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Mother, grandmother's grievances denied by Tatum ISD; lawsuit planned

A Tatum ISD mother and grandmother are planning to take the district to court, after the school board on Monday unanimously denied their grievances about the expulsion of their children over dress code issues.

The school board’s attorney, meanwhile, denied Monday that the children have technically been expelled and insisted, instead, that the issues at hand have to do with a grandmother’s manipulation of the Head Start system and a mother enrolling her child in a district in which he doesn’t live.

Edwina “Randi” Woodley and Kambry Cox first took issue with Tatum ISD over the dress code in August.

Cox’s son, Kellan, 5, was told he is out of dress code compliance because his hair is in dreadlocks.

Woodley’s grandson, Michael Trimble, 4, of whom she has custody, was told he is out of dress code compliance because of the length of his hair. Michael’s hair falls past his shoulders.

The children spent some time in in-school suspension and are no longer allowed to attend classes.

In September, Woodley and Cox hired a lawyer, Waukeen McCoy, who now lives in San Francisco but is from Tatum.

On Monday, the school board met with Woodley, Cox, McCoy, Superintendent J.P. Richardson, Tatum Primary School Principal Tamara Fite and the district’s attorney, Heather Castillo, for a hearing on each woman’s grievance. Castillo also is an attorney for Arlington ISD.

McCoy said the grievances come down to two main issues; the boys being expelled against the Texas Education Code Chapter 37, which says children under the age of 10 cannot be expelled, and the dress code being discriminatory based on race and gender.

Two hearing took place: one for Woodley and one for Cox.

Each grievance asked for the boys to be reenrolled in school and change the hair and grooming policy to be gender-neutral and not discriminatory based on sex or race.

According to the Tatum ISD dress code posted online, a “student’s hair shall be clean and well groomed at all times and shall not obstruct vision. No extreme style or color (neon, etc. …) Only natural hair color shall be allowed. No symbols, letters or extreme designs cut in the hair shall be permitted. No ponytails, ducktails, rat-tails, male bun or puffballs shall be allowed on male students. All male hair of any type shall not extend below the top of a T-shirt collar, as it lays naturally.”

McCoy said the policy targets black children because puffballs are a way black children wear their hair.

Brian Klosterboer, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union in Texas, also spoke during the grievances for Cox and Woodley.

“The district has a right to enforce its policies and to discipline students appropriately,” he said. “But now it has escalated far beyond that ... Students under the age of 10, there’s no legal basis to expel them at all. The district has used language such as “unenrolling” a student, but there is no legal difference between unenrolling them and completely denying them an education.”

Male students are held to a different standard than female students in the dress code, Klosterboer said. Even though historically in Texas the different standard has been allowed, courts are looking at the issue of dress codes more closely, he said. He said many school districts have adopted gender-neutral dress codes without issue.

If a hairstyle — such a puffballs — that only one race uses is banned, a court would look at that as a proxy for discrimination, he said.

“All of those issues, we would love to talk to you about at future board meetings, and we can work on changing those policies over time,” Klosterboer said. “The really urgent, immediate need we’re here for today is to try to get this 4-year-old student back in school.”

During Woodley’s hearing, Castillo said the district has been subject to ongoing attacks.

“The district has had to weather ongoing theatrics and attacks for months now,” she said. “Principal Fite, Dr. Richardson have had to endure repeated defamatory accusations on a nearly daily basis, accusations of isolating and harming a child, being discriminatory, on and on.”

Castillo said the district has not been able to respond to attacks because of confidentially concerns, but the guardians asked for the hearing to be public.

“These cases are not about expelling 4- and 5-year-olds,” she said. “No one’s been expelled. This is about Ms. Woodley’s manipulations to become eligible for the Head Start program, Ms. Woodley’s agreements to comply with the rules in order to get Head Start services ahead of other parents and children ahead of her on the waiting list. And, in regards to Ms. Cox, the basic rule that you need to be a resident of the district in order to go to school in the district.”

Castillo said when Woodley enrolled Michael in Head Start, she was told that, based on her income, Michael would likely be placed on a waiting list.

Woodley then asked what if she gave guardianship of Michael to her mother, Barbara Johnson, Castillo said. The employee said she would have to provide documentation of the change and her mother’s income, Castillo said.

She said Woodley returned to the school later that morning and presented a two-sentence document that said she was giving guardianship to her mother.

“These are not letters of guardianship and not at all a way to give guardianship of a child to another person,” Castillo said.

The documents were accepted by the employee, Castillo said, and Woodley was allowed to bypass the waiting list.

Castillo said Woodley’s public Facebook posts have been a “misinformation campaign” and Woodley “cannot get her story straight.”

Fite testified during Woodley’s hearing, during which she said Michael and Kellan were not mistreated on campus and were not left alone, as Woodley has claimed on social media. She said the students came to school out of dress code on Sept. 19, and Cox and Woodley were called. The women chose for both boys to remain in the office.

