Collin County Politics: School Boards are the New Battleground

August 30, 2021

This is the longest post I’ve written since starting this column and I won’t blame you if you don’t want to wade all the way through. But you should. There’s a lot going on across the county, most of it bad. However, we must remember there are more of us than we think and, if we all show up, we can overwhelm the bad actors with our passion, integrity, compassion, intelligence, and creative solutions. Our country is at a crossroads. Pick a direction.

Covid Update: I don’t have to tell you that we’re in desperate straits. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Baylor, Scott, & White of McKinney is at 125% capacity and in a state of emergency. They aren’t alone. Hospitals across the state are turning away people who need “non-emergency” operations because they don’t have the staff. Non-emergency care may sound benign but it includes people dealing with heart attacks, broken bones, gallstone pancreatitis, cancer, and other terrible conditions. People are waiting hours in ambulances because hospitals don’t have places to put them and it’s going to get worse. Estimates are that we won’t reach our peak infection period until a few weeks from now.

Collin County currently has 108,784 active Covid cases, an increase of 657 from yesterday. This is 3,576 more cases than I reported last week and these are only the confirmed cases. The real number is much, much higher.

Collin College: We need to put the women in charge of the Board of Trustees. After everything Neil Matkin has done to make Collin College unsafe for students and a terrible place to work for faculty and staff, Board Members Stacey Donald and Stacy Arias were the only ones voting against extending his contract as president. The men on the board need to go!

Commissioner’s Court: The commissioners got hammered in public comments over their refusal to take public health seriously. In an unsettling trend across many board meetings, healthcare professionals (2 physicians) took time away from treating patients to plead for mask mandates and vaccinations. In another deeply disturbing trend, they were ignored. The commissioners went on to demonstrate their lack of care for public health by voting to pay caseworkers below market value for salaries. Two clerks even took an 11% pay decrease when they moved to caseworker positions. If you want to see what caring about people truly looks like, check out the presentation put on by Dan Powers, COO of the Children’s Advocacy Center of Collin County. Very impressive.

The court discussed SB6 and HB12. These bail reform bills increase the time people accused of a crime are sitting in county jails and, for several reasons, it will be very expensive for counties. Even the commissioners didn’t seem excited about this bill. I sincerely doubt bail reform has to be this difficult or costly. This proves (once again) Republicans don’t know how to implement solutions that aren’t punitive.

Then there’s SB1, the racist voter suppression bill that just passed the House. It’s also going to increase county costs due to law enforcement spending more time at collection locations, constant video surveillance of the central collection point, and continual recording of ballot processing. There’s no state funding for these additional efforts, so there may be a property tax increase to fund Republican lawmakers’ cynical end-run around democracy. That’s right, our taxes will go up due to this dangerous bill. Be sure to mention this to all of your Republican friends (if you still have any).

The partisan poll watchers pushed on us by this bill will need to be trained. Concerns were raised about how election judges can ensure poll watchers follow the law because it might be harder to get election judges otherwise. You’d think that these excellent poll watchers – people they so desperately want in place to bully Democrats and people of color, I mean ensure “election security” – would be willing to follow the rules but even Republicans realize this probably won’t be the case. Susan Fletcher tried to put a good spin on it but didn’t sound convinced. Even she understands how terrible this is going to be if the bill passes the Senate (which it will).

School Boards: School boards are the new battleground for Republicans. These are the places where they build their bench and take control over how and what our children learn. Republicans understand this, so much so that the deeply conservative Leadership Institute is advertising a training program for school board candidates. Y’all, they’re serious about this and we need to be too.

Democrats are in short supply on school boards across Collin County and it shows. While watching parts of the regular and special board meetings for Allen, Frisco, Plano, and McKinney, I saw few trustees wearing masks or showing support for implementing any Covid precautions other than the semi-useless “deep cleaning.” It’s a respiratory illness, people! It doesn’t stay on surfaces for long. While Frisco is offering a virtual option for EC-6 grades for the first 9 weeks, the only ISDs truly taking Covid seriously are Richardson and Plano.

