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Woodville ISD approves goals; terminates remote learning

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Lisa Meysembourg 072320File Photo - Woodville ISD superintendant Lisa Meysembourg

By Chris Edwards

WOODVILLE – The Woodville ISD Board of Trustees discussed and approved a pair of agenda items relating to district-wide goals and improvement plans respective to each WISD campus at its Monday night meeting.

The first item up for discussion was the district’s revised goals, with respect to how they relate to the district’s own goals as well as meeting goals with regard to the sweeping House Bill 3 passed during the last legislative session. WISD Curriculum Director Ashley Weatherford spoke about this item, and where the district needs to be.

“We’re at the point where we need to dig deeper,” she said, and explained that data is being looked at through the federally required metric of student achievement meeting the appropriate grade levels. She cited, as an example, data that showed WISD’s third grade as performing at 67% below the level for reading and 84% for math.

Weatherford said one new goal set forth, district-wide, is the investment in technology infrastructure and professional development, and she added that in spite of the “COVID slide” throughout the second half of last school year and this year’s term, she has seen some “great wins” on each WISD campus.

WISD campus principals each spoke to their respective campus improvement plans. Woodville Middle School principal Kevin Frauenberger said that his campus’s two main goals are to improve community relations through outreach and to improve student achievement.

High school principal Rusty Minyard said his campus goals are focusing on two areas: reaching out and nurturing the student population in the low-income socioeconomic demographic for them to succeed and supporting his campus’s teachers.

“I want them to feel good about coming to work every day,” Minyard said.

Woodville Intermediate principal Bonnie Trammell said that her campus’s priority is to meet standards appropriate to grade levels and putting resources and energies into training teachers with flexible, data-driven plans.

Along with the goals and improvement plans, the board also approved a one-time incentive payment for all WISD employees for their November paychecks. Superintendent Lisa Meysembourg said the incentive, which will be a bonus of about $300 per employee, is a way to recognize the hard work and dedication of the district’s faculty and staff during this school year with all of its changes due to COVID-19.

In another measure related to the coronavirus, WISD voted to terminate remote learning. Board president Jimmy Tucker said that many of the districts in the region are dropping remote learning, and Meysembourg said “We just need our kids back in school.”

Meysembourg gave an update from the Texas Education Agency Commissioner Mike Morath about remote instruction that gives school districts the latitude to either continue or terminate remote learning, but to give the option for those who must be quarantined due to compromised immune systems.

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White makes statement on light rail project

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JasWhite 102220BETH FAIRCLOTH | TCB State Representative James White (R-Hillister) speaksto the Tyler County Republican Women group last Thursday at the group’s monthly meeting. Terri Simpson (left) and Kathy Hodges-Spoon (middle) of TCRW listen to White.

By Chris Edwards

AUSTIN – Rep. James White (R-Hillister) is one of several Texas lawmakers who are urging Gov. Greg Abbott to ignore “misinformation” about a proposed high-speed rail project.

The project, which would be under the oversight of the Federal Railroad Administration, if brought to fruition, is a proposed 240-mile high-speed railway system to travel between the Dallas and Houston metropolitan areas, according to the Texas Department of Transportation. In a TxDOT news release, a private entity, Texas Central Railway (TCR) is funding and developing an environmental study for the project.

White said that the project does not have any permits, at present, to begin construction, and also lacks public support.

White and several other members of the Texas House of Representatives sent a letter to Abbott last week with their concerns about the project. The letter claims that information available about the project features “inaccurate talking points and promotion of ideas consistent with the liberal Green New Deal.”

The Green New Deal, which White referenced, is a proposed package of federal legislation aiming to address climate change and economic inequality.

Another concern White addressed, which constituents have shared with him, is that eminent domain might be used to strip them from their land and homes. “Judges have already blocked the use of eminent domain and county elected officials have publicly denounced the project,” White said.

“We don’t need Japan building our infrastructure, or taxpayer-funded boondoggles such as the Green New Deal on Texas soil,” he said.

