As schools all across America continue to get back to a sense of normalcy after the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, in Parkland, Florida, they continue to remain on edge as the number of threats and activity that schools have witnessed since the Parkland shooting has significantly increased, especially here in Harris County.
This past week, Houston Community College closed its Central College campus located at 1300 Holman Street on Monday and Tuesday (May 7-8) as a result of a shooting threat that was made on social media over that weekend.
HCC officials immediately responded to the threat and took every precaution to protect students from any potential harm, in spite of finals being scheduled for that week.
“It was my decision to close the campus for the last two days,” said HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado. “It was a decision made out of an abundance of caution and concern for everyone’s safety and based on input from law enforcement and my leadership team.”
After an intense investigation by HCC Police, a person of interest was identified and investigators sought to have charges brought against that individual. Upon review of the information, the Harris County District Attorney’s office charged 21-year-old Luis Antonio Rivera with allegedly making a terroristic threat at HCC’s Central Campus. The HCC Central Campus eventually reopened, but HCC identified that this matter was too important to ignore.
“Houston Community College remains vigilant and responds thoroughly whenever any reports of a concerning nature are received and, as always, we will be proactive in the safety of our campuses,” HCC said in a statement. “We want to thank the many agencies that were involved in responding to this threat and remind everyone if you see something, say something.”
Since the beginning of the year, America has found itself having to deal with countless acts of domestic terrorism as a result of gun violence. Sadly, many of these acts came after warning signs were displayed and threats were made through openly accessible outlets like social media.
In the case of 19-year-old domestic terrorist suspect, Nikolas Cruz, the Florida Department of Children and Families had been alerted to social media posts where Cruz talked about buying a gun and doing physical harm to himself at least a year and a half before he shot and killed those seventeen people in Parkland, according to a state report. Even after a person close to Cruz called into a tip line to identify him as a gun owner who had intentions of potentially murdering people at a school, the F.B.I. publicly admitted to not investigating the tip. Cruz had just legally purchased a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle in February 2017 – a year prior to killing his victims.
Just a day after the Parkland shooting, 17-year-old Jaquinn Alani Smith tried to come to school at the Hobby campus of Houston Can Academy with a gun in his backpack. Because Houston Can Academy had a screening process to enter the school, the gun was discovered and Smith ran away. Smith was eventually arrested by members of law enforcement and charged with carrying a weapon in a prohibited place, but the thought of what had happened the day before in Florida was fresh on the minds of students, teachers, administrators and parents.
This is a prime example of why monitoring these types of threats, particularly social media activity, is critical and can stave off a potential tragic event like the Parkland shooting and others.
Back in September 2016, then-14-year-old Jesse Osborne, went onto social media to ask his Instagram friends whether he should go back to his former elementary school or to the middle school he had been suspended from, a week before he fatally shot 6-year-old Jacob Hall and wounded two others at Townville Elementary School.
According to the F.B.I., Osborne’s social media posts showed that he stated he was going to kill his father, get the keys to his truck and drive to Townville Elementary School to commit the act of violence. Less than a year before the Townville shooting, Osborne was criminally charged with bringing a machete and a hatchet to his middle school because he was being bullied.
On December 7, 2017, 21-year-old William Atchinson went to his former high school in New Mexico and fatally shot Casey Marquez and Francisco Fernandez before killing himself. Minutes before he committed the horrific act, he posted a message on social media talking about what he planned to do.
Ironically, that was not the first time Atchinson had made these types of comments on social media. He was investigated by the F.B.I. a year prior for making disturbing comments on social media, but the F.B.I. did not charge him with anything because they said he was no threat at the time. Atchinson went on to legally buy the gun he used to kill his victims and himself.
According to officials at the Harris County District Attorney’s office, at least 140 criminal cases involving threats against students and school campuses have been filed with their office since the Parkland shooting, with most of the individuals charged being between 12 and 16 years of age.
Much of the gun violence tied to schools can seemingly be prevented, and it begins with a simple focus. If you see something, you must say something – before it is too late.
The Forward Times plans to continue being a part of these discussions related to gun violence, and will keep our readers informed on any new developments surrounding this important issue of gun violence in our country.