The maddening thing about the refusals to wear masks or implement the same protocols they had last year – mask mandates, virtual learning options, contact tracing, and social distancing – is that they’ll have to put them in place eventually. Even the Texas House recognizes this as they just passed a bill to fund virtual learning. Covid don’t play. Delta doesn’t care about their stupid political beliefs (neither do I). Schools are already reporting 34% more cases in one week than we had on the week with the most student cases last school year. We’ve also had a 182% increase from the week ending on August 15th, even though fewer students were in school then. Teacher cases were up 26% from the previous week. This isn’t going away. Frisco and Plano especially better take note since they were both on the top 10 list of Texas schools with the most new cases.

Despite these scary numbers, despite school board members saying they’re taking the safety of our schools very seriously, it’s evident many are not. Allen, McKinney, and Wylie all had unmasked, crowded indoor pep rallies last week. This is an especially odd choice for Allen given that one of their football coaches just died from Covid though there was no mention of that in the tweet from board member Sarah Mitchell crowing about their rally. Perhaps they gave him a moment of silence. I get that they think they’re prioritizing normalcy over safety (or, at least, that’s what they’re telling themselves in order to justify awful behavior) but they aren’t. We only get back to normal if we all do the right thing and stop the spread.

Richardson: Hats off to the Board members who voted 5-2 to join La Joya ISD’s lawsuit against Greg Abbott. President Karen Clardy’s justification for the lawsuit is very important, especially considering the excuses we’re hearing from other school boards. “This action is about local control…With this vote, RISD joins with other Texas ISDs in an effort to protect that local control so school districts can make local decisions based on local conditions to determine what is safe for students and staff in our local communities.” They implemented a mask mandate too. Folks, this is what bravery and determination to do the right thing looks like.

Plano: Over 90 people signed up to speak at their special meeting with anti-maskers outnumbering mask mandate supporters roughly 2 to 1. Across the county, the anti-maskers are truly something, spouting ever more outlandish conspiracy theories and stupid claims. Some actually said requiring masks would be child abuse (are seatbelts also abusive?), cause acne (do they not understand hormones?), and lead to depression. I hate it when people weaponize mental health for their own selfish purposes. They obviously don’t understand that correlation doesn’t equal causation. Kids are anxious and depressed because of the pandemic, not because of masks.

Thankfully, the board members weren’t convinced by yahoos who get their information from FOX and YouTube. President Stolle explained that GA38 isn’t currently enforceable and pointed out that this year’s situation is different due to the highly contagious and severe nature of the delta variant. Perhaps they’ve been paying attention to their top 10 Covid case standing. Despite embarrassing outbursts of misinformation from Heather Wang and Cody Weaver, Jeri Chambers moved for a temporary mask mandate indoors and on district transportation, allowing for medical, administrative, religious, and philosophical exemptions, beginning August 26th and ending September 24th. It passed 6-1 with only Angela Powell voting against.

Despite the exemption forms being heavily distributed in conservative groups, only 8% of students opted out. Clearly, mask mandates are popular with almost everyone, something for other school boards to remember.

Allen: They’re refusing to hold any special meetings nor are they allowing much time for public comments for items not on the agenda. After just 30 minutes for people to speak during their last scheduled meeting, a parent asked how many people will die between this meeting and the next regularly scheduled one in September. In response, they cleared the room. Board members are also refusing to put a mask mandate on the agenda. This seems to be a popular strategy for many school boards. Don’t let them do this! It only takes 2 school board members to put an item on the agenda. Flood them with demands and especially target those who might be reasonable.

I was deeply unimpressed with Allen. Not one of the board members was wearing a mask. There was a physician who wanted to speak but wasn’t going to be called within the 30-minute timeframe. When she tried to speak, the security (or whoever those men were) acted like someone had committed a crime. Another woman spoke for her instead. Several healthcare professionals gave impassioned pleas for mask mandates and remote learning as did two young women students. Both started crying during their time and received loud applause for their bravery. President Gnadt (please admire my restraint in not intentionally misspelling her name) calmly told the crowd they were just eating away their time by cheering. So cold.

