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Longview ISD reassigns teachers to East Texas Montessori because of more students

Three Longview ISD teachers were reassigned to the East Texas Montessori Prep Academy because of growth on the campus, which is close to capacity.

East Texas Montessori Prep Academy is one of six charter campuses in the district run by the nonprofit East Texas Advanced Academies. The other five campuses in the network are Ware East Texas Montessori Academy, Johnston-McQueen Elementary School, Bramlette STEAM Academy, J.L. Everhart Elementary School and Forest Park Middle School.

The Montessori Prep Academy is the only option for prekindergarten and kindergarten students in Longview ISD after the school board decided to get rid of traditional kindergarten at a meeting in April. The Montessori method is a system of education that seeks to develop natural interests and activities rather than use formal teaching methods, according to the American Montessori Society.

The campus has around 1,180 students enrolled, said Cynthia Wise, CEO of ETAA. The building’s capacity is 1,200 students.

Wise said the three teachers were moved from Bramlette, Ware and J.L. Everhart.

Teachers in a Montessori-style class need additional training. Wise said the teacher from Ware was already in a Montessori classroom, but the other two will need training.

The training will take place this month and in October, Wise said. They will receive their certifications in June.

On Aug. 28, the wait list at the academy was at 53 students, she said. The new teachers were moved over so the school could admit those students, she said.

The campus is in the process of contacting and enrolling those students on the wait list.

Wise said she is not sure if the wait list students are mostly out-of-district transfers or in-district students. She said the campus has 46 out-of-district transfer students.

With an increased enrollment comes more traffic, but Wise said the school is working out the growing pains with pickup and drop-off.

“My deputy has been out there, the district has sent staff out there, (Longview ISD chief financial officer) Joey Jones has been out there. I think everything has been running smoothly,” Wise said. “It takes a minute to work out growing pains.”

Wise said when parents first enroll their children, it’s typical for a large number of students to be picked up and dropped off in a car versus the buses. But once parents start to “trust the process,” more students become bus riders, and traffic at pickup and drop-off eases.

Gregg County veterans face eviction hearing next week in land dispute

GLADEWATER — A tangled and long-running dispute over Gregg County land first settled by former slaves has snared three now-homeless veterans whom a ministry is trying to help.

“Yeah, this is a mess,” Desert Storm veteran Bill Johnson said Friday, sitting in a Gladewater motel room that a veterans housing ministry secured for him.

Johnson found himself homeless after he and two fellow vets were ordered by two White Oak police officers to leave a house off George Richey Road they’d lived in for about two months.

It started on Aug. 27 with a visit from a lawyer who invests in local properties appearing at the door and whose company built the house where the veterans were living.

“I was sitting there making breakfast, and he said, ‘What are you doing on my property?’” Johnson said of the lawyer, whose name is not being used because he could not be reached Friday afternoon for comment.

Johnson said the men showed him their lease with Debra Christian, director of a Tyler-based veterans housing effort called Christian Restoration Residential Care Program. Christian has been battling in court for at least a decade over land she says the family owns through its forebear, the former slave Butcher Christian.

Part of her fight has been with parties she said were drilling for oil and gas on the property without her permission and without paying royalties. But that’s another set of tentacles on the octopus.

One day after the lawyer knocked on the door, Johnson said, two White Oak police officers rolled up, in private vehicles but wearing lieutenant and sergeant stripes on their uniforms.

“And they threatened us with criminal trespass, which never happened,” Johnson said. “And they gave us a warning for criminal trespass, but they didn’t give us any paperwork. They were basically threatening to haul my stuff off and said, ‘You need to be out of here in 24 hours.’ ... I’m a disabled vet; I can barely walk. And he expected me, by myself, to have everything out of there in 24 hours?

“And he called (Thursday) and said, ‘I want everything out of there by Monday, or we’re going to confiscate it.’ I’ve had a couple of veterans organizations help to move some of the stuff, but I’ve still got stuff to move. And I don’t have any money for a storage unit.”

At 57, Johnson is the eldest of the three vets who were in the home, on a private road off George Richey Road. It’s not clear where veteran David Woods went after leaving the property, but veteran Jeremy Dasek found work and was treating railroad tracks in West Texas for weeds last week.

Dasek and Johnson are defendants in an eviction lawsuit set for a hearing on Sept. 19 before Pct. 3 Justice of the Peace Talyna Carlson. The attorney’s property leasing company is the plaintiff in that action.

All three veterans are named as defendants in an injunction hearing set for 9 a.m. Wednesday in the Gregg County Court at Law No. 2. That suit also is brought by the real estate company, presumably to enjoin the trio from living at the house in question.