“The school was caught off guard by this decision, because normally parents wouldn’t choose to subject their children to a penalty based upon their own decisions. As a result, being unprepared, we did treat this as a normal day,” Fite said. “We had the teacher send work, and we had the boys do additional work as we would normally do with a temporary placement.”

By Monday morning, Sept. 23, Fite said she had a substitute teacher secured to be with the boys and redecorated the room to look like a classroom, let the boys have recess and spend time with their class.

Castillo said Kellan was unenrolled at Tatum ISD because Cox does not live in the district. She said he was not expelled from the district, because he is not a resident of the district.

Cox said her son spends a substantial amount of time with his grandmother, Mae Geter. He spends at least two or three nights a week with her, she said.

Because her husband works 13 hours away, Cox said her mother is her support system and she wanted to put Kellan in school close to Geter. He was registered at Cox’s mother’s address.

“They (the district) asked me to give them something with the address on there, and I had a bill with their address on there in my name that comes to their house,” Cox said referencing Geter’s address. “I gave it to the secretary, and she said, ‘Oh yes, that’s perfect.’ And I’ve never heard anything else about it until August. When I stood up for my son, and I stood up for what I believe in, that’s when he got expelled from school.”

McCoy said the reasons for expulsion from the district in the hearing are a pretext, or not the real reason. He said the women complained of discrimination to exercise their right of free speech, and the district retaliated.

For both hearings, the board did not deliberate.

After the hearing, McCoy said the district’s decision is “reprehensible.”

“Unfortunately, they didn’t follow the Texas Education Code at all. Kellan is 5 years old. Michael is 4 years old. And they just disregarded the law,” he said. “They suspended or expelled the students, when they didn’t have a legal basis to do so.”

The women will file a lawsuit against the district, McCoy said. The lawsuit will address the dress code and expulsion of the children.

“They put the parents on trial today, and there was no focus on the students themselves, on Michael and Kellan,” he said. “That’s unfortunate, that they didn’t really look at the real issue here, that these kids have been expelled from school. They’re not in a curriculum right now or any program.”

After the hearing, Woodley’s son, Larance Renard Hale, 25, was arrested and charged with possession of marijuana in a drug-free school zone. He was being held Monday on $1,500 bond in Rusk County Jail.

During a live video posted by Angela Thomas on Facebook, the officer said Hale’s vehicle was searched after he smelled the odor or raw marijuana. Randi Woodley was detained, but not arrested, during her son’s arrest because the officer said she was interfering.


Local
'The Daytripper' episode about Longview to air soon on PBS

The episode of a PBS show about Texas filmed this summer in the Longview area, highlighting local things to see and do, will be aired beginning this week.

Chet Garner, host of “The Daytripper,” and his crew spent two days in July filming in and around Longview for a show that brings his Texas-sized adventures to Gregg and Upshur counties.

A 30-second preview clip posted Monday on Facebook shows familiar scenes from the Longview area, including LeTourneau University, Bodacious Bar-B-Q on Mobberly Avenue, Thomas Falls Outdoor Adventures & Event Center in Diana and Tuscan Pig Italian Kitchen. The video also shows a clip of Garner riding in a hot air balloon with Great Texas Balloon Race founder Bill Bussey.

A post specifically about the show’s visit to Bodacious Bar-B-Q compared the plate of meat to fine art.

“A meat plate so beautiful, it should be sitting next to the Mona Lisa in the Louvre,” the post reads. “It’s this kind of meat artistry that’s caused Bodacious Bar-B-Q to go from a small-town joint to a restaurant chain spanning from here to Louisiana.”

A local carrier lists KERA out of Dallas as the PBS affiliate in the region. KERA is scheduled to air “The Daytripper” at 10 a.m. Saturday.

“The Daytripper” team typically trims down 10 hours of footage into an episode, devoting four to five minutes to each locale visited, Garner said during the two-day Longview filming stop in July. Each episode also offers stories from the road.

“Longview epitomizes why I love my job,” he said. “You travel to a town that most people don’t know anything about, and you get to tell stories of amazing barbecue, people adventures.”

Check out the promo video here:


News
Dean, Paddie, other top House members say they can no longer support Speaker Bonnen

East Texas Republican state Reps. Chris Paddie and Jay Dean in separate statements Monday night said they can no longer support GOP Speaker Dennis Bonnen in light of what he was heard saying in a secret recording released last week by a far-right activist.

Paddie of Marshall joined four other Republicans considered senior members of the House in issuing a statement withdrawing support. The others are state Reps. Four Price of Amarillo, Dan Huberty of Houston, Lyle Larson of San Antonio and John Frullo of Lubbock.

Separately, Dean of Longview issued a statement saying his intention had been to wait for the findings of a Texas Ranger investigation into whether laws were broken by Bonnen in the deal-making he and another top Republican attempted in what they thought was a secret meeting.

