Archives for category: Houston

1. You read this post by Peter Greene. His twin sons tested negative for COVID.

2. You read the post yesterday about the disastrous performance by Travis Scott in Houston. A tenth person—a 9-year-old child—died, trampled at the Travis Scott show.

CNN)The 9-year-old boy who was injured at the Astroworld Festival died Sunday, according to family attorney Ben Crump.

The death toll from the chaotic concert now stands at 10. Funeral services for some of the victims began over the weekend as dozens of lawsuits have been filed over the tragedy.

The boy, identified as Ezra Blount by his family, had been in a medically induced coma in an attempt to overcome brain, liver and kidney trauma, according to a statement from Crump.

The tragedy at the Travis Scott performance in Houston shocked entertainers, fans, and parents. Nine young people died at the arena concert, trampled by a crowd of 50,000 fans who surged to get closer to the stage where Scott was performing.

I confess that I am completely out of touch with the music of Travis Scott and his contemporaries. I love the music of other eras, from about 1600-1975, which seems civilized compared to today’s music (I can’t even make out the words when I try).

This article in the Los Angeles Times explains Travis Scott and his enormous popularity and wealth. The article included a Scott song called “Sicko,” which shows the menace and incipient rage that Scott promotes. After reading this article, I think Scott should face criminal charges in addition to the lawsuits that have been filed against him. The article is titled “For Travis Scott, a history of chaos at concerts, followed by a night of unspeakable tragedy.”

The article was published before the death of the 9th person.

In Travis Scott’s 2019 Netflix documentary “Look Mom I Can Fly,” in the aftermath of a particularly volatile May 2017 show at the Walmart Arkansas Music Pavilion in Rogers, Ark., one fan beamed at a camera crew while leaning on crutches. “I survived, I survived! It’s all good!” they said.

Following the show, Scott faced three misdemeanor charges of inciting a riot, disorderly conduct and endangering the welfare of a minor after he invited fans to overpower security and rush the stage. Scott pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and had to pay more than $6,000 to two people injured at the show.

“I just hate getting arrested, man. That s— is whack,” Scott said in the documentary, upon his release from jail.

Scott’s talent for stirring up a young fanbase with the fury of an underground punk act has long been a part of his appeal. On his 2018 song “Stargazing,” the rapper reveled in his crowds’ heaving energy: ”it ain’t a mosh pit if ain’t no injuries.” Yet the 30-year-old rapper is also one of the most successful figures in contemporary hip-hop, an endorsement-friendly business mogul in the vein of Jay-Z and Puff Daddy, and one of a handful of rap artists who can headline major festivals. His reputation as an incendiary live performer arguably exceeds his recorded music as the main driver of his current popularity.

But that penchant for inspiring chaos onstage has led to troubling situations, long before Friday’s Astroworld crowd-stampede disaster that killed eight people and left numerous concert-goers injured in Houston.

Scott has twice faced criminal charges related to inciting crowds into over-heated fervors. Before the incident in Arkansas, the rapper pleaded guilty in 2015 to charges of reckless conduct, after cajoling fans at Lollapalooza to climb over barricades and onto the stage with him during his show at the Chicago festival.

“Everyone in a green shirt get the f— back,” Scott said, referencing the festival’s security staff. “Middle finger up to security right now.” He then led the crowd in a chant of “We want rage.” (Scott often refers to his fans as “ragers.”)

Scott’s set lasted barely five minutes, whereupon he fled the scene and was soon apprehended by local police. A judge ordered him under court supervision for a year following his guilty plea.

In April 2017, a man named Kyle Green sued Scott after he attended a show at Terminal 5 in New York City, where Green claims fans pushed him off an upper-deck balcony. A different fan jumped from the same balcony in a widely seen video, after Scott pointed him out and encouraged him to leap off. “I see you, but are you gonna do it?” Scott said from the stage. “They gonna catch you. Don’t be scared. Don’t be scared!”

