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Teaching to the Sext: How Texas Educators Tackle a NSFW Election

Texas teachers are finding plenty of lessons for students in the 2016 presidential election, but discussing some of the racier news requires a careful approach.

Ronny Risinger directed his students’ attention to the projection screen where an image of former New York Congressman Anthony Weiner posing topless in a mirror appeared next to the headline “Stroking Gun: Weiner sext probe found dirt on Hill.”

The AP U.S. government teacher at Austin’s Liberal Arts and Science Academy chose to delve into Weiner’s most recent sexting scandal Monday — just the latest in a string of salacious stories surrounding this year’s presidential election. In the final stretch of an especially contentious race, educators are being creative about how they transmit that information to their students, with some using political gaffes as teaching tools and others censoring lewd material.

“This election, as far as the number of scandals, is outrageous,” Risinger said. “It took me two blackboards to write down the scandals, and I never even got to the Donald Trump side of it.”

After Monday’s class, Risinger admitted he had worried that uncensored photos of the sexting politician might pop up on the screen as he navigated an article about Weiner on the New York Post’s website. But the topic was crucial to explaining why the FBI had recently reopened its investigation into Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails, he said.

Other teachers across Texas have faced similar queasy moments as they attempt to engage with this campaign season’s inappropriate content in the classroom. And because students can use social media to tap into that content more easily than ever on their own, teachers find themselves fielding tricky election-related questions and concerns.

October’s leaked 2005 recording of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump making lewd remarks about women sparked a major uproar in the Republican party, with many politicians pulling or reserving their support from the candidate.

Though the event was newsworthy, teachers struggled to find the best way to address it in class.

“No, no, no, no,” Boerne Champion High School government teacher Kim Grosenbacher said when asked if she showed the video to her students. But they had already watched it or read about it on their own, as the story flooded media outlets.

Trump’s gaffe provided Grosenbacher an opportunity to remind her students about Internet safety. “If you’re ever going to be in a situation where you’re going to run for office, this stuff could come back and haunt you, too,” she recalled saying.

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Grosenbacher has also used the election’s divisive nature as a teaching tool. When she showed her students clips of the presidential debates, many were shocked by what they saw as a lack of substantive content and preponderance of bickering.

“Sometimes they really took a step back and said, ‘These candidates are acting like children. They’re acting like my little brother and sister,’” Grosenbacher said. “I’ve never had that in an election, where candidates have gone below the belt … As a teacher I’m going forward and saying, ‘This is what not to do in a debate.’”

St. Joseph High School senior Brooke Reaves, in Victoria, was happy that her government teacher addressed Trump’s comments about women head on, telling male students that what Trump referred to as “locker room talk” was unacceptable. “That’s one of my favorite parts about what he said,” said Reaves, who is a Libertarian. “Maybe about the whole election in general.”

This election “has created more of a spectacle” than past ones, said Cory Colby, an assistant professor at Lone Star College, a community college in Tomball that also serves high school students seeking dual credit.

Colby, who started out teaching junior high school social studies more than nine years ago, said he would be cautious introducing the leaked Trump recording to middle schoolers. “I’m more conscious of the fact that their parents are still making many many of those decisions,” he said. “I can’t assume that they all knew that it happened.”

This year’s electoral politics are changing more quickly than elections past, Colby said. When former President George H.W. Bush ran for office in 1988, his campaign would take one or two days to issue public responses, Colby recalled. Today’s candidates issue key public statements using Twitter and other fast-paced social media sites. “The turnaround time on how fast you get a full-blown social media blitz is remarkable. It won’t take a full day,” he said.

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So Colby adapted. He had his class subscribe to a group list on the site remind.com, which allows him to rapidly send links to breaking news articles to all of their phones at once. He’s flexible about his curriculum, shifting the lesson plan to include an objective earlier than he had planned.

The tone of this election is also distinctly negative, leaving students worried instead of excited.