The men do not have a lawyer for either lawsuit.

Christian, meanwhile, says she has tax records showing she has paid the annual levy on the property in question every year.

“And I have the tax receipts,” she said. “We’ve been paying the taxes for 154 years.”

She also said she had not been aware the property company had put a house on the land but thought she had a right to move her clients there as long as the house was there.

“It is our land, and they needed a place to stay,” she said. “So, we opened the door and came on in. We’re the taxpayers of record. The tax office shows we paid it. We paid it this year.”

Christian’s statement could not be vetted Friday afternoon because the Gregg County Tax Assessor/Collector’s online search service was taken down for system maintenance. The land in question was part of a sheriff’s sale for unpaid taxes in 2011, but Christian says the root of that claim goes decades back to Gregg County Sheriff Tom Welch who resigned in 1979 amid a corruption investigation.

Johnson, a veteran of both the Army and Navy, served from 1981 to 1995 variously as a troubleshooter aboard the USS Nimitz and as an avionics electronics tech. He has severe-looking psoriasis on both legs, arthritis and heel spurs.

And it looks likely he could be homeless again very soon.

“(Christian) found funding for me to stay a week,” he said. “That’s up on Monday.”

US health officials report new vaping deaths, repeat warning

NEW YORK — U.S. health officials on Friday again urged people to stop vaping until they figure out why some are coming down with serious breathing illnesses.

Officials have identified about 450 possible cases, including as many as five deaths, in 33 states. The count includes newly reported deaths in California, Indiana and Minnesota.

No single vaping device, liquid or ingredient has been tied to all the illnesses, officials said. Many of the sickened — but not all — were people who said they had been vaping THC, the chemical that gives marijuana its high. Many are teens.

Health officials have only been counting certain lung illnesses in which the person had vaped within three months. Doctors say the illnesses resemble an inhalation injury, with the body apparently reacting to a caustic substance that someone breathed in. Symptoms have included shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain and vomiting.

The illnesses have all surfaced this year, and the number has been growing quickly in the last month as more states have begun investigations. A week ago, U.S. officials pegged the number at 215 possible cases in 25 states.

It’s unclear whether such illnesses were happening before this year.

“We’re all wondering if this is new or just newly recognized,” Dr. Dana Meaney-Delman of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention told reporters Friday.

An Illinois health official, Dr. Jennifer Layden, said officials there don’t know when such illnesses first began, but she said there has been a marked increase since spring.

Deaths previously were reported in Illinois and Oregon .

Indiana officials said the person who died there was an adult, but they didn’t say when it happened or release other details. Health officials in Los Angeles said they were investigating a vaping death as well. And Minnesota health officials said that state’s first known vaping-related death was a person over 65 years with a history of lung problems who had vaped illicit THC products and died in August.

Recent attention has been focused on devices, liquids, refill pods and cartridges that are not sold in stores.

New York state has focused its investigation on an ingredient called Vitamin E acetate, which has been used to thicken marijuana vape juice but is considered dangerous if heated and inhaled. State investigators have found the substance in 13 cartridges collected from eight patients.

In several cases, the ingredient made up more than half of the liquid in the cartridge.

CDC officials said they are looking at several ingredients, including Vitamin E acetate. But Meaney-Delman added that no single factor has been seen in every case.

Also Friday, the New England Journal of Medicine released a series of articles that give medical details about cases reported in Illinois, Wisconsin and Utah.

An article on 53 illnesses in Illinois and Wisconsin noted that nearly one-fifth of the cases were people who said they vaped nicotine and not anything that contained THC or CBD oil.

For that reason, doctors and health officials are continuing to suggest people stay away from all vaping products until the investigation establishes exactly what’s at the root of the illnesses.

Meaney-Delman said avoiding vaping is “the primary means of preventing this severe lung disease.”

It’s not yet clear what impact the recent illnesses are having on vaping rates, but some health officials are hoping more Americans will become wary.

There’s been a split among public health experts about the value of vaping nicotine. Some argue e-cigarettes are not as lethal as conventional cigarettes and can be a valuable aide to smokers trying to kick the habit.

But others say studies have not established that adult smokers who try vaping end up quitting smoking long term. And they fear that kids who might never have picked up cigarettes are taking up vaping.

The National Association of County and City Health Officials “has long been cautious about endorsing e-cigarettes even before the recent spate of illnesses, because little scientific evidence exists to show that e-cigarettes and other nicotine delivery devices are effective cessation devices,” spokeswoman Adriane Casalotti said in a statement.

The states reporting vaping-related lung illnesses to the CDC are Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.

