for it.”

Even if true, it doesn’t excuse how she was willing to vote days later, ostensibly with only a few minutes notice, without public input, to hire Saavedra.

That said, Flynn Vilaseca seemed sincere in her apology, and pledged to rebuild the public’s trust through transparency. We’re taking another chance on her because her collaborative, moderate voice is needed and because her challengers came up short.

My interview with Flynn Vilaseca is here and with Greg Degeyter is here. Maybe the difference in the Chron’s eyes between Santos and Flynn Vilaseca was the quality of the apology. We’ll see how Anne Sung fares when it’s her turn.

Endorsement watch: Deigaard and Guidry

We are in the last week before early voting begins for the 2021 election, and that means it’s time for Chronicle endorsements. This would be waaaaaaaay late in a more normal year, but as we know there aren’t that many races on the ballot, so now is fine. Two endorsements today, both for incumbents, beginning with Sue Deigaard in District V.

Sue Deigaard

In District V, we recommend voters keep incumbent Sue Deigaard, 52, in the seat representing southwest Houston that she’s held since 2017.

Deigaard, a longtime public education advocate, contends House needs an experienced board to continue addressing massive challenges: according to state accountability ratings, 48 of HISD’s 276 campuses are categorized by state accountability ratings as D or F schools, and more than 95 percent of the students at those schools are children of color.

We believe Deigaard’s deep knowledge of finance and education governance will help implement the district’s forthcoming strategic plan to help schools improve. She wants in a second term to continue improving HISD’s education of students with special needs, and better fund not only the district’s worst-performing schools but also schools that are performing “fine” yet are still under-resourced.

Deigaard, who served a one-year stint in 2020 as board president, supported a performance audit to assess district spending and counts among her accomplishments an expansion of high-quality pre-K and helping the board increase teacher salaries this summer.

Unlike some other trustees seeking re-election, Deigaard didn’t take part in a sloppy spectacle in 2018 in which state regulators contend several trustees violated the Texas Open Meetings Act by surreptitiously meeting with a former HISD superintendent and then days later, voting without public debate to install him as superintendent and oust the interim leader.

My interview with Sue Deigaard is here. I also interviewed Maria Benzon, about whom the Chron said some nice things. That last paragraph above makes me think that Anne Sung and Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca may have something to worry about. We’ll know soon enough.

The Chron also recommended Myrna Guidry.

Myrna Guidry

Last December, HISD trustees unanimously appointed Myrna Guidry, an attorney, to replace Wanda Adams, who resigned after being elected as a justice of the peace. Guidry, 56, has proven a steadying influence on a board that’s been plagued by dysfunction and has earned our support for a full term.

Guidry’s argument for reelection is that her first 10 months as a trustee have been devoted to selecting a superintendent and stabilizing after a rough patch. She contends the district, under new leadership of Millard House II, is finally on the right path.

We appreciated her straightforward explanation of why she supported a mask mandate in HISD schools. Guidry explained that she listened to the medical experts and also her constituents who “overwhelmingly” supported mask use. Guidry, like the rest of the board, has more to do to earn the full trust of the community she represents. We believe she can. She is engaged in a range of civic organizations and displays a solid grasp of the inequities facing many in District IX and throughout HISD.

My interview with Myrna Guidry is here. I did eventually hear back from her opponent Joshua Rosales, and will run his interview on Friday. I’m a little surprised that the HISD mask mandate wasn’t a bigger part of these endorsement pieces so far – it’s my understanding that at least Caroline Walter in District V is anti-mask – but I suppose there are plenty of other issues to focus on.

I assume we’ll be getting these throughout the week, plus recommendations for the constitutional amendments (yes, we have those on the ballot as well) and perhaps some other area races that may be on your ballot but are not on mine. Get yourself in that voting frame of mind, because ready or not here it comes.

30 day campaign finance reports: HISD

HISD and HCC elections are the main event this November, and as we approach the start of early voting, we can now look at the 30-day campaign finance reports for the candidates. Here’s what things look like in HISD.

Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I

Sue Deigaard, District V
Maria Benzon, District V
Caroline Walter, District V

Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Kendall Baker, District VI
Greg Degeyter, District VI

Anne Sung, District VII
Bridget Wade, District VII
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

Myrna Guidry, District IX
Gerry Monroe, District IX
Joshua Rosales, District IX


Dist  Candidate     Raised      Spent     Loan     On Hand
==========================================================
I     Santos        23,383      7,319        0      18,733
I     Lindner       60,385     12,809        0      44,500
I     Kopinsky       3,492      2,905        0       1,619
V     Deigaard      31,565     15,662        0      42,728
V     Benzon         6,297      2,555        0       3,741
V     Walter        14,792      8,535        0       8,977
VI    Vilaseca      42,632     12,792        0      52,853
VI    Baker          8,370      6,604        0       1,765
VI    Degeyter       1,703      2,887    2,900       1,703
VII   Sung          64,506     18,888        0      61,419
VII   Wade          78,655     58,612    7,000     142,906
VII   Jefferson        712     16,008   17,000           0
VII   Walker        64,776      4,263        0      58,412
IX    Guidry        10,000     11,864    7,500       5,636
IX    Monroe        25,500     15,429   10,000         120
IX    Rosales        1,702      1,818    1,786       1,669

The July reports are here. Incumbents not up for election do not have to file 30 day or 8 day reports, so we’ll next hear from them in January. Not everyone listed here had a July report, so for some people this is all we have.