Green was left partially paralyzed by the incident. Reached by Rolling Stone after the Astroworld incident, an attorney for Green said that he’s ”devastated and heartbroken for the families of those who were killed and for those individuals who were severely injured. He’s even more incensed by the fact that it could have been avoided had Travis learned his lesson in the past and changed his attitude about inciting people to behave in such a reckless manner.”

In 2019, Scott wrote “DA YOUTH DEM CONTROL THE FREQUENCY,” on an Instagram video of fans storming barricades at one of his shows. “EVERYONE HAVE FUN. RAGERS SET TONE WHEN I COME OUT TONIGHT. BE SAFE RAGE HARD. AHHHHHHHHHHH.” Three people were hospitalized following a crowd stampede over security barriers at the 2019 edition of the Astroworld Festival.

The 30-year-old Scott, whose real name is Jaques Webster, was born in Houston, a famed city for outlaw hip-hop that figures prominently in his work (His chart-topping 2018 album “Astroworld” was named after a now-closed local theme park). His father and grandfather were jazz and soul musicians, and he studied musical theater while growing up in the middle-class Houston suburb of Missouri City. In 2012, he signed deals as an artist (with T.I.’s Grand Hustle imprint for Epic) and as a writer/producer (with Kanye West’s G.O.O.D. Music). His music was both visceral and melancholy, produced with the weight and ferocity of trap but glazed over with vocal processing and distended samples.

On two early mixtapes and his 2015 major-label debut “Rodeo,” singles like “Antidote” set a template for how rap would sound in the coming decade — bruising, miserable, sleekly nihilist. The LP’s swarm of guest appearances — Justin Bieber, the Weeknd and Kanye West among them — announced that a new star had arrived.

His 2016 follow-up, “Birds in the Trap Sing McKnight,” had similar firepower, with Andre 3000, Kendrick Lamar and Kid Cudi as guests. That record yielded two of his signature singles — “Goosebumps” and “Pick up the Phone” — and topped the Billboard 200 album charts.

But it was 2018’s “Astroworld” that turned him into a pop force. It not only again topped the album charts, but placed all 17 tracks into the Hot 100 singles chart. “Sicko Mode,” with Drake, topped the Hot 100 and set a template for TikTok-ready rap with its hard edits between beats and tempos.

His arena tour for that album grossed $32 million in three months in 2019, according to Pollstar. That launched Scott into the caliber of acts that could headline the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, for which he was booked in 2020 and, as of now, is still scheduled to headline in 2022. (He is also currently scheduled to headline next weekend’s Day N Vegas festival, alongside Kendrick Lamar and Tyler, the Creator.)

Last year, more than 27 million fans logged in to see him perform a concert in the video game “Fortnite,” where fans bought reams of real and virtual merchandise for characters in the game.

Beyond music, his endorsement deals with Nike, at a reported $10 million per year, and McDonald’s, where fans could order a Scott-themed novelty meal, have made him one of the richest acts in contemporary hip-hop. This year, he launched a hard seltzer brand, Cacti, with Anheuser-Busch. Scott has a daughter, Stormi, with the reality TV and cosmetics mogul Kylie Jenner.

Scott founded the Astroworld Festival in 2018 in partnership with Austin-based ScoreMore Shows and Live Nation, the world’s largest event-promotion company (ScoreMore sold a controlling interest to Live Nation in 2018). This year’s lineup, at NRG Park in Houston, was to feature Tame Impala and Bad Bunny on Saturday, which was canceled following the events of Friday night. SZA, Lil Baby and Roddy Ricch performed before Scott on Friday.

In the run-up to the festival, Scott opened a community school garden initiative in Houston, Cactus Jack Gardens; a new basketball court at the city’s Sunnyside Park; and a design-centric academy partnered with Parsons School of Design. Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner told the New York Times that “I’ve worked with the family, I’ve worked with Travis, I’ve worked with his mom…This is the last thing any of them wanted to see happen.”

