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'Our independence day': March, more mark Juneteenth in Longview

About 150 people marched a half-mile Saturday morning in Longview to commemorate the end of slavery and send a message of a need for positive change in the nation.

They carried placards with messages such as “Vote” and “Police brutality should not be a reality” and wore T-shirts with the Black Lives Matter logo and other messages.

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that news reached Texas that President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, freeing slaves.

District 3 Councilman Wray Wade told a crowd gathered at Foster Middle School before the march that city officials originally decided against holding it because of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, he decided to proceed because of recent events, including the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Attorney Mary Lou Tevebaugh, who is white, decried the killing of black men by police and black children being threatened at school. Tevebaugh, a member of Democratic Women of East Texas, also said the pandemic has affected black people disproportionately, which she blamed on the lack of medical care.

She urged the gathered crowd to support minority-owned businesses and to vote.

The march started after Wade called for eight minutes and 46 seconds of silence, which represents the amount of time a police officer had his knee on Floyd’s neck.

Lauren Land of Longview, who is white, said she participated in Saturday’s Juneteenth celebration because she wanted to walk with the community. She said her 13-year-old son, Jackson, pointed out to her the significance of the length of silence.

“I think that is important for our little kids to understand what is going on the world,” said Land, a mother of three. “Our son has always had his eyes open.”

Four people carried a large Black Lives Matter banner with more than 200 signatures during the march. One of the marchers, Shae Harkless of Longview, said people protesting Floyd’s death have displayed the banner during recent protests on on Loop 281 in Longview

Amber McCray, a women’s volleyball coach at Louisiana Tech University and a Pine Tree High School graduate, came home to participate in the march.

“I really feel that we are in the turning point in our country (for the) good,” she said. “I know we can do better, and I am hopeful that we will.”

McCray said she had a “great experience” growing up in Longview.

“You have your (racial) issues,” she said. “We still have some issues and things that we have to move past, but I think overall we have some great people in our community who are trying to do better.”

She said she grew up observing Juneteenth festivities and came Saturday with her mother, Darlene McCray; sister Nicole Thorn; and nephews Logan Thorn and Jordan Chambers.

By contrast, Porchae Mitchell of Longview came to the event by herself and said it was important to make a statement.

“If you don’t stand for anything, you will fall for anything,” she said. “Inequality is wrong all over our world, not just here (in America).”

Mitchell said Juneteenth has “always been a public celebration” for the black community.

“This is our independence day,” she said.

Mitchell and many others gathered at Broughton Park where the march ended, including those who did not march.

The Gregg County Coalition for Change and Vote the Power set up booths to register voters at the park, and representatives from the U.S. Census Bureau, the Longview Symphony and the Longview chapter of Black Nurses also were present.

A parade started at 10:30 a.m. on Ryder Lane and was expected to take an hour to reach Broughton, entertainment organizer Lateefah Pruitt said. She said live music was expected after the parade.

Hundreds of people gathered along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard to watch the parade.

Longview resident Geril Johnson said he has watched the Juneteenth parade since 1987.

He said he attends to support Juneteenth, adding the significance is “everybody was free but us. This is one event that all of Longview comes out for.”

Parade watcher Reg Hardeman of Longview said he has been coming for 20 years and was glad to see the turnout.

“This is a good thing to see the people coming out, celebrating our heritage. It’s good for our young people.”

Longview-area school districts keep mostly traditional 2020-21 calendars

Longview-area school districts are choosing traditional calendars for 2020-21 among three options aimed at providing flexibility for possible shutdown days amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, Gov. Greg Abbott and Education Commissioner Mike Morath announced school can resume in-person in the fall; campuses have been closed since March because of COVID-19.

The Texas Education Agency released three types of calendars school districts can use. The calendar choice is a local decision voted on by school boards.

The three options are a traditional calendar, a COVID-19 response calendar and an intersessional option. All require 75,600 minutes of instruction.

The traditional calendar includes starting on or after the fourth Monday in August, a one-week Thanksgiving break, a two-week winter break, a one-week spring break and the last day of instruction at the end of May.

The COVID-19 response calendar starts on the fourth Monday in August and has built in time throughout the year as “COVID-19 make-up days” to accommodate a break in instruction.