The left-leaning nonprofit Southern Poverty Law Center coined “the Trump effect” in April, after its unscientific survey of 2,000 K-12 teachers showed the majority reported seeing an increase in bullying among students since the start of this election. More than two-thirds of teachers reported that students who were immigrants and Muslim expressed fear about what might happen to them after the election.

Trump has campaigned on promises to cut off immigration by Muslims and Mexicans.

Most of the students in Lilia Perales’ eighth-grade U.S. history class at Memorial Junior High in Eagle Pass Independent School District are Mexican or Mexican-American. “Students will ask me questions like, ‘Can Trump really get rid of all the Mexicans here?’” Perales said. She guesses that some have undocumented family members at risk of deportation.

Perales does not spend much time teaching current events, but her students often bring up the election. During a unit on President Andrew Jackson’s 1830 executive order to move Native Americans west of the Mississippi River, students asked whether Trump could move them south of the U.S. border if he became president.

“They keep referring back and saying, ‘Well, look at Jackson. He did it!’” Perales said.

As a Mexican-American, Perales said she finds it difficult to be nonpartisan when responding to her students. “I was scared for them, especially last year, when Trump first started talking about it. I would just tell them that the president doesn’t make laws. He has to have the backup of Congress,” she said.

It can be difficult for teachers not to inject their personal opinions into their lessons.

Elizabeth Morphis teaches seventh-grade Texas History at Kealing Middle School. Her students participated in a town hall meeting in Oct. | Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune
Elizabeth Morphis teaches seventh-grade Texas History at Kealing Middle School. Her students participated in a town hall meeting in Oct. |
Laura Skelding for The Texas Tribune

Kealing Middle School teacher Elizabeth Morphis said she wants her students to be interested in civic engagement, no matter their political affiliation. She used a video clip of Trump standing behind Clinton during the second presidential debate to talk to students about how bullying is difficult for adults to handle, as well as children.

But she also added that Clinton didn’t loom behind Trump during the debate because she has the privilege of being an experienced politician.

Bryan Henry, 12th-grade government teacher at Kingwood High School in Humble Independent School District, said all teachers are somewhat partisan: Even if they don’t explicitly state their political preferences, they curate their lessons based on their personal priorities.

“Something I find personally offensive might be something I’m more prone to end up mentioning,” he said.

Liberal Arts and Science Academy’s Risinger is openly Republican, having served as a delegate at this year’s Republican National Convention. A self-described “reserved” Trump supporter, he challenges his students, who are mostly liberal, to think as clearly about Clinton’s failings as a candidate as they do Trump’s failings.

A major lesson is that politicians on both sides can be “hypocrites.”

Twelfth grader Ellanora Childs said Risinger talks a lot about the issues with Clinton’s campaign. “He thinks we don’t hear about that as much,” Childs said. Most of the class period is spent debating, with him and other students, which can be exciting — but recently, has been tiring.

“I’m sick of the election,” she said.

Read more Tribune coverage of the election here:

  • A since-deleted tweet sent from Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller’s account on Tuesday used an obscene term to describe Hillary Clinton. Miller’s staff claimed he had been hacked, then apologized for a mistaken retweet.
  • Sure, there’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on among the state’s elected officials, but there’s a lot of pushing and shoving going on with Texas voters, too.

Author: ALIYYA SWABY – The Texas Tribune

ACLU of Texas Operates Election Protection Hotline

HOUSTON – Civil rights advocates are keeping a close watch on early voting that began this week in the presidential election to help Texans fully exercise their right to cast a ballot.

With higher than usual turnout expected for the election on Nov. 8, the American Civil Liberties Union of Texas has set up a toll free Election Protection Hotline to help voters navigate changes in the state’s Voter ID Law and to guard against voter suppression.

Satinder Singh, a staff attorney with the ACLU of Texas, says his group has trained additional hotline volunteers in anticipation of a high volume of calls.