Patrick, NRA feud at odds over gun background checks

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick publicly endorsed expanding the state’s background checks to private gun sales Friday, defying the National Rifle Association — a group that had previously given the conservative an A-plus grade for his Second Amendment bona fides.

Patrick, a Republican who was elected to a second term in 2018, went so far as to say during an interview Friday with The Dallas Morning News that he was “willing to take an arrow” from the gun lobby.

Patrick’s stance on expanding background checks followed a cycle of gun violence in the state.

It came less than a week after a gunman terrorized motorists near Odessa, killing seven people and wounding at least 21 more with an assault-style rifle that he obtained from a private seller in Lubbock, despite failing a background check in 2014 for a mental health issue. Earlier in August, 22 people were killed in a shooting rampage at a Walmart in El Paso in which a gunman targeted Hispanics.

“That gap of stranger to stranger we have to close, in my view,” Patrick told the Morning News, speaking about gun sales. “When I talk to gun owners, NRA members and voters, people don’t understand why we allow strangers to sell guns to total strangers when they have no idea if the person they’re selling the gun to could be a felon, could be someone who’s getting a gun to go commit a crime or could be a potential mass shooter or someone who has serious mental issues.”

Patrick’s endorsement of expanded background checks came with a major caveat, according to the Morning News. Gun owners would not be required to conduct a background check when transferring a firearm to a family member, and friends would also be exempt — though the lieutenant governor acknowledged that could be abused.

Patrick’s office did not immediately respond to a request from comment later Friday.

The NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action panned Patrick’s policy shift, which it said parroted the agenda of a prominent gun control group, Everytown for Gun Safety, which was started and financed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“With due respect, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick’s ‘proposals’ would resurrect the same broken, Bloomberg-funded failures that were attempted under the Obama administration,” the NRA said in a statement Friday. “Like most political gambits, Lt. Gov. Patrick’s ‘solution’ precedes his possession of the facts, including this critical concession by the Obama administration: Criminalizing private firearm transfers would require a massive, governmental gun registration scheme.”

Gun control advocates said closing the loophole on private gun sales was long overdue and represented a message to the Trump administration and U.S. Sen. Mitch McConnell, the majority leader, about the need for sweeping reform at the national level.

“Look, the political ground is shifting,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in an interview Friday. “It’s time for the Senate to get the memo. The truth is the NRA has never been weaker. What you’re seeing is elected officials, many of whom were closely aligned with the NRA, turning their back on the NRA and choosing to be with the public rather than the gun lobby.”

A number of top Republicans in Texas — from the governor, Greg Abbott, to Sen. Ted Cruz and Patrick — faced significant criticism for their position and statements on guns following the Aug. 31 shooting rampage near Odessa.

Not long after the bloodshed in West Texas, a 2015 video resurfaced of Cruz firing an assault-style rifle at an Iowa shooting range with bacon wrapped around the gun’s hot barrel and then eating it. Cruz was a presidential candidate at the time.

“Of course in Texas, we cook bacon a little differently than most folks,” Cruz said in the video, posted on a conservative website, adding, “Machine gun bacon.”

In 2015, responding to a report in The Houston Chronicle, Abbott said on Twitter that he was “embarrassed” that Texas was second in the nation to California in new gun purchases. “Let’s pick up the pace Texans,” Abbott wrote on Twitter.

On Thursday, Abbott issued eight executive orders that he said would improve the red flag system for keeping guns out of the hands of criminals and better assess threats.

The measures require the Texas Department of Public Safety to develop standard intake questions for law enforcement officers to ask callers reporting suspicious activity and to train the police to assess threats.

The orders also tie future state grants received by counties to the timely reporting of criminal convictions to a state database. By 2020, 90% of convictions must be reported to the state within seven days, or a county would lose funding. By 2021, it must be done within five days.

But the executive orders signed by Abbott do not touch on gun laws, including background checks on private sales of firearms.

Abbott’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment about his stance on Patrick’s suggestion that background checks be required for private sales.

Patrick told the Morning News, “Look, I’m a solid NRA guy,” but warned that Republicans could feel the wrath of voters in Texas and nationally on the issue of gun control. Five Republican members of Congress from Texas have already bowed out of running for reelection in 2020.

“Someone in the Republican Party has to take the lead on this,” Patrick said.

The NRA said in its statement that Patrick’s proposal was misguided.

“Instead of trampling the freedom of law-abiding Americans, the government should focus upon actual solutions: fixing our broken mental health system, prosecuting known criminals and enforcing the existing gun laws that require follow-up whenever a prohibited person tries to buy a firearm,” the NRA said.