The tragedy has left the rap world reeling. Ricch promised to donate his entire performance fee from the festival to the affected families. Scott’s team spent some of Saturday’s post-concert aftermath deleting social media posts that seem to encourage gate-crashing or other illicit behavior, including one May 2021 Twitter post in which he said: “We still sneaking the wild ones in. !!!!”

Judge Lina Hidalgo, the senior elected official in Harris County, where Houston is located, said at a news conference following the festival that “It may well be that this tragedy is the result of unpredictable events, of circumstances coming together that couldn’t possibly have been avoided. But until we determine that, I will ask the tough questions.”

One Astroworld attendee has already sued Scott, his guest performer Drake, Live Nation and the Harris County Sports & Convention Corp., which owns NRG Stadium. Texas attorney Thomas J. Henry filed the lawsuit Sunday on behalf of Kristian Paredes, according to the Daily Mail, accusing the defendants of prioritizing “profits over their attendees.”

“Live musical performances are meant to inspire catharsis, not tragedy,” Henry said in a statement. “Many of these concert-goers were looking forward to this event for months, and they deserved a safe environment in which to have fun and enjoy the evening. Instead, their night was one of fear, injury, and death.”

In a video posted late Saturday, a weary-looking Scott said that while he was onstage, “anytime I could make out anything that’s going on, I stopped the show and helped them get the help they need,” he said, “We’ve been working closely with everyone trying to get to the bottom of this.”


In 2015, I wrote about a group of high school students in Houston who sued the state for underfunding public schools. Valerie Strauss wrote about them too. She wrote: ““The two students who filed the brief on behalf of the HISD Student Congress, an organization that represents about 215,000 students in the district, are Zaakir Tameez, a member of the 2015 class of Carnegie Vanguard High School, and Amy Fan, a member of the 2016 class of Bellaire High School.”

I have always believed that students have more power than they know and they need to speak up about their education.

The two young people who founded the HISD Student Congress–Tameez and Fan–filed an excellent brief, but their appeal on behalf of underfunded school districts was rejected 9-0 by the Texas Supreme Court, which is elected statewide and consists of Republicans. The court complimented the students on their brief on page 24 of the ruling, footnote 100:  “High school students Zaakir Tameez and Amy Fan, with the help of other students, have filed an excellent amicus brief.”

These are remarkable young people, our hope for the future.

After graduating from HISD, Amy Fan went to Duke University, where she graduated in 2020. She returned to Houston and is now the official advisor to HISD StuCon. She helped co-found a local civic engagement collective with other HISD StuCon alumni called Institute of Engagement. They just launched Shift Press, an online publication for Houston youth to tell their stories. 

Zaakir Tameez is a remarkable young man. After he graduated from high school, he enrolled at the University of Virginia. He was an intern with the President of the University of Virginia and with Nobel Laureate Joseph Stiglitz. After his graduation, he was selected as a Fulbright Scholar and is currently studying in the UK. He will begin Yale Law School in the fall.

So much for the detractors of Houston public schools!

Zaakir Tameez recently wrote to alert me that the school district (HISD) is trying to take control of the HISD Youth Congress away from students.

HISD is now trying to take over the Student Congress and replace it with a “district-sanctioned vehicle” that operates “under the direction” of administrators. In other words, district staff recommended that the board dissolve the student-run, student-led group that has been operating for seven years now to create something new that they can control. 

It would mean so much to us if you could speak on this – a short blog post, or even a tweet. We are trying to raise awareness to fight back. It’s a sad situation, really. We’ve spent years advocating for greater funding & resources for HISD and to prevent the board takeover that is being planned by the State of Texas. 

But then, this. Without any heads up, they are attempting to take us over.  Not one board member or member of district staff has reached out to us yet to inform us of the resolution. I am attaching the resolution text and an FAQ on the situation…Your response would be so greatly appreciated. We’re proud that you came from the same schools that we did. 




 

Audrey Amrein Beardsley writes here about Houston’s experience with value-added evaluation of its teachers.