“The voting requirements have changed in Texas regarding the voter ID Law and for people who are experiencing problems once they’re at the polls to see if we can get it resolved right then and there, and if not, for them to register a complaint,” he explains.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down much of the restrictive Texas Voter ID Law, saying it discriminates against minorities.

Following that, a federal judge ordered state elections officials to publish information, both before the election and at polling places, explaining the new ID rules to voters.

Singh says after just three days of early voting, the hotline already is getting complaints that elections officials are posting old voter ID instructions instead of the new ones in some polling places.

“We are definitely doing things that are new, and part of that’s driven by the unique nature of the election and also by the ever changing photo voter ID law in Texas,” Singh states.

He says the ACLU also became concerned after Republican candidate Donald Trump called on his followers to “watch the polling places closely for illegal voting.”

“There’s also been another consequence as a result of some of the irresponsible rhetoric, in that people are fearful that their ballot will not be registered as a vote,” Singh adds.

He says the goal of the hotline is to provide the information people need to cast a ballot, although he adds that the ACLU will not hesitate to bring legal action if voters are denied their rights.

The hotline is available at 1-888-507-2970 or go to aclutx.org

Author:  Mark Richardson – Texas News Service

Amid Early Voting rush, Texas sees Voter ID Hiccups

This much is clear after two days of early voting in Texas: Legal wrangling over the state’s voter identification law is stirring confusion at the polls.

Amid Texans’ mad dash to polling places this week, the front end of 12 days of voting before Election Day, civil rights groups and some voters are questioning how some county election officials are portraying the state’s voter identification requirements, which a federal judge softened in August.

Among the complaints in pockets of Texas: years-old posters inaccurately describing the rules — more than a dozen instances in Bexar County — and poll workers who were reluctant to tell voters that some could cast ballots without photo identification.

Though it’s not clear that anyone walked away from the polls because of misinformation or partial information, civil rights advocates called the sporadic reports troubling.

“Not everybody is an aggressive voter. Some people are shy and laid back, and if you’re told you have to have an ID, it might cause them to get out of line and go home,” said Jose Garza, a lawyer working for groups challenging the state’s strict 2011 voter ID law.

In July, a federal appeals court ruled that the law discriminated against minority groups, who were less likely to possess one of seven forms of acceptable photo identification.

In August, a federal district judge drew up a temporary fix for the election, which splits Texans into two groups. Those who possess qualifying photo ID must bring it to the polls. Those who cannot “reasonably obtain” one must present a document showing their name and address, such as a utility bill, bank statement, paycheck or voter registration card. They must also sign a statement noting the “reasonable impediment” that prevented them from getting a photo ID.

And in another twist in September, the judge ordered Texas to rewrite certain voter education materials, siding with those who accused it of misleading voters on the softened requirements.

The fast-moving litigation triggered worries about voter confusion, which a survey this month by the University of Houston Hobby School of Public Affairs illustrated. Of 1,000 registered Texas voters polled, 44 percent said they believed the state required a government-issued photo ID to vote, while 26 percent said it wasn’t required. Most of the rest said they didn’t know.

Now, after two days of early voting, some complain that local elections officials are only further muddying Texans’ understanding.

In Bexar County, for instance, lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund said they spotted outdated posters — those describing the strict 2011 ID rules without the new caveats — hanging in at least 14 of the county’s 43 polling places at various points during early voting.

“This is a situation where the Secretary of State produced [updated] materials, and you can find them online,” said Nina Perales, the group’s vice president of litigation. “The idea that polling place supply boxes were being filled with the wrong posters is so incredibly frustrating for people who have been working on this issue for years.”

Donna Parker, a spokesman for Bexar County Clerk Jacque Callanen, said Tuesday afternoon that the old posters had since been replaced with accurate ones.

But Perales disputed that the problem was fixed, saying that her group spotted eight polling places on Tuesday that still had misleading info — outdated posters either hanging alone or adjacent to the updated signage.