This is one of those non-city election years, and with all that’s going on nationally and in Austin I don’t know how much people are even aware of these races, let along how much they’re paying attention to them. I live in District I and I do see a fair number of yard signs, for all three candidates. With the pandemic and work from home I’m not out and about much, and as such I have no idea what things might look like in other districts. Are you seeing any signs of activity where you live, if you have an HISD race on your ballot? Please leave a comment and let me know.

I’m a little surprised there isn’t more money in the District V race. Sue Deigaard raised almost the exact same amount as she did last period – I actually went and double checked to make sure I wasn’t looking at the wrong report. I might have expected Maria Benzon, who is being supported by the teachers’ union, to have raised more. I know they’re going to spend some money on her behalf (and on behalf of their other candidates), but I still expected to see some of that in her report. As for Caroline Walter, one of the anti-mask candidates on the ballot, I will note that she got $2,500 from Cal and Hannah McNair. Those of you that haven’t given up on the Texans yet, make of that what you will.

District VII is the race with the most money in it. Bridget Wade had a nice followup to her huge July haul, Anne Sung stepped it up from July, and Mac Walker did well. Dwight Jefferson is the odd one out, but there’s always someone who doesn’t raise much. I’m told that Wade is advertising on TV, and indeed her report shows $30K for “cable/OTT media buy”. Anyone out there seen one of her ads?

In District VI, perennial candidate/loser Kendall Baker got most of his money from himself (he listed a $5000 self-contribution), plus $2000 from Hannah McNair. She sure can pick ’em. Gerry Monroe got $10K from the Conservative Republicans of Harris County, and $10K from Steven Hotze. I sure hope Democrats are paying attention in District IX, because this is Myrna Guidry’s first time on the ballot, and we sure don’t need someone like Gerry Monroe on the Board. He also reported a $50K in kind donation from Aubrey Taylor Communications for “political newspaper advertisements”, which is hilarious and ridiculous on multiple levels. Oh, and a $500 contribution from Hannah McNair.

So that’s the basic landscape at this time. I’ll do a post on the 30 day HCC reports, and will look at the 8 day reports when they come out. As always, let me know what you think.

What’s in a ballot name, 2021 edition

This is unfortunate.

Mac Walker

A candidate for the Houston ISD Board of Education said Friday his name has been printed incorrectly on ballots and county elections officials said it is too late to change the name.

Lee “Mac” Walker, running for the district 7 seat, said the issue came to his attention last weekend when a voter emailed to ask if he was on the ballot. The voter sent him a picture of the ballot, which showed his legal name, Lee Walker, instead of the nickname he has gone by and campaigned under, he said.

Walker’s notarized application shows he wrote he wanted his name to be displayed as Mac Walker on the ballot, according to district records. The application has a notary’s stamp on the bottom. A sample ballot shows his name appears as Lee Walker.

An HISD spokesperson said Friday evening the district was looking into questions from the Chronicle.

“I have gone by Mac since the day I was born,” Walker said. “I am just disappointed.”

[…]

Harris County Elections Administrator Isabel Longoria told Walker changing the language of the ballot would require a new logic and accuracy test for the entire election, according to an email sent to Walker that he shared with the Chronicle.

That test requires voting more than 15,500 ballots, five days and more than 60 staffers. Post-test requirements include multiple tasks that would be “impossible” to complete with the test before Wednesday, when equipment and materials will be delivered to early voting sites, Longoria wrote in the email.

“In short: at this point in our election preparations, making a correction in even one race would imperil our ability to start early voting for all the 44 entities on the ballot,” Longoria wrote. “After consultation with the Office of Texas Secretary of State, I’ve decided to move forward with our course of action to avoid derailing the entire Nov. 2nd election.”

Walker forwarded me the email correspondence he had with HISD and the Harris County Elections office regarding this snafu. The error is HISD’s, and at this point it appears to be too late to fix it. (Walker said in his email to Isabel Longoria that he “notified your office on Monday” and that he was disheartened to hear her say that “time is the real bottleneck in the matter when it took you four days to respond”.) I have not spoken to anyone at HISD or in the Elections office – I received this correspondence Friday night after I had gone to bed – so I have no further context to offer for any of this. I am in favor of people appearing on the ballot by their preferred name (within reason), and by any reasonable standard, “Mac Walker” is the name that should be on this ballot. It’s unfortunate that it likely will not happen in this race. Given that, the best I can do is to let you know the situation. Hope this helps.