The Houston Independent School District (HISD) contracted with William Sanders’ SAS to provide a model to calculate the “value-added” of its teachers from 2007-2017.

Teachers objected that the method of calculating their scores was opaque. They couldn’t learn how to improve their practice because Sanders’ methodology was proprietary and secret.

Teachers were fired based on their VAM scores.

The Houston Federation of Teachers sued to stop the use of the “black box” method.

In 2017, a judge agreed and enjoined the use of VAM.

Thus by now, after a decade of VAMMING teachers, Houston should have identified and removed all the “bad” teachers and employ only “effective” or “highly effective” teachers.

But the state threatened to take over the entire district because one high school–Wheatley– has low test scores. Wheatley High School has a disproportionately large share of students who are poor and have special needs, has low scores, even though all of its teachers–like all of Houston’s teachers–were VAMMED for a decade.

If VAM were effective, HISD should be the best urban district in the nation.

All achievement gaps should have closed by now.

Why is the state–which has no expertise in running a large urban district–taking control away from the elected board?

Republican activists have been trying to invalidate 127,000 votes cast in Harris County (Houston). Their case failed in the state courts. They are now in federal courts, arguing that votes cast at a drive-in location are invalid, even though the sites were approved by the Secretary of State of Texas.

ACLU Challenges Effort to Invalidate Nearly 127,000 Drive-Thru Votes Cast in Harris County, Texas

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
November 1, 2020

CONTACT:
Imelda Mejia, ACLU of Texas, 602–510-4534, imejia@aclutx.org
Inga Sarda-Sorensen, ACLU National, 347-514-3984, isarda-sorensen@aclu.org

HOUSTON — The American Civil Liberties Union and ACLU of Texas moved to intervene tonight in a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate nearly 127,000 early votes cast via drive-thru voting in Harris County, the state’s largest county and the third largest county in the country. This is the third such attempt to discard these validly-cast ballots.

“The push to toss the ballots of nearly 127,000 Texans in Harris County is unconscionable and illegal,” said Sophia Lin Lakin, deputy director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “It appears to be an attempt to undermine a true and accurate vote count and improperly influence the outcome of the election.”

Tonight’s ACLU challenge was filed on behalf of the League of Women Voters of Texas and several individuals who voted using the drive-thru option, including:

  • Michelle Colvard, a 45-year-old registered voter who lives in Houston. She has both spina bifida and monoclonal gammopathy. Because of these conditions, she uses a wheelchair and is more susceptible to severe illness from COVID-19. She chose to drive-thru vote as the option that would minimize her risk of COVID-19 exposure.
  • Karen “Kim” Vidor, a 64-year-old registered voter living in Houston. She has been a registered voter in Harris County since she was approximately 18. She suffers from hypertension, cardiac issues, asthma, and rheumatoid arthritis, all of which heighten her risk from COVID-19. If her vote is at risk of not being counted, she fears she will be totally disenfranchised. For Vidor, a Republican, this is “not a partisan issue,” but rather an issue of having her vote counted.
  • Joy Davis-Harasemay, a 44-year-old registered voter who lives in Houston. She has both asthma and spondylitis, a degenerative spine disease that makes her unable to stand for long periods of time. She used drive-thru voting, and if her vote is not counted, she will be heartbroken and disenfranchised. As a Black woman, she likely will not vote again in this election for fear of breaking election rules and being accused of voting twice.
  • Diana Untermeyer, a 58-year-old registered voter who lives in Houston. She routinely votes for Republican candidates during general elections, including voting for Sharon Hemphill — a plaintiff in the lawsuit seeking to invalidate the drive-thru votes in Harris County — over her opponent in the 2020 general election. 

“This lawsuit is another desperate and ludicrous attempt by extremists to block the will of the people and disrupt democracy,” said Andre Segura, legal director for the ACLU of Texas. “Throwing out these votes would be patently unlawful and unprecedented. Texans have shown up in record numbers to make their voices heard, and we will fight to ensure that these votes are counted.”

