The Sammy Brown Library’s summer reading program looked a little different this year, but Library Director Kim Turner said they still accomplished their main goals for the program.
“We had about a third of the participants that we usually do, but we were happy to be able to do as much as we could during a pandemic,” Turner said. “Kids were still reading; kids were still checking out books. Kids were still filling in their reading log, and so those are our main goals for summer reading, and so we accomplished that, just not on quite as large a scale as we normally do.”
A big change this year was having to cut back on their programming activities.
“We had a fabulous program in 2019, and we had a good routine where kids were coming in regularly to do crafts and to do activities and learning activities and that sort of thing, and we just couldn’t accomplish that this year; we couldn’t accommodate that,” Turner said. “We had to cancel all of our summer reading performers where we normally get 50 to 100 kids, all in the children’s section, seeing people do magic and talking about how wonderful the library is or they bring wild animals — we had to cut all of that out because we just don’t have the space for it. So that was very different for us.”
Kids gathered Wednesday, sitting with their family groups in designated squares, for the final storytime of the season Wednesday, getting to listen to Children’s Coordinator Tanya Millican read the story of Alice in Wonderland while dressed in a rabbit costume to imitate the rabbit which Alice follows into wonderland in the story.
“Today is kind of just a celebration of the end of summer reading, but our storytime today, we feel like with social distancing with a small group, kids will be fine, and we are rewarding kids who have turned in their reading logs for the summer,” Turner said Wednesday. “Any child that turns in a reading log has logged like 12 and a half hours of reading, and so we wanted to reward them for that, so we have gift cards that we’re giving away today for those kids. Plus it’s free books day today for the kids, so we’ve got the free books out on the table that they can pick one of those up and take it with them, which is another reward too, just in case they didn’t quite finish their reading log.”
During the month of June, the library offered storytime every weekday in order to keep groups down to four to seven kids. In July, they did storytime twice a week with no more than 10 at a time, providing take-home activities in place of the regular in-library craft.
Another program the Sammy Brown Library did this summer was a six-week program for girls aged 7-10 based on the American Girl books. Nancy Langford ran the program.
“We introduced different American Girl dolls, which were all based on different time periods, and the girls would learn a little bit about what girls in that period would do, the games they would play, the items that they might use,” Turner said. “They had a period where they learned to use quill pens, and they made little hats to go with it. So then they also learned about different character strengths—courage and patience and bravery and things like that.”
Turner said they are now gearing up for back to school.
“We’ll be offering a number of different digital tools for people who are choosing either to do virtual learning or choosing to homeschool, or if parents just want additional options for learning for their children,” she said.
An expiring waste management contract has Carthage city officials looking at whether they want to, among other things, keep existing service or take it down to once-a-week pick-up.
The Carthage City Commission voted Monday to solicit bids for a new waste management contract, including asking potential providers to provide bids on:
The city’s current contract with Waste Connections — which has been in place for a number of years and three different company name changes — is expiring next spring. City Manger Steve Williams asked commissioners to start thinking about their options earlier in July.
“If we’re going to change, we have to give them 180 days’ notice,” he said at the July 13 meeting. “That brings us back to November. So I just wanted to bring this to y’all’s attention so you can be thinking about which direction we want to go. We have several options. We can renegotiate the contract with them, we can go out for bid and allow other companies to come in and bid on this, and then we’ll need to decide do we want to keep exactly what we have now, do we want to go to cans, do we want to go to once-a-week pick-up? There’s benefits and downsides to all of those.”
Williams told officials that they are the only city contracting with Waste Connections that still does twice-a-week pick-up without cans. He said the city has addressed issues with service as they came up.
Williams told city officials he didn’t think switching providers would solve every issue and he wasn’t saying Waste Connections was doing a bad job.
“The biggest thing since I’ve been here was with the transfer station, and we’ve gotten those issues resolved for now,” Williams said. