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Officials consider new path for Longview manufacturing academy

Longview education, civic and business leaders are pondering privatization of the fledgling East Texas Advanced Manufacturing Academy, a move they say could sustain it long after its building lease ends in 2022.

Longview ISD Superintendent James Wilcox spoke to Longview Economic Development Corp. directors Friday about fostering discussions about turning the academy into a charter school with a private entity running it — and bringing LISD’s Early Graduation High School under that umbrella.

The effort involves city of Longview leadership, and it could result in creation of a nonprofit organization that would help provide oversight of the academy, said city spokesman Shawn Hara.

Making the academy a charter school with its own nonprofit management would allow it to attract state or federal funding while also growing it to include more courses and students, Wilcox told LEDCO directors. He added that it also would allow his school district to pull back and focus on its own $40 million career and technology investment at Longview High School.

“We would be ill-advised to replicate something that the taxpayers have already spent $40 million on, and we don’t want (the academy) to be an LISD facility,” he said.

For just over a year, the academy has offered college-level instruction in courses designed to provide area high school students either dual credits or the training needed to apprentice, intern or secure jobs at local industries.

Longview ISD serves as the academy’s fiscal manager. It pays salaries for the director and instructor, and it owns the equipment assets, while the Longview Chamber of Commerce Education Foundation leases the facility on West South Street in large part from a more than $1 million grant from LEDCO.

About half of all Longview ISD campuses are charter schools. On Monday, the district held a town hall meeting to talk with community members about taking the charter school concept to all district campuses.

Wilcox approached LEDCO President/CEO Wayne Mansfield about the idea during that meeting, and on Friday, he suggested to LEDCO directors that Mansfield serve on a panel to discuss turning the manufacturing academy into a charter school.

Wilcox mentioned Hara, City Manager Keith Bonds and directors from local industries to also serve on the panel that could become the governing board of the nonprofit, if it’s created.

“Like all of y’all, we want to grow what we’re doing,” Wilcox said of the academy, adding, “Let’s offer product that no one else has or can offer.”

Recently, state law lowered the age that students can graduate high school early from 18 to 17, provided they meet certain criteria such as involvement in an apprenticeship or internship, Wilcox said.

“Now, we think there’s a bigger carrot for students to come to the advanced manufacturing academy,” he said.

Stakeholders involved in the plan have only a couple of months to resolve whether to follow the charter school route before the Texas Education Agency must be notified, Wilcox added.

“It is a discussion at this point,” Hara said.

Protesters gather outside Tatum ISD over dress code controversy

TATUM — People arriving Friday morning at Tatum ISD were met with protesters’ signs and chants of “no justice, no peace” and “put our children back in school.”

Edwina “Randi” Woodley and Kambry Cox organized the protest and said their children were expelled after spending days in in-school suspension. The women also said they believe the boys were expelled because their hair is out of compliance with the district’s dress code.

The women say that dress code is racially discriminatory and have hired a lawyer. The controversy over the hair rules in the dress code also spurred numerous resident comments at a Tatum ISD board meeting earlier this month.

Woodley and Cox were among about 15 people taking part in Friday’s protest and were met with some heckling from drivers passing by.

On Thursday, the district sent an email to parents and staff notifying that the protest could not be on school property at 7:30 a.m. during a school day. Protesters gathered on the side of the street in front of the administration building.

Superintendent J.P. Richardson could not be reached for comment Friday morning to answer questions about the boys’ expulsion.

In a statement, Richardson said the district “reasonably restricts access to district property during school/business hours, including during early morning drop-off.”

“The attorney for the organizer of the protest was notified (Thursday) that protesters will not be able to utilize district property,” he said in the statement. “More specifically and to clarify, protesters will not be permitted in any district parking lots or on district sidewalks, including sidewalks in front of the administration building.”

The statement also said parents had contacted administrators with safety concerns.

“Please know that the district has taken, and will continue to take, necessary and appropriate steps to avoid confusion and disruption of the school day ... and that district safety and security are always of the highest priority,” Richardson said in his statement.

Woodley is the legal guardian of her grandson, Michael Trimble, 4. He has hair that extends past his shirt collar. Cox’s son, Kellan, 5, has dreadlocks.

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.”

The women’s lawyer, Tatum High School alumnus Waukeen McCoy of California, said he believes the expulsion of the boys is retaliatory because of the dress code controversy.

McCoy said Cox was told her son cannot return to school because she does not live in Tatum, but he said that doesn’t make sense because the child already was enrolled in school.

Woodley said she was given no documentation or reason for her grandson’s expulsion.

According to the Tatum ISD handbook, when a student younger than 10 behaves in a way that could cause expulsion, “the student shall not be expelled, but shall be placed in (disciplinary alternative education program). A student under the age of 6 shall not be placed in DAEP unless the student commits a federal firearm offense.”