Interview with Greg Degeyter

Greg Degeyter

There are two challengers running in HISD District VI, and today I present to you an interview with one of them, Greg Degeyter. Degeyter is an attorney who specializes in helping people get disability benefits, after having been a meteorlogist and working for the Environmental Protection Service; he made a career change after suffering an injury in an automobile crash. He has three children with special needs, which he credits as the catalyst to get more involved in politics. Here’s our interview:

(The other candidate in District VI is perennial candidate Kendall Baker. I did not reach out to him.)

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI
Myrna Guidry, District IX

Interview with Myrna Guidry

Myrna Guidry

There’s one incumbent on the HISD Board of Trustees that you may be less familiar with, and that’s District IX incumbent Myrna Guidry, who was appointed to the Board in December of 2020 to replace Wanda Adams, who had been elected Justice of the Peace that November. Guidry is an attorney focusing on family and probate law and the parent of a recent HISD graduate. She is also a mediator and continues to serve as an adjunct law professor of mediation at the Thurgood Marshall School of Law. Here’s our conversation:

(Note: I did not reach out to candidate Gerry Monroe.)

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII
Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, District VI

Interview with Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca

Holly Flynn Vilaseca

I will be finishing off interviews with HISD trustees this week, and then moving into the HCC races next week. We have two incumbents and one challenger to meet, and we begin with Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, the incumbent in District VI. Appointed to fill out an unexpired term in January 2017, she was elected to a full term that November, and has served on the Audit and Special Education committees. A native of Ohio before moving to Houston and attending HISD schools, she is the daughter of Colombian immigrants and was a bilingual pre-k and early childhood teacher for six years, and is now Chief Relationship Officer at thinkLaw, an organization that uses real-life legal cases to teach critical-thinking skills. The interview I did with her in 2017 is here, and the interview I did with her for this election is below:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII
Mac Walker, District VII

COVID continues to run amuck at the schools

This is our reality.

Students in Texas public schools are facing another year upturned by COVID-19 as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, mask mandates are inconsistent and children under 12 cannot yet be vaccinated against the virus.

Less than two months into this school year, the number of reported coronavirus cases among students has surpassed the total from the entire 2020-21 school year. Schools are prohibited from taking precautions such as requiring masks, though some are fighting the governor’s order banning mask mandates. Far more students are on campus, since most districts do not have a remote learning option.

[…]

State data on school cases is incomplete and likely an undercount. TEA suppresses some districts’ case counts to protect student privacy, and not all districts report student and staff cases to the state, despite agency guidance requiring otherwise. The agency also retroactively updates its data from previous weeks as more districts report cases.

Some large districts, such as Houston and Dallas, have not consistently reported cases to the state since TEA started tracking COVID-19 data on Aug. 2 for this school year. Many districts publish a COVID-19 dashboard that shows cases, and TEA recommends families check for the latest data there.

Entire districts, including Angleton and Lumberton, have closed temporarily without reporting cases to the state. These districts don’t necessarily report their closures, either, since they are not required to do so. TEA informally tracks closures based on media and district reports, said Frank Ward, an agency spokesperson.

I don’t quite understand the embedded table that this story has about school districts with the most reported COVID cases, as the numbers they report for HISD don’t match up with the ones on the HISD site. I guess they’re showing active cases and not cumulative ones, but it doesn’t sound like that from their description. In any event, the point is there’s a lot of COVID in the schools, and the schools have few options right now to mitigate it other than defying Greg Abbott’s mask mandate ban and hoping for the best in the courts. The forthcoming EUA for the Pfizer shot for kids will help eventually, though that will take time as even pro-vaxx parents may wait a bit before giving it to their kids.. And that is our reality.

Interview with Mac Walker

Mac Walker

One more interview this week, still in District VII, with Mac Walker. Walker is a native Houstonian and graduate of Sharpstown High School as the first member of his family to reach that milestone. He went on to get an engineering degree from Duke and an MBA from UT, and is now the owner of a wellness business. He has mentored at-risk high school students at Wisdom High School (Lee) as part of an organization called Mentors of Hope, for which he served on the board, and he has served on the PTO of his kids’ schools, which I as a fellow PTA dad respect. Here’s what we talked about:

PREVIOUSLY:

Sue Deigaard, District V
Anne Sung, District VII
Elizabeth Santos, District I
Janette Garza Lindner, District I
Matias Kopinsky, District I
Bridget Wade, District VII
Maria Benzon, District V
Dwight Jefferson, District VII