“The attempt to disenfranchise more than 120,000 voters who lawfully cast their ballots during early voting is disgraceful and un-American,” said Grace Chimene, president of League of Women Voters of Texas.“Drive-thru voting was established as a safe early voting option for individuals, including many disabled voters who did not want to enter a polling site during this pandemic. It was tested with great success during the Texas run-off and special election in July. This last-minute attack on voters demonstrates a desire by some to silence Texas voters and we will not stand for it.”

A hearing is slated for Monday morning in Houston in front of U.S. District Judge Andrew Hanen.

Prior to the federal court lawsuit seeking to invalidate the nearly 127,000 votes, some of the same plaintiffs filed a similar suit with the Texas Supreme Court. Earlier today, the Texas Supreme Court denied the request without an order or opinion. In late October, the Texas Supreme Court refused litigation attempting to shut down drive-thru voting in Harris County altogether.

Legal filings: https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/motion-intervene-0 and https://www.aclu.org/legal-document/opp-pi

Statement: https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-challenges-effort-invalidate-127000-drive-thru-votes-cast-harris-county-texas

In a post from 2019, Mercedes Schneider reviewed the spectacular career of a TFA “reformer” who became a star in Nevada, briefly disappeared, then resurfaced with a cushy job in the booming IDEA charter chain in Houston (Betsy DeVos’s favorite).

Alison Serafin flourished in Nevada when there was a Republican Governor. She was vice-president of the state board. She launched a start-up called Opportunity 180 to foster charter schools. She resigned from the state board in December 2015 since her Organization was seeking state funding. In April 2016 her Opportunity 180 won a $10 million grant to being high-performing charters to Nevada.

Opportunity 180 was supposed to create the Nevada Achievement School District, modeled on Tennessee’s failed program.

By 2017, Serafin resigned, and her name was scrubbed from the website of the organization she founded.

Not to worry. Now Serafin works for IDEA in Houston, which has big plans for expansion.

Reformers fail upwards.

The New York Times declared that its coverage of the pandemic would not be locked behind a paywall, so I’m assuming this article is available for free use.

It focuses on the fight to contain the virus in Harris County (Houston). One obstacle is the defunding of public health services in this country, which left us unprepared for the pandemic. Another obstacle is the actions of politicians who follow Trump’s lead and minimize the danger to the public. A third obstacle is the stubborn refusal of a large minority who insist on their “right” to do what they want without regard to the community.

This combination has crippled the nation’s response to the pandemic and will cost many thousands of lives.

 

Contact:
Zeph Capo
zcapo@texasaft.org
713-670-4348

Texas AFT, Houston Federation of Teachers Fully Support Houston Independent School District
Reopen Plan

Plan Stands in Contrast to Neighboring Spring Branch ISD Hybrid Plan
 

 

HOUSTON—Texas AFT and the Houston Federation of Teachers fully support the Houston Independent School District’s reopening plan announced today, which calls for delaying the start of the new school year and using an all-virtual format for at least six weeks.

The new school year will start Sept. 8 for six weeks, through Oct. 16, after which either virtual instruction will be extended or face-to-face learning will resume with safety measures to protect students, teachers and other school employees.

“At this time, given the out-of-control conditions of COVID-19 in Houston, virtual learning is the safest option for Houston families and educators. It is our mission as professionals to provide the best and safest way to deliver instruction, no matter what method,” said Texas AFT President Zeph Capo.

Capo said HISD’s plan to start the year with distance learning is the right reopening plan for current conditions and stands in stark contrast to the hybrid plan announced today by Spring Branch ISD, a neighboring suburban district. The Spring Branch district asked parents to choose between in-school and distance learning, which both will start in August.

“To even consider bringing students and educators into a Houston-area school building right now is insanely irresponsible,” Capo said.

Capo said the Sept. 8 to Oct. 16 period of distance learning should give officials the time to determine the efficacy of returning to in-school learning.