The community is outraged. The options are limited. The time to do something is upon us.
The Houston Independent School District (HISD) has come to the point where it is being forced to relinquish control of ten Black and Brown schools in the Greater Houston area, in compliance with a 2015 law they have to deal with because of their failure to improve academic performance at these campuses.
The controversial and much-talked-about law, SB 1882, has forced HISD to make some very tough decisions about what they have to do about these ten schools; and many Houston taxpayers and families are not happy about the proposed actions the district is set to take.
To be compliant with SB1882, HISD has until Monday, April 30th, to have a signed contract submitted to the office of the Texas Education Agency (TEA), in order to avoid having their schools permanently taken over by the statewide educational governing body.
To help you better understand SB 1882, it basically allows HISD to enter into a contract with a qualified entity, such as a charter school, to operate a district campus and share teachers, facilities, or other education resources on that campus. More importantly, however, under the new state law, the TEA can legally takeover any school within HISD, if that school has received an “improvement required” rating for poor academic performance for five consecutive years.
The ten HISD schools on the chopping block, that fit that criteria this year include: Blackshear, Dogan, Highland Heights, Mading and Wesley elementary schools; Henry Middle School; Woodson PK-8; and Kashmere, Wheatley and Worthing high schools. All of these schools are made up of predominately Black and Brown students.
Because HISD did not want to run the risk of having TEA takeover the schools, they met on this past Tuesday to propose their next steps in order to comply with the state law.
According to HISD Board President Rhonda Skillern-Jones, the vote on Tuesday was simply to give interim HISD Superintendent Dr. Grenita Lathan the authority to negotiate a contract with their chosen qualified partner, which happens to be one of HISD’s existing charter school operators – Energized For STEM Academy.
There are many questions swirling, as to whether Energized For STEM Academy is the right entity to takeover these 10 underperforming Black and Brown schools.
Energized For STEM Academy, which has been run by Lois Bullock since 2008, currently operates middle and high schools within HISD with approximately 1,000 students combined.
Zeph Capo, president of the Houston Federation of Teachers (HFT), held a press conference this past Monday to express his wide-ranging concerns about the proposed entity and the lack of details and information surrounding the selection.
However, Skillern-Jones says the district has no other choice but to choose a partner they are familiar with on a local level, and one that meets the criteria.
“SB 1882 is the law governing these schools, and while we don’t agree with it, it is the law,” said Skillern-Jones. “We have to find the best options to help our students. The other options are closure, or do nothing, and allow TEA do come in and do what they will with our campuses. Right now, we need to focus on getting a partnership in place, getting these schools off the list and getting them back. In addition, we have to ensure that no others join them and that’s where our focus needs to be.”
To be eligible for the benefits of SB 1882, HISD has to partner with two types of entities in order to operate the charter. HISD had to either, on approval by the TEA Commissioner, (a) choose an institution of higher education, a non-profit, or a government entity that has been granted a charter under Subchapter C, Chapter 12; or (b) choose a State-Authorized Open-Enrollment Charter School in good standing.
Skillern-Jones said that while Energized for STEM Academy was the recommended option, she believes avoiding school closures and keeping control at the local-level, is the best way to deal with the challenges the district finds itself faced with, because that is what her constituents want.
According to Skillern-Jones, the HISD Board reached out to various entities in the area, as well as across the country, such as the City of Houston, Texas Southern University, Houston Community College, University of Houston, Johns Hopkins, and others, but could not find any takers for a variety of reasons.
For the most part, Skillern-Jones states that the entities they initially targeted had concerns about potential legal issues and challenges they would face having to oversee these schools, as well as the potential liability they would undertake by becoming a qualified partner with HISD.
According to Skillern-Jones, when the request for applications went out to solicit partners, only two entities responded back to HISD – Energized for STEM Academy, which is local and already operating in the district; and Generation Schools Network, which is based out of New York.
This is an unprecedented situation, which has the current HISD Board of Trustees flying blind, and having to solely rely on HISD’s legal counsel to provide direction and guidance.
