AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) – As 2022 draws to a close, MyHighPlains.com is taking a look back at what we consider the top stories of the past year, including significant stories regarding local education, politics, and health.
Here’s an overview of some of the most important education stories on the High Plains in 2022.
Content and curriculum in Texas school libraries and classrooms
2022 saw a continuation of 2021 conversations and policy changes that were related to Texas school libraries, classroom materials, and curriculum. Further, policy and day-to-day operation questions for Texas schools traipsed along as communities continue to struggle with shortages of teachers and other staff, and security questions in the wake of the May shooting in Uvalde that led to the deaths of 21 people.
While school content in and out of the classroom has become a hot-button political topic in the past few years, 2021 saw a string of letters, inquiries, and directives from Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and other state lawmakers focused on the idea of “pornographic” material allegedly being made available to students.
In April, the Texas Education Agency responded to letters from Abbott focused on content in public school libraries by releasing a model policy for local school boards aimed to address “obscene content.” The model involves guidelines for school boards to use to create policies focused on selecting, reviewing, and offering transparency about library materials to community members.
Both the Amarillo and Canyon Independent School Districts have their local school board policy manuals published online for public viewing, including details on library, classroom, and curriculum policies.
In May, Canyon ISD published letters to staff and parents and Texas House District 106 Representative Jared Patterson that both refused and responded to a proposed pledge from the lawmaker regarding school library content. The district said that it refused to sign onto the pledge due to “many important terms” being left undefined. The district noted, as an example, that some people may consider some books “obscene” where others do not, and a lack of clarity regarding such key terms could lead to legal liabilities.
While Texas education-related agencies have noted that school library content, classroom materials, and curriculum are different subjects with different officials and policies, the past few years have often seen the three mentioned in the same breath. In this vein, the local conversations regarding library content and parental oversight bled into the Amarillo ISD review of its implementation of the Amplify Texas Literacy Program at the majority of the district’s elementary campuses.
In November, parents and educators gathered at a regular Amarillo ISD board meeting to criticize and praise the curriculum during public comment, with opinions ranging from saying the curriculum did not meet moral standards to promoting its positive impact on both students and teachers.
Altogether, district officials held that the meeting was an example of hosting an open dialogue with parents and having an open ear to different perspectives. At the same time, board members also said that the curriculum is working to foster meaningful learning with deep conversations and critical thinking in classrooms. They also stressed that the board is not able to vote on any curriculum-related measures.
Moving ahead, officials noted that the choice of curricula will be made at a campus level through their site-based decision-making teams.
After its construction was included as part of Canyon ISD’s 2018 bond alongside two elementary school campuses, West Plains High School near Helium Road and Arden Road welcomed its first students in August 2022. As noted by Canyon ISD Superintendent Darryl Flusche, the school was the result of five years of planning and construction.
Not only was student input incorporated into the school’s design, according to Flusche, but a top priority was student safety.
“We’ll have a school resource officer on staff full time,” said Flusche, “Our schools have a secure entrance, we have cameras in numerous places around the building so that we have the ability to identify anything of concern that could occur on the cameras, our doors are locked on the outside areas of all of our facility.”
Those school security notes came as the subject took the spotlight in 2022 in the wake of the Uvalde school shooting, which led to education officials in Texas creating a set of initiatives for local education agencies to complete by the beginning of September. Otherwise, Flusche also promoted that West Plains High School would offer a health and sciences academy, resources for wood trades, a manufacturing academy, and an ag program.
On Sept. 3, officials with the city of Dalhart’s police department announced that Yahir Cancino, a member of the Dalhart Junior Varsity football team, died after he lost consciousness during a football game in Dimmitt on Sept. 1.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, Cancino was airlifted to an intensive care unit in Lubbock after trainers and first responders were unable to revive him at the game. In a statement provided to MyHighPlains.com at that time, Jeff Byrd, the superintendent for the Dalhart Independent School District, said the Region 16 crisis team was available for students and staff, along with area pastors and counselors.
“Our thoughts and prayers continue to be with Yahir’s family. The Dalhart Community will continue to surround and support them,” Byrd said at the time.
In response to Cancino’s death, the Dalhart High School Student Council hosted a candlelight vigil to honor Cancino. Other area school districts, including Channing, Dimmitt, and Vega, along with the Sundown and Texhoma football teams, offered support for Dalhart, encouraging residents to wear purple in support of the community.
In Lubbock, more support for Cancino was offered, with Cancino’s family and friends conducting an honor walk around the hospital where Cancino was airlifted. Hospital nurses also rose a flag in his honor after his organs were donated.
“I saw great love and support from other school districts, football teams coming to support him at the hospital,” Joey Read, the athletic director and head football coach in Dalhart, said at that time.
Cancino’s funeral was hosted at Dalhart Memorial Stadium in mid-September, according to previous reports.
After calling a bond election in February, voters in Potter and Randall counties decided that they would not pay for various improvements and new facilities asked for by the Amarillo Independent School District.
According to previous reports by MyHighPlains.com, the four propositions on the ballot totaled $286 million and included:
- Bond Proposition A: $180 million
- Austin Middle School Replacement – $65.7 million;
- Roof Replacement – $40 million;
- Exterior Lighting for Athletic Fields – $3.2 million;
- Fine Arts Additions/Renovations – $44 million;
- High Schools – $37 million;
- Middle Schools – $7 million;
- Elementary/Middle School Gym AC – $6.6 million;
- Middle School Secured Entrances – $7.5 million;
- Elementary Perimeter Fencing – $2 million;
- Window Replacement at 12 schools – $6 million;
- Update technology network cabling on campuses – $5.6 million.
- Bond Proposition B– $19 million
- Stands replacement and an eight-lane track at Dick Bivins Stadium – $19 million.
- Bond Proposition C– $38.3 million
- New Natatorium, including a 50m pool with a diving well – $38.3 million.
- Bond Proposition D– $48 million
- Multipurpose practice facilities for the district’s four high schools – $48 million.
During May’s special election, the results were reported as the following:
- 54.66% or 6,138 votes
- 45.34% or 5,091 votes
- 62.42% or 6,999 votes
- 37.58% or 4,213 votes
- 62.8% or 7,040 votes
- 37.2% or 4,171 votes
- 62.55% or 7,011 votes
- 37.45% or 4,198 votes
After May’s election, Amarillo ISD Superintendent Doug Loomis said he was grateful that voters came out to vote in the election.
“It’s clear voters felt the burden of a tax increase outweighed the basic needs and enrichment opportunities these propositions would have brought to AISD schools and students,” Loomis said at the time. “Some difficult decisions are ahead, but as always, our District remains committed to this community and doing our best to make sure our schools remain strong, vibrant places for students to learn, grow and reach their full potential.”