“However,” Dean said in his statement, “it is clear that the trust necessary to lead the Texas House has been broken.”

A similar sentiment was conveyed in the statement issued by Paddie and the other representatives.

“As long-serving members of the Texas House, we informed Speaker Bonnen earlier today that we no longer support him as our speaker,” they said in a joint statement. “It is clear that trust and confidence in the speaker has significantly eroded among our membership, and the matter has both damaged the reputation of the House and relationships among individual members.”

All five members were closely aligned with Bonnen this year during his first session as speaker and four of them lead major committees: Price chairs the House Calendars Committee, Huberty heads the Public Education Committee, Larson chairs the Natural Resources Committee, and Paddie chairs the Energy Resources Committee.

Last week, Michael Quinn Sullivan released his secret recording of a June meeting with Bonnen and one of the speaker’s top allies, state Rep. Dustin Burrows, R-Lubbock. That audio confirmed that Bonnen, among other things, offered Sullivan’s organization media access to the House and suggested the group, Empower Texans, politically target 10 House Republicans in the 2020 primaries.

Included on the list of targets was state Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches. Bonnen also made a number of disparaging remarks against numerous Democrats.

Monday’s statements further throw into question whether the speaker can hold onto a leadership post for which he was widely lauded during this year’s 86th legislative session. Since Sullivan released the recording last week, roughly 20 Republicans have either called for new leadership or the speaker’s resignation.

On Friday, the House GOP Caucus met as part of its already scheduled annual retreat, which marked the first time the group gathered since the drama against the speaker surfaced. That meeting was supposed to last for 45 minutes.

Instead, it lasted roughly four hours as members debated behind closed doors what action, if any, to take against Bonnen and Burrows, who earlier had resigned as caucus chair amid the fallout. The statement approved by the caucus condemned both members for their remarks, but the meeting appeared to deepen divisions among members as individual statements were released in the hours afterward.

“The House Republican Caucus issued an official statement condemning the conduct of Speaker Bonnen and Representative Burrows that we helped draft and fully support,” Monday’s joint statement from the five members read. “However, we individually and collectively want to further express our belief that a leadership change is necessary.”

In his statement, Dean questioned whether Bonnen could regain the trust of Texans.

“Our state deserves and demands leadership whose only guiding principle is to improve the lives of each and every Texan,” he said. “To that end, I wonder how the future of our government and party are served by things as they stand.”

In an interview, Dean said his decision to call for a change came after a weekend of discussions with constituents and other elected officials.

“The overall sentiment is the speaker should resign,” he said of those discussions. “I report to my district first and will represent their wishes that Speaker Bonnen must step aside.”


Local
'Seasonal changes' coming to East Texas Regional Airport flights

Envoy Air is cutting its daily trips in and out of Gregg County for a 12-day period next month.

The changes are seasonal and are not a permanent reduction in commercial flights at the East Texas Regional Airport, Director Roy Miller said, because the airport logged a 30% increase in commercial passengers last month.

Still, the changes “are somewhat confusing,” Miller said. “It’s systemwide. We’re not the only market that this happens in.”

Last year, Envoy Air — a subsidiary of American Airlines — added a third daily flight between Gregg County and the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport.

On weekdays, Envoy Air has a morning departure from Gregg County to Dallas-Fort Worth, then has midday and evening flights and a 9:51 p.m. arrival. No evening flights are scheduled on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and a midday arrival and departure on Saturdays is the only weekend flight.

However, starting Nov. 21, the Dallas-based airline will cut its weekday morning arrival flight and nighttime departure flight at East Texas Regional Airport, according to the airline’s updated schedule.

Also, no flights are planned to Gregg County on Thanksgiving Day, Nov. 28.

The third daily weekday flight returns Dec. 4 with regular arrival and departure times.

The next measurable change occurs Dec. 18, when the morning flight will arrive at Gregg County at about 6 a.m. — more than a half-hour earlier.

Also, the nighttime flight starting Dec. 18 will arrive about 100 minutes later, from the current 9:51 p.m. to 11:33 p.m.

The schedule changes are generated by Envoy Air computer programs, which are designed to maximize efficiency in the airline’s flights, Miller said. The system is meant to better fit the airline’s connections or accommodate shortages in planes or pilots.

Schedules “can vary a few minutes up to nearly an hour, and we never know until they publish those schedules,” Miller said, adding that Envoy Air makes seasonal changes during winter months because of changing weather conditions.

“It’s an interesting business,” he said.

In the past year, Envoy Air has reported a 17.7% increase from the previous year’s number of passengers on flights to and from East Texas Regional Airport. That includes a 30% increase for the month of September, Miller said, adding that he’s talked with airline executives about having stability in their flight schedules so that people can plan their trips.

He encouraged passengers to continue to use the airport and to provide their phone number when making reservations.

“If there’s a last-minute change, they will call you,” Miller said. “Also, have some patience.”