Woodley said Friday that a lawsuit is planned against the district.

At Friday’s protest, Whitney Wilson, 27, said she was there for her 8-year-old son who has a “man bun” and goes to school in Pine Tree ISD.

“I could see if he colored his hair, I could see that being a distraction, but his hair just being as it is, that’s not a distraction. Little boys can have long hair,” Wilson said. “At this point, it’s really critical for a kid to be in school, especially how everything is going these days. It’s a critical stage for them to learn early.”

Johnna Marshall, 24, also came from Longview because the hair rule and the boys being kicked out of school is “an outrage.”

“It’s a new age. That’s how he expresses himself. We’re doing all these movements for people to express themselves, and now we’re coming back to this point,” she said. “Since when is school about your hair?”

Subpoenas mark first concrete steps for Trump impeachment

WASHINGTON — House Democrats took their first concrete steps in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump on Friday, issuing subpoenas demanding documents from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and scheduling legal depositions for other State Department officials.

At the end of a stormy week of revelation and recrimination, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi framed the impeachment inquiry as a somber moment for a divided nation.

“This is no cause for any joy,” she said on MSNBC.

At the White House, a senior administration official confirmed a key detail from the unidentified CIA whistleblower who has accused Trump of abusing the power of his office. Trump, for his part, insisted anew that his actions and words have been “perfect” and the whistleblower’s complaint might well be the work of “a partisan operative.”

The White House acknowledged that a record of the Trump phone call that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry had been sealed away in a highly classified system at the direction of Trump’s National Security Council lawyers.

Separately, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the whistleblower “has protection under the law,” something Trump himself had appeared to question earlier in the day. He suggested then that his accuser “isn’t a whistleblower at all.”

Still at issue is why the rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president was put on “lock down,” in the words of the whistleblower. The CIA officer said that diverting the record in an unusual way was evidence that “White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired” in the conversation.

The whistleblower complaint alleges that Trump used his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” to help himself in next year’s U.S. election. In the phone call, days after ordering a freeze to some military assistance for Ukraine, Trump prodded new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig for potentially damaging material on Democratic rival Joe Biden and volunteered the assistance of both his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

Pelosi refused to set a deadline for the probe but promised to act “expeditiously.” The House intelligence committee could draw members back to Washington next week.

Pelosi said she was praying for the president, adding, “I would say to Democrats and Republicans: We have to put country before party.”

At the White House, it was a senior administration official who acknowledged that the rough transcript of Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s Zelenskiy had been moved to a highly classified system maintained by the National Security Council. The official was granted anonymity Friday to discuss sensitive matters.

White House attorneys had been made aware of concerns about Trump’s comments on the call even before the whistleblower sent his allegations to the intelligence community’s inspector general. Those allegations, made in mid-August, were released Thursday under heavy pressure from House Democrats.

All the while, Trump was keeping up his full-bore attack on the whistleblower and the unnamed “White House officials” cited in the complaint, drawing a warning from Pelosi against retaliation.

Late Thursday, Trump denounced people who might have talked to the whistleblower as “close to a spy” and suggested they engaged in treason, an act punishable by death. Then on Friday, he said the person was “sounding more and more like the so-called Whistleblower isn’t a Whistleblower at all.”

He also alleged without evidence that information in the complaint has been “proved to be so inaccurate.”

Pelosi told MSNBC, “I’m concerned about some of the president’s comments about the whistleblower.”

She said the House panels conducting the impeachment probe will make sure there’s no retaliation against people who provided information in the case. On Thursday, House Democratic chairmen called Trump’s comments “witness intimidation” and suggested efforts by him to interfere with the potential witness could be unlawful.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a member of the intelligence committee, said the president calling whistleblowers spies is “obscene ... just grotesque.”

“If you ask me, I’d like to hear from everybody that was mentioned in that whistleblowers report. I like to hear from Rudy Giuliani, from the attorney general. I think Mike Pompeo has explaining to do as well as the State Department.”

Trump’s Friday comment questioning the whistleblower’s status seemed to foreshadow a possible effort to argue that legal protection laws don’t apply to the person, opening a new front in the president’s defense, but Conway’s statement seemed to make that less likely.

The intelligence community’s inspector general found the whistleblower’s complaint “credible” despite finding indications of the person’s support for a different political candidate.

Legal experts said that by following proper procedures and filing a complaint with the government rather than disclosing the information to the media, the person is without question regarded as a whistleblower entitled to protections against being fired or criminally prosecuted.

“This person clearly followed the exact path he was supposed to follow,” said Debra D’Agostino, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers. “There is no basis for not calling this person a whistleblower.”

Lawyers say it also doesn’t matter for the purposes of being treated as a whistleblower if all of the allegations are borne out as entirely true, or even if political motives or partisanship did factor into the decision to come forward.