As far as the details of what HISD can and can’t do, along with other critical details, Skillern-Jones states that the board won’t know anything until they have a negotiated contract to review. Skillern-Jones did say, however, that all of the schools would keep their names, identities and school identification numbers. As it relates to governance and academic control, HISD would have no regulation over the administration of the academic plan, as well as no say over who gets hired or fired, according to the rules of the partnership under the state law.
TEA did not finish writing the final rules for SB 1882 until recently, and per their own website, the final rules were not set to be published until February 26th or sooner. The final rules articulated, among other items, the definition of what “to partner to contract to operate” actually meant. The, new TEA rules (regulations) became effective on April 4th.
In essence, there is no way HISD could have known what the full criteria would be until then.
There are other questions lingering out there, such as whether the impacted schools will be allowed to keep their sports, fine arts, and other UIL-related programs and activities. Will these expectations be in the final negotiated contract? Has the HISD Board given Dr. Lathan instructions as to what the district wants to see in the final contract? Will current HISD employees be paid by HISD or by the selected entity? How will the employees’ pensions and retirement be handled? There are so many unanswered questions that the community won’t know until the negotiated contract has been finalized and prepared to send to TEA.
Getting to this point didn’t happen overnight, but unfortunately, the day of political reckoning has now come. By entering into a partnership, HISD would be able to hold off having the state takeover these schools or close them down for at least two years.
Many in the community are asking HISD to sue the TEA over their failure to comply to state testing laws, as well as for discrimination based on race through the accountability system.
HISD is on a time crunch and the clock is ticking. If they don’t submit a negotiated contract with their chosen partner before the April 30th deadline, they’ll have to either quickly find another partner within days, or simply adhere to the state sanctions, which could include school closures.
In the meantime, the Forward Times will continue to follow this issue and keep the community abreast of the latest happenings.
Houston Community College (HCC) is on a mission to thrill and educate young students in simulated flights to Mars, the Moon and beyond. That mission was officially launched in Greater Houston area this past Thursday, April 12, when HCC joined Challenger Center President and CEO Lance Bush to announce the new Challenger Learning Center – a place where elementary, middle and high school students will be taught how to apply the STEM subjects of science, technology, engineering and math to a trip to outer space.
This past February, HCC submitted a formal application to Challenger Center, headquartered in Washington D.C., to open a Challenger Learning Center at the HCC Southeast College-Felix Fraga Campus. HCC found out it had received approval late last month, clearing the way for the start of a $2 million fundraising campaign to support construction of the 10,000 square foot Challenger Learning Center.
“HCC is proud to have been selected as the site for the newest Challenger Learning Center,” said HCC Board Chair Carolyn Evans-Shabazz. “Houston put a man on the moon and now HCC is adding to Houston’s heritage as Space City with this project. This new partnership with Challenger Center is a perfect match made in the heavens.”
As a leader in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education, Challenger Center provides more than 250,000 students annually with experiential simulation-based programs that engage students in hands-on learning opportunities. These programs, delivered in Challenger Learning Centers and classrooms, strengthen knowledge in STEM subjects and inspire students to pursue careers in these important fields. Challenger Center was created by the Challenger families to honor the crew of shuttle flight STS-51-L.
“We are incredibly impressed with Houston Community College’s vision for a seamless STEM pathway that launches students on a trajectory to higher education and 21st century skills,” said Challenger Center President and CEO Lance Bush. “I congratulate everyone at Houston Community College on this extraordinary step to provide students in the area with a STEM experience that will spark a passion for learning that lasts a lifetime. We share both this vision and a passion for inspiring today’s youth, and we look forward to working together to open the doors of this new Center.”
The Challenger Learning Center at Houston Community College will join a network of more than 40 Challenger Learning Centers around the globe. Each Center is a fully immersive experience, including a Mission Control Room and Space Station where students work with hands-on labs, conduct experiments and analyze data during a Challenger Center Mission. Students learn teamwork, communicate with one another to complete tasks and solve problems when emergencies arise. Aligned with national education standards and informed by real science data, Challenger Learning Center Missions introduce students to careers in STEM fields and help them build important 21st Century skills.