Alicia Pierce, a spokeswoman for Texas Secretary of State Carlos Cascos, noted that litigation forced the state to redesign its official posters “very recently” and said her office this week reminded clerks statewide to make sure polling places displayed the correct one.

In Bexar County and elsewhere — including Harris and Travis Counties — several voters told The Texas Tribune that poll workers would not mention that Texans who lacked photo ID could still vote, or did so only when challenged.

Scott Rothenberg, a Houston attorney, said he repeatedly heard a worker at his bustling polling station Monday tell those waiting in line to get their photo IDs ready, without mentioning additional opportunities to vote.

Rothenberg said he challenged the poll worker’s omission, sharing concerns that it might scare off some qualified voters. She refused to alter her routine until an on-site election judge stepped in, he said.

“You always want to believe that these are merely errors that could be fixed with better training, or errors based upon inconsistent information,” Rothenberg said. “You always hope that it is not is an effort to disenfranchise certain voters.”

He shared the experience on Facebook in a post that has generated more than 140 comments, including several from other Texans who heard similar messages at the polls. Among them: Texas Ethics Commissioner Mary K. “Katie” Kennedy, who also voted in Houston.

voteFBinfoHector DeLeon, a spokesman for Harris County Clerk Stan Stanart, said he was not aware of such complaints but suggested those workers — dealing with record-high turnouts — were simply trying to speed up lines by ensuring those with photo ID would not fumble with it once they reached the front.

“Because of the high volume of voters, they are probably unwittingly not being completely accurate,” he said in an interview. “But it’s not malicious intent.”

Perales said her group received similar reports around San Antonio.

“If you’re going to say something that’s only half true, and people are going to step out of line and go home, that’s voter suppression,” she said.

Asked about those Bexar County reports, Parker, the clerk’s spokeswoman, said in an email: “The line walkers with the portable electronic tablets are there to expedite the voting process by gathering voter information before the voters get to the table.”

Pierce said the secretary of state’s office wants to know about any abnormalities voters spot at the polls.

“We encourage people be the eyes and ears,” she said. “If you see something, say something.”


DID YOU HAVE ANY TROUBLE VOTING? Text us your experience by joining the ElectionLand project. We’ll check in to find out how long it took you to vote and whether you had or saw any problems. Sign up now by texting TEXAS VOTES to 69866.


Author:   – The Texas Tribune

Election 2016: Early Voting Begins; Info, Links and More

After what seems like years in the making, Borderland residents and their fellow Texans  can finally hit the polls starting Monday to let their voice be heard via early voting.

From the $668m dollar bond requested by El Paso ISD to the race for El Paso County Sheriff, voters have much more than just the Presidential Race to decide.

Critical to several of the smaller communities will be who will serve on the school boards and water boards, as those elected officials directly administer the monies collected via fees and taxes, leading to decisions directly effecting resident’s lives.

And even with just over 428,000 county residents registered to vote, if the past is any prologue, some of the races will be decided by less than 100 votes.

According to our news partner, The Texas Tribune, the local race between Congressman Will Hurd and Pete Gallego is one to watch, thanks to the GOP’s Presidential Candidate Donald Trump.

Trump’s down-ballot effect is getting the most attention in Texas in the 23rd Congressional District, where U.S. Rep. Will Hurd, R-San Antonio, is locked in a heated rematch with Pete Gallego, a Democrat from Alpine. Democrats have long hoped that Gallego will prevail due to turnout in a presidential year — which tends to favor Democrats — and Trump’s toxicity in the sprawling district, which covers hundreds of miles of the Mexican border roughly between San Antonio and El Paso. 

Above all the candidates, speeches and promises, Texas voters also had to deal with the revised voter ID regulations, which led to confusion for some.  A simple informational article explains what voters need to bring to the polls to vote this year.

As for the information on ballots, voting locations and more, the El Paso County Elections Department has a one-stop-shop for all the information needed, and can be found HERE.

Early voting runs through November 4th, while Election day is set for November 8th.

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