McKinney: In Allen, pro-maskers outnumbered the anti-maskers but the opposite was true in McKinney. The crazies were out in force! My particular favorite was the woman who advocated for REME HALO lighting. Maybe the CDC will call her to get the lowdown. As at every other board, healthcare professionals (2 physicians) showed up to plead for mask mandates and warn about the seriousness of delta. They, like all the other parents begging the board to put safety above politics, were ignored.

What’s so odd is that this is the same board that stood firm with the mask mandate last year. Most of them even wore masks to meetings last year but now, only Larry Jagours had one on. I suspect it’s because Rick McDaniel, MISD’s Superintendent, is adamantly against it. If true, it seems as though the board has forgotten that he works for them instead of the other way around. He read this extremely nauseating speech to explain his rationale for being stupid, including how we should all be civil and respect each other. Yeah, that’s not going to happen. Those of us they count on to model civility and respect are done. He also said McKinney has a history of “coming together” when times are hard. Is he kidding? I’ve lived in McKinney for decades. That’s not true at all!

Remember that in order to get a mask mandate on the agenda, we need 2 board members to request it. Jagours and Harvey Oaxaca are “our” people. Make them act like it.

Frisco: During their last regular board meeting on the 3rd, a number of speakers commented on everything from more recess and teacher Covid pay to diversity issues and mask mandates. I was actually impressed by the number of community members who came to speak. A special shout-out to the young women students working with Diversify Our Narrative FISD who bravely spoke about racism, sexism, and the need for more inclusive policies. They were truly inspiring!

During their special meeting on the 13th, the board refused to allow public comments on anything other than the action item they were there to discuss which was whether to provide paid leave to teachers and staff for Covid. Isn’t that a no-brainer? If you ask school employees to put themselves in harm’s way, then you should definitely help them when they get harmed! What’s going on? Have people forgotten what compassion and community spirit look like? Oh wait, I forgot who I was talking about. Never mind.

At least some people haven’t forgotten. Despite their ban on public comments, several parents showed up to speak on behalf of mask mandates, pointing out that they were told they could speak during the meeting and took time off work to be there. One commenter said he was forced to speak to them in person since they refused to answer their emails. Yeah, that seems to be going around. It’s almost as if board members don’t want to communicate with their constituents, either because they don’t care what we think or because they know they’re wrong.

The board passed a retroactive resolution granting teachers 8 days of paid leave following a positive Covid test until December 31st. This paid leave is to cover the 10 days of quarantine; they only get 8 days because they’re excluding the weekend. That’s so kind-hearted! We definitely wouldn’t want to pay them any more than we have to. I sure hope FISD teachers who get Covid don’t have any complications requiring extra time to heal because, if they do, they’re not getting paid. Maybe they could take short-term disability. That is if they have any.  

After their incredible generosity toward teachers, the board asked for a summary of the legal landscape around mask mandates. Their lawyer dude talked only about the temporary restraining orders in Bexar and Dallas counties but concluded they’re still bound by Abbott’s executive order. President Archambault made sure to point out that they have to follow the law. VP Classe self-righteously added that it’s part of their oath as trustees.

They’re wrong. The ultimate job of any school board isn’t to be political toadies but to safeguard the well-being and education of the children they serve. Right now, they’re pandering to the governor because they support his politics. Other school boards across the state have defied the order – the order that could be a death sentence for students and staff or leave them to suffer long Covid symptoms – because they care more about people than policies. That’s pure evil.

They’re all going to eventually implement mask mandates; it’s just a matter of how many students and staff will get sick and die before they do. Sherman ISD already realized this. We shouldn’t wait for things to get bad to do the same. Let them hear from you!

If you’ve read all the way through this long post, here’s your reward. A parent close to San Marcos got his school board’s attention quite…umm…creatively. Enjoy!

Comments 3

  1. I’m just horrified by the lack of care toward students, teachers, and their families. Just horrified (and being I’m from McKinney and saw first-hand how hard they tried last year to protect everyone, I’m also shocked).

  2. Ill-considered policies are making us less safe. We need to wake up and smell the coffee!

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