Opponents of the proposed high-speed rail have also referenced a letter Abbott wrote to the Japanese Prime Minister praising the project and offering his full support as governor. “I am hopeful that final negotiations of this project with Japan can be concluded so that construction can begin,” Abbott wrote.

A group calling itself Texans Against High-Speed Rail cited both Abbott’s letter to the Prime Minister of Japan and the legislators’ letter to Abbott in a Facebook post, and stated that the legislators who signed the letter “will be strong advocates” for transparency with regard to the project.

White said the governor is reviewing the accuracy and legitimacy of the project. “I urge the governor to listen to my fellow legislators and hear our concerns about protecting Texans’ private property rights from foreign governments,” White said.

According to TxDOT the project, as well as the Dallas-Fort Worth Core Express and Texas-Oklahoma Passenger Rail Study may provide alternative methods of transportation within corridors that are experiencing increased congestion due to continued population growth.

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High-speed chase ends in arrest in Tyler County

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RaheemJonesMugMUGSHOT Raheem Jones

By Chris Edwards

TYLER COUNTY - A high-speed chase on highway 190 near the Tyler County line resulted in the arrest of a Jasper man on several charges.

The chase begun on Saturday evening, at approximately 8 p.m., according to the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Police Department. Officer S. Allison with the tribal PD attempted to initiate a traffic stop for defective equipment, and the driver refused to stop.

A high-speed pursuit begun along 190 eastbound, and once near the county line, deputies from the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office were called in to assist the AC officers in pursuit. The driver, who was identified as Raheem Wesley Corday Jones, got up to speeds in excess of 100 mph in the 2010 gold Cadillac he drove.

Allison was able to get Jones to stop in Tyler County and held him until multiple units from TCSO and the Texas Department of Public Safety were on the scene. Jones was arrested for evading and driving with an invalid license and was also found to have an outstanding warrant for parole violations stemming from an intent to deliver a controlled substance conviction. He was taken to the Polk County Jail.

He is currently incarcerated on bonds totaling $16,500 from the evading and DWLI charges, and no bond on the parole violation.

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Colmesneil council accepts Davis resignation

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Colmesneil City HallPHOTO BY WENDY BENDY Colmesneil City Hall

By Mollie LaSalle

TYLER COUNTY – The Colmesneil City Council met for its regular monthly meeting on Tuesday, with Mayor Don Baird announcing the resignation of council member Kenneth Davis.

Davis’s resignation was effective on Sept. 10, when he notified Baird through a letter. Davis was arrested in August and charged with a felony sexual abuse charge following an investigation out of Trinity County. His resignation was accepted unanimously.

Councilmembers held a round table discussion about a possible replacement for Davis. While many names were suggested, as of press time, no one person being considered has met the criteria for the open seat.

All councilmembers agreed that further discussion is warranted, with members stressing the need for “some younger folks” at city hall.

Councilmembers discussed the basketball goal on the corner of Hickory and Sutton streets once again. Baird said people have been called City Hall with complaints about it.

The resident who owns the goal was asked on more than one occasion to remove it from its current location, which is deemed dangerous, as children are playing in or near the street at all hours.

When the basketball goal was first installed about two to three months ago, the city contacted Texas Municipal League Attorneys about the question of liability in the event someone gets hurt. TML has stated from the beginning that the city will not be held liable for any injuries. Furthermore, the city cannot move it, and Duane Crews added that “there ought to be some way to legally move it”.

This had been on ongoing discussion/problem for at least the last two months, with council coming up with no real solution. Continuing discussion/monitoring of the problem is the only recourse at the present time.

Fall festival planned

City Secretary Wendy Bendy reminded council members about the Fall Festival on October 28 at First Baptist Church. The Community Center will be opened to serve chili cheese nachos for attendees. Hayrides and other activities are planned for the event.

Bendy also announced that as of Sept. 14, City Hall is once again open to the public, and the check-free bill pay service is operational also.

She advised that the CD’s at Citizens Bank have all matured, except for one. Bendy also reported during the water and sewer report that there were seven leaks, one sewer tap, two meter taps, three meters turned on and three meters turned off. She also reported that water lines on Steel Grove Road are being continuously broken by logging trucks. This issue is at a stalemate for now.