The final option, an intersessional calendar, builds in blocks throughout the school year. During the blocks without class, a targeted group of students would attend school for remediation.

That calendar can start in early August with longer breaks at Thanksgiving, winter and spring and extends to the end of June.

Longview ISD will decide its calendar at a Wednesday board meeting. The district has sent a survey to parents and community members about the calendar options, which will be presented at the meeting.

Pine Tree ISD Superintendent Steve Clugston said the district will keep its traditional calendar without changes.

“It’s like the old bad weather days, you made them up at the end of school if you needed to,” he said. “To me, to change the calendar and put some bigger breaks in, more than likely if we have to shut down it would be January or February during flu season. That’s like using your bad weather days before the bad weather.”

The district is set to start classes Aug. 19.

Hallsville ISD approved its calendar at Monday’s board meeting, Superintendent Jeff Collum said.

“What we decided is backload our COVID-19 shutdown days in the end of May and June. We blocked out May 27 and May 28 and the entire month of June to reserve those days as potential shutdown days,” he said. “We still plan on starting on Aug. 13, and if we need to shut down we would take those days from June and use them as necessary.”

The school year would only extend if there is a closure and the district does not have continued virtual instruction like it did in the spring, Collum said.

“This time, we’re going to have to be a lot more stringent on attendance, instruction and grading,” he said. “We’ve still got to get a little more guidance from TEA on virtual mode. You’d only have to make up days if you cannot serve those kids instructionally. It will be critical during shutdown that parents help us take attendance, and they have got to get the work turned in.”

On Thursday, White Oak ISD approved a traditional calendar with a couple of tweaks in the event of a closure, Superintendent Brian Gray said.

“We added days at the start of the calendar, and we added days at the end of May and end of June on an as-needed basis,” he said. “Really, those COVID-19 days that we’ve added at the end are just precautionary. Our hope is not to use those, but as is, we’re just trying to cover every base we can.”

Spring Hill ISD is keeping its traditional calendar, Superintendent Wayne Guidry said. The district also is looking at making the best use of each minute, versus days.

“Part of our thinking is to see if we can adjust instructional days,” Guidry said. “We’re not wanting to extend the day. I just think we can make better use of the time we’re on campus.”

For example, there will be less time for students to congregate in the halls, he said, not only to add more instructional minutes, but because it will decrease the chances of spreading the virus.

Kilgore ISD also is looking at minutes in the school day as it considers its calendar, Superintendent Andy Baker said in a statement.

He said the district’s site-based decision making committee, which includes the community, parents, teachers and administrators, met recently to discuss possible changes, he said.

Baker said he extending the school day is a possibility.

“Currently, our primary, Chandler, intermediate and middle school campuses operate from 8 a.m. to 3:20 p.m., and our high school operates 10 minutes longer from 7:55 a.m. to 3:25 p.m.,” he said. “By increasing the school day by 10 minutes for our lower campuses — making them the same as our high school campus school day — we will be able to increase our instructional minutes.”

Those extra minutes gives the district some extra “padding” it can use during the year if campuses need to close, he said.

The committee also looked at moving the start date from Aug. 19 to Aug. 12, Baker said. It also considered extending the last day of school from May 27 to June 4.

“These two extra weeks in our calendar would give us flex time within our school year should it be needed for extended time away from school,” he said. “If we need it in the fall and/or spring, since it’s already built into the schedule, we can take up to two weeks of extended time without the need to go deeper into June.”

If the extended time is not needed, the school year will end May 27, he said. Baker will present recommendations to the school board Monday so it can decide on the calendar.

Gregg County courts looking to return of jury trials at Maude Cobb

Longview’s Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center would host all of Gregg County’s jury trials as part of a plan to get the wheels of justice moving faster in a COVID-19 world.

Gregg County courts returned to conducting in-person hearings on a limited basis June 1 after relying on hearings conducted through the video conferencing application Zoom after the pandemic began.

“Under our plans, we’re still trying to do as much as we can remotely,” said 124th District Court Judge Alfonso Charles, who is the presiding judge of the 10th Administrative Judicial Region. As such, all courts in the region send him their plans for reopening for in-person hearings.

Charles said all of Gregg County’s courts have conducted at least some hearings by Zoom. Hearings involving jail inmates have been conducted remotely as well and will continue to be conducted that way. Gregg County’s judges have been staggering the days and times they conduct limited in-person hearings that began this month as a way to reduce the number of people at the courthouse, Charles said.

A grand jury, which is tasked with determining whether to formally charge people with crimes, was selected in March and has continued to serve with social distancing in place. He said another grand jury will be selected in July.

Masks also have been encouraged during the various in-person proceedings, Charles said, but that can get difficult because it sometimes affects the ability to hear someone who is speaking. Other precautions can be used, he said, explaining that he will sometimes place plexiglass barriers in front of his bench, the witness stand and where the court reporter sits. That helps prevent the spread of the illness while allowing testimony to proceed unmuffled.

One avenue that might be explored as jury trials return is the possibility of some kind of clear masks, which would allow people to see the facial expressions of potential jurors when they’re selected, for instance, Charles said.

“We’re still able to move a good numbers of cases,” Charles said of how the courts’ limited capabilities have worked.

There have been guilty pleas and non-jury trials, but the limited proceedings have affected how many cases have been disposed of since COVID-19 began affecting East Texas compared with previous years.

Information Charles provided for his and 188th District Judge Scott Novy’s courts, for instance, shows that between March 15 and June 15, those courtrooms disposed of 353 cases of all types, including criminal and civil cases. That compares with 458 during the same time period in 2019 and 424 cases in 2018.

However, the inability to conduct jury trials has meant the absence of a factor that helps motivate the resolution of many cases. The typical trial docket might have 30 cases on it, but in reality two or three might go to trial.

“The vast majority end up pleading guilty,” or there’s some other resolution to the case, Charles said. “A lot of that can’t happen right now when you don’t have jury trials.”

Still, there are challenges associated with bringing back jury trials. Charles said courts that want to have a jury trial must file a plan with the presiding judge — Charles in this region, which is forwarded to the office of court administration. Also, a Texas Supreme Court order requires that all the parties involved have to consent to the jury trial.

Charles is responsible for reviewing plans from 31 counties for their district courts, county courts at law and justices of the peace courts and 150 cities for their municipal courts. He works with the courts to ensure the plans follow all the guidance set up by the Office of Court Administration and as ordered by the Texas Supreme Court.

Some of those plans mandate face masks. Others strongly encourage them, Charles said. He checks to be sure all the issues have been addressed and the plans have been discussed with either the county’s judge or a city’s mayor and the local health authority.

So far, three counties have submitted plans to proceed with jury trials, Charles said. Bowie County will be selecting a trial jury this week. Henderson County’s plan has been approved, and Gregg County has plans for jury trials in July.

“The biggest stumbling block that a lot of counties are running into is getting the consent of the parties,” Charles said, and some counties have decided to wait until August to try to proceed with trials.

“Gregg County has plans to try and do a few jury trials in mid- to late-July. We’ll be talking with the Office of Court Administration on those cases,” Charles said. “We had one of those cases that we wanted to try. Today (Wednesday) one of the parties did not give consent for trial, so those are some of the issues that we’re dealing with.”

He said the county also plans to move jury trials for the foreseeable future to Maude Cobb because the facility would provide plenty of space for social distancing.

“It’s going to be different,” he said, and the county is still working out the details. The move would require planning to meet security needs for the jail, for instance, and to set up the technology necessary for a trial.

These initial trials courts tackle in July will help the state determine what works and what doesn’t work, so additional guidance can be issued for how to operate going forward, Charles said.

Reopening the court system amid the pandemic is different from reopening the state’s economy, Charles said. People may choose to go to restaurants and the grocery store.

“It’s different when the court is sending you that summons, saying you need to show up,” he said.

That means additional excuses are being allowed to exempt someone from jury duty for people who are considered especially vulnerable to COVID-19. Additional screening also will be conducted to try to ensure that people who have been exposed to the illness aren’t in the courtroom.

It’s “very important,” Charles said, to get jury trials going again. The right to a speedy trial, the right to a jury trial in criminal and civil cases, is important in the United States, he said.

“We want to be able to get back to conducting jury trials in a safe and efficient manner,” Charles said.