“This will add to HCC’s growing innovative educational offerings that already include participation in the city’s new innovation corridor in Midtown and partnerships with NASA and the University of Houston to build a Mars surface habitat and other additional facilities for manned missions to Mars,” said HCC Chancellor Cesar Maldonado. “Today’s students are the innovators, explorers and designers of tomorrow. We must nurture their excitement and inspire their imagination.”
The Felix Fraga Campus, located on 11 acres at 301 N. Drennan St. in southeast Houston, offers a rigorous STEM curriculum that includes engineering, maritime logistics, drafting, math, physics and astronomy. It also has an astronomical observatory to serve students and the community.
The Challenger Learning Center will be a fantastic addition to the Houston community and will add to HCC’s growing innovation- based educational offerings.
For more information about Challenger Center, please visit www.challenger.org.
Just how easy is it to bring a gun into our schools?
Sadly, it appears to be too easy based on the number of school shootings that are happening on a consistent basis in America.
What can be done? Who is next? How can the students, and the adults responsible for their care, be sure that they won’t be next?
These are extremely frightening questions, yet they are also extremely legitimate ones.
When it comes to the issue of gun violence in the United States, it is safe to say that the bullets don’t discriminate – for the most part. And while there does tend to be a double standard related to the media attention and societal support certain groups receive versus others when it comes to ‘dealing with’ the issue of gun violence in America, the pain that all parents, families and friends experience due to these traumatic experiences is the same – heartbreaking.
Since the beginning of the year, America has found itself once again experiencing a tragic act of domestic terrorism, whereby many young people and adults have been tragically gunned down by an individual or individuals who were easily able to access guns – guns that eventually led to the loss of multiple lives as a result of them carrying out a mass shooting.
Case in point – take the recent mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on February 14, in Parkland, Florida, that has sparked an outcry from many people in the country, particularly many of the students who were impacted by the shooting and are now demanding changes in the gun laws in this country.
In this case, 19-year-old domestic terrorist suspect, Nikolas Cruz, had just legally purchased a semiautomatic AR-15 rifle in February 2017 – a year prior to killing his victims.
According to reports, Cruz caught an Uber to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and then proceeded to walk inside the school carrying a black duffel bag and a backpack. Cruz hid loaded magazines in his backpack, until the very moment he decided to pull out his newly acquired AR-15 rifle and start blasting away at people.
All-in-all, Cruz killed seventeen people and fourteen others were transported to local hospitals.
The entire world once again watched in horror as politicians and lawmakers, who are entrusted to lead and serve, offered the victims and their families little more than their thoughts and prayers via Twitter, sound bites and scripted press releases.
Nothing changed. Same thing…Different day.
So, as the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass school shooting has been added to the list as one of the deadliest school shootings and acts of domestic terrorism in U.S. history, it has now also been added to the list of tragic mass shooting incidents that have seemingly and sadly become the norm in this country.
Many people remember the tragedy that took place on December 14, 2012, when 20-year-old domestic terrorist Adam Lanza killed twenty 1st graders between the ages of 6 and 7 years of age and six adults with an assault rifle at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
Sadly, since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, there have been roughly 240 other school shootings that have taken place in America with at least 438 people being shot and 138 people being killed. Now of course, school shootings aren’t the only type of mass shootings that have been impacting Americans over the past several years, but it is challenging to know young people are being killed before they have a chance to truly experience life.
Many have argued that this continued loss of life, while tragic, merely reinforces the recurring narrative that America is strongly encouraging a culture of gun violence, particularly because of the flat out refusal of lawmakers to take action and pass any sensible bipartisan gun control legislation. Over the years, the relationship between gun lobbyists and those who make policy has seemingly produced an unwillingness to advance responsible gun safety legislation, and it has caused a major divide amongst many people in this country.
And then, instead of clearly addressing the unrestricted access to high-powered, military-style semiautomatic rifles, like the ones used in the Florida and Las Vegas mass shootings, President Donald J. Trump and many of his supporters have focused on pushing for arming teachers with guns in the classroom. In addition to that, President Trump has also sought to excuse the actions of these domestic terrorists as a mental illness issue rather than a focus on the relatively easy way these individuals can acquire these deadly weapons with no real vetting process.