The first reading of the fiscal year 2021 city budget was tabled, pending further discussion/review, as was the matter of the basketball goal.

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Tyler County grand jury indicts Netflix

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Spider 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin being interviewed for the East Texan Magazine in August 2020.

By Chris Edwards

TYLER COUNTY – A Tyler County grand jury has indicted the streaming media service provider Netflix, Inc. for promoting depictions of “the lewd exhibition” of a child.

The indictment was handed down on Sept. 23 in the 1A District Court, and stems from the promotion of the controversial film Cuties. The summons was served on the Los Gatos, Calif.-based company on last Thursday, according to Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin.

Babin cited section 43.262 of the state penal code, which states that it is illegal to “knowingly promote visual material that depicts the lewd exhibition of the genitals or public area of a clothed or partially clothed child,” which is the charge issued in the indictment: Promotion of Lewd Visual Material Depicting Child, which, by statute, is a State Jail felony. According to a statement from Shannon Edmonds, who serves as the director of governmental relations for the Texas District and County Attorneys Association, there is no jail time that comes with a conviction of a company. The conviction would carry a maximum $20,000 fine, however.

Within the indictment, it is alleged that the film contains “no serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.”

“As a district attorney, I have to sift through countless cases and make calls every day on how to keep our communities safe,” Babin said. “In our county, it is not uncommon for me to confront cases with underage victims.”

He added that he had heard about the film and after watching it, knew there was probable cause to believe it was liable to criminal prosecution under the penal code he cited.

The film has met its share of controversy with the general public and from lawmakers since it was released on Netflix. The individuals named in the indictment as “high managerial agent[s]” are Wilmot Reed Hastings, Jr. and Theodore Anthony Sarandos, Jr., who co-founded and serve as co-CEOs of the company.

The film’s plot centers around an 11-year-old Senegalese girl named Amy, who lives with her mother in a poor Parisian neighborhood. The girl, who is from a fundamentalist Muslim family, is enamored with the behavior of a neighbor girl who dances with an adult-style dance group. According to a review of the film, the contrasting values of fundamentalism versus the sexually suggestive dance moves used by the dance troupe are the heart of the film’s conflict. In a statement released to media, a Netflix spokesperson said that the film is a work of “social commentary against the sexualization of young children.”

Cuties is described as a French coming-of-age comedy-drama and was released internationally on Netflix on Sept. 9. The film’s marketing campaign drew widespread scrutiny online for allegedly sexualizing the child actresses depicted on posters and other promotional materials. Prior to the Netflix release, the film had not met with controversy, and in its French iteration (as Mignonnes) won an award at the Sundance Film Festival for its director Maimouna Doucoure.

Many who have boycotted the film online have used the hashtag “#CancelNetflix” on social media to voice opposition and concerns. The statement trended on Twitter throughout the past month.

Recently, State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) submitted a letter to Attorney General Ken Paxton concerning the film. White said in the letter that he has received numerous inquiries about Netflix’s distribution of the film from constituents who are “appalled at the prospect of the mass distribution of a movie that sexualizes young girls through dance scenes and even exposes the bare breast of a minor.”

White is urging the AG to utilize its “robust cyber unit” to investigate the production and distribution of Cuties for violation(s) of state and federal child pornography statutes.

Senator Ted Cruz has also weighed in on the film and called on the Department of Justice to investigate. In a letter to U.S. Attorney General William Barr, Cruz claimed the film “routinely fetishizes and sexualizes these pre-adolescent girls as they perform dances simulating sexual conduct in revealing clothing.” Cruz calls upon Barr and the DOJ to investigate whether federal law was broken in the production or distribution of Cuties.

The lawmakers who spoke out all want an examination as to whether Netflix or the filmmakers broke federal laws against the production and distribution of child pornography with the release of Cuties.

Babin said that he and his staff of the Tyler County District Attorney’s Office are subject to rules limiting their ability to make public comments about pending cases and the defendants in those cases. “All defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” he said.

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