“This should give us time to determine if someone from the local or state government will step up and lead us into a safer tomorrow. The medicine may be harsh, but it is necessary to shut down all nonessential functions to get this virus under control. That is the only safe course of action to give us a fighting chance to open schools for our preferred in-person delivery model,” Capo said.

“The HFT has recommended an all-virtual start for Houston schools and a delay of in-school learning until there has been a decline of COVID-19 cases over 14 consecutive days, plus a positive test rate of less than 5 percent and a transmission rate under 1 percent,” said HFT Executive Vice President Andy Dewey.

Texas AFT called on state leaders to ensure that all school districts across the state receive the flexibility required to safely educate children while receiving adequate funding necessary to deliver high-quality virtual learning, including digital devices and universal free internet service.

Capo acknowledged the efforts of HISD Board President Sue Deigaard and other urban school district colleagues in fighting for local control so that Austin doesn’t dictate the day-to-day operations of any school district.

 

Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner has canceled the State GOP Convention, which was scheduled for next week.

In light of the dangerous health situation in Houston, the mayor said it was unsafe.

Good to know that local elected officials take the pandemic seriously, even though the president does not.

Domingo Morel is a professor of political science at Rutgers University who has studied school takeovers across the nation. He is the author of Takeover: Race, Education, and American Democracy. 

In this post, he describes the proposed state takeover of the Houston Independent School District as a hoax. 

It is a manufactured crisis. It is a theft of political power, and it is based on race.

If the state of Texas had its way, the state would be in the process of taking overthe Houston Independent School District.

But a judge temporarily blocked the takeover on Jan. 8, with the issue now set to be decided at a trial in June.

The ruling temporarily spares Houston’s public school system from joining a list of over 100 school districts in the nation that have experienced similar state takeovers during the past 30 years.

The list includes New York City, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, Detroit, New Orleans, Baltimore, Oakland and Newark. Houston is the largest school district in Texas and the seventh largest in the U.S.

While the state of Texas claims the planned takeover is about school improvement, my research on state takeovers of school districts suggests that the Houston takeover, like others, is influenced by racism and political power.

States fail to deliver

State governments have used takeovers since the late 1980s to intervene in school districts they have identified as in need of improvement. While state administrations promise that takeovers will improve school systems, 30 years of evidence shows that state takeovers do not meet the states’ promised expectations. For instance, a recent report called Michigan’s 15-year management of the Detroit schools a “costly mistake” because the takeover was not able to address the school system’s major challenges, which included adequately funding the school district.

But while the takeovers don’t deliver promised results, as I show in my book, they do have significant negative political and economic consequences for communities, which overwhelmingly are communities of color. These negative consequences often include the removal of locally elected school boards. They also involve decreases in teachers and staff and the loss of local control of schools.

Despite the highly problematic history of state takeovers, states have justified the takeovers on the grounds that the entire school district is in need of improvement. However, this is not the case for the Houston takeover because by the state’s own standards, the Houston school system is not failing.

By the state’s own standards, the Houston Independent School District is not failing!

Although the state has given the Houston Independent School District a B rating, it plans to take over the Houston schools because one school, Wheatley High School, has not met state standards for seven years. According to state law, the state can take over a school district or close a school if it fails to meet standards for five years.

The Houston Independent School District has 280 schools. The district serves over 200,000 students. It employs roughly 12,000 teachers. Wheatley High School serves roughly 800 students and has roughly 50 teachers.

So why would a state take over a school district that has earned a B rating from the state? And why base the takeover on the performance of one school that represents fewer than 1% of the district’s student and teaching population?

The takeover is nothing more or less than a bald-faced attempt to strip political power from black and Hispanic communities.

No one believes that software developer Mike Morath (the current state commissioner) has a single idea about how to improve Wheatley or any other school. He has never been a teacher, a principal, or a superintendent. He is there to carry out the rightwing agenda of Governor Gregg Abbott.

Count on it. This is a bald-faced power grab.