Many people across America have found President Trump’s mental illness narrative to be a confusing one to find credible, especially considering the fact that Trump’s latest budget proposes dramatically slashing Medicaid, which is the primary source of mental health funding for 70 percent of low-income Americans.
Why acknowledge that mental illness is the issue with gun violence and then turnaround and cut the funding for many low-income Americans who need it, and who suffer from incidents of sustained gun violence in their respective communities?
Speaking of mental illness, there are usually after affects that individuals have to deal with regarding their traumatic experience. Parents suffer, families grieve, students experience trauma, employees and educators have to deal with the stress of coming back to work knowing what had just occurred and whether it could happen again, and many other feelings of fear and concern.
Managing Partners Shantera Chatman and Natalie Arceneaux of PROSCI of C+A Global Group believe that more should be done to help the parents and employees, as well as the students affected by these tragedies and traumatic occurrences.
“For parents affected by a devastating trauma such as a mass shooting at their child’s school, they should really tune-in to their emotions,” says Chatman. “Some parents have lost their children and are literally going through the motions at work. Their best course of action is to check with their employer to understand their benefits. Some companies provide hotlines to counselors and other actually pay for counseling services. These services typically cover the entire family.”
Arceneaux states that those working with people affected by these traumatic incidents should understand that their coworkers will never be the same and it is unrealistic to assume they will ever be.
“Employers should invest in team sensitivity activities or counseling to help those that have to encounter the affected parents,” says Arceneaux. “Understanding the mood swings and the 5 stages of grief go a long way to helping your teammates.”
The issue of mental illness related to coping with tragedy and trauma is important, but it does not deal with the real issue of gun violence in the nation.
Most experts believe that any serious plan to stem the tide of this cycle of violence must include common-sense gun laws. A survey by the Pew Research Center concludes that while Americans say they want to protect the right to bear arms, “they’re very much supportive of many gun policy proposals, including more background checks on private and gun show sales and banning semi-automatic and assault-style weapons.”
One would think that protecting local neighborhoods, schools, students and families would be a bipartisan priority and that elected officials would not be bought and sold to the highest bidder. However, it appears there are many lawmakers that have little to no conviction as it relates to doing what it takes to help reduce the risk that all American citizens face regarding this national epidemic of mass shootings due to gun violence that continues to plague our nation.
Many in the Greater Houston community have been pondering how this type of situation can be prevented, while the debate about gun control rages on.
Here locally, an elected official from the Houston area has called on national lawmakers to address this issue and states that it is time for the state of Texas to take gun laws more seriously.
“It is our responsibility to protect the people from any policies that can have a negative impact on any resident in this country, especially in the city of Houston where I serve,” said Houston City District D Councilmember Dwight A. Boykins. “I am a proud outdoorsman and supporter of the right to bear arms, but I am also an elected leader who serves to promote policies that enhance the safety and security of my constituents.”
Boykins believes that federal elected officials must acknowledge the common sense notion that implementing effective gun control measures does not have to interfere with private gun ownership, but that we must put the safety of children and the citizens first above all things.
“After the 1500+ mass shootings since 2012, they (lawmakers) continue to pursue donations and endorsements from the National Rifle Association, while ignoring the clear and present danger posed by lax gun laws,” said Boykins. “The focus on obtaining the NRA’s support and blessing runs rampant, influencing our politics on all levels of government. Therefore, my plan is to create an environment where we can have this discussion openly and seek to deal with this issue from a grassroots perspective.”
Boykins plans to hold a community town hall meeting on Monday, March 5, 2018, from 6pm to 8pm at Greater Grace Outreach Church located at 10800 Scott St., Houston, TX 77047, where he plans to have a proactive conversation on “Keeping Our Children Safe: How Do We Prevent Gun Violence in Our Communities and Schools?”
Boykins has invited local pastors, Houston Police Department (HPD), Harris County Sheriff’s Department, Precinct 7 Constable Office, Houston Independent School District (HISD) Police, Texas Southern University (TSU) Police, University of Houston (UofH) Police, Houston Community College (HCC) Police, HISD Superintendent, District D School Principals, KIPP, and many more to participate in this much needed discussion.
The Forward Times plans to be a part of these discussions and will keep our readers informed on any new developments surrounding this important issue of gun violence in our country.