Giuliani, already in the spotlight, was scheduled to appear at a Kremlin-backed conference in Armenia on Tuesday, but he said Friday he would not be attending. The agenda showed him speaking at a session on digital financial technologies. Russian President Vladimir Putin also was scheduled to participate in the conference.

Republicans were straining under the uncertainty of being swept up in the most serious test yet of their alliance with the Trump White House.

“We owe people to take it seriously,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a onetime Trump rival who is now a member of the intelligence committee.

“Right now, I have more questions than answers,” he said. “The complaint raises serious allegations, and we need to determine whether they’re credible or not.”

A swift resolution to the impeachment inquiry may not be easy. The intelligence committee is diving in just as lawmakers leave Washington for a two-week recess, with the panel expected to work while away. One person familiar with the committee’s schedule said that members might return at the end of next week.

Findings will eventually need to be turned over to Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s Judiciary Committee, which is compiling the work of five other panels into what is expected to be articles of impeachment. The panel will need to find consensus.

Meanwhile, Trump’s reelection campaign took to accusing Democrats of trying to “steal” the 2020 election in a new ad airing in a $10 million television and digital buy next week.

The ad also attacks Democrat Biden, highlighting his efforts as vice president to make U.S. aid to Ukraine contingent on that country firing a prosecutor believed to be corrupt. The ad claims that the fired prosecutor was investigating the former vice president’s son.

In fact, the prosecutor had failed to pursue any major anti-corruption investigations, leaving Ukraine’s international donors deeply frustrated. In pressing for the prosecutor’s ouster, Biden was representing the official position of the U.S. government, which was shared by other Western allies and many in Ukraine.

Dallas cop says she wishes neighbor had killed her instead

DALLAS — A Dallas police officer broke her silence Friday about the night she killed a young accountant who lived in the apartment right above hers, telling jurors that she has to live with the guilt every day and that she wished their roles were reversed.

Amber Guyger tearfully told the packed courtroom at her murder trial that she was sorry for killing 26-year-old Botham Jean last September, explaining that she mistook his fourth-floor apartment for her own. But during cross-examination, prosecutors cast doubt on Guyger’s grief, wondered why she didn’t call for backup instead of confronting Jean and questioned her attempts to save his life.

Guyger, 31, repeatedly apologized for killing Jean as she spoke publicly for the first time about the events of that night.

“I hate that I have to live with this every single day of my life and I ask God for forgiveness, and I hate myself every single day,” she said as she looked across the courtroom at Jean’s family.

Guyger, who was fired after the shooting, said she wished “he was the one with the gun” and had killed her, instead. “I never wanted to take an innocent person’s life. And I’m so sorry. This is not about hate. It’s about being scared that night,” she said.

Jean grew up in the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia before coming to the U.S. for college. His shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

Guyger testified that upon returning home in-uniform after a long shift that night, she put her key into what she thought was her door lock and the door opened because it hadn’t been fully closed. Fearing it was a break-in, she drew her service weapon and stepped inside to find a silhouetted figure standing in the dark.

“Let me see your hands! Let me see your hands,” she said she told the man. But Guyger said she couldn’t see his hands and he began coming toward her at a “fast-paced” walk. She said he yelled, “Hey! Hey! Hey!” right before she opened fire.

“I was scared he was going to kill me,” she said under questioning by her lawyers, who called her as their first witness on the trial’s fifth day. She said she intended to kill him when she pulled the trigger because that’s what she had been trained to do as a police officer.

Lead prosecutor Jason Hermus suggested that Guyger was less than grief-stricken in the aftermath of the shooting, saying that two days after she shot Jean, Guyger asked her police partner, with whom she was romantically involved, if he wanted to go for drinks.

Hermus also asked Guyger why she didn’t radio in for help when she thought there was a break-in at what she thought was her home. She replied that going through the doorway with her gun drawn, “was the only option that went through my head.”

Hermus also grilled Guyger about why she didn’t perform “proper CPR” on Jean after she shot him. He asked about an eight-hour de-escalation training course she had taken that April, but Guyger told the jury she could no longer remember what she learned in the course. She said she performed some chest compressions on Jean with one hand while using her phone with the other, but she also acknowledged stopping several times.

The basic facts of how Jean died aren’t in dispute. But the jury will have to decide whether Guyger’s actions constitute murder, a lesser offense such as manslaughter or criminally negligent homicide, or no crime at all.

Guyger has said she fired in self-defense after mistaking Jean for a burglar and her lawyers say the identical appearance of the floors at their complex frequently led to tenants parking on the wrong floor or trying to enter the wrong apartments.

Prosecutors have questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner. They say Jean was no threat to Guyger, noting that he was in his living room eating a bowl of ice cream when she entered his apartment.

In a frantic 911 call played in court earlier this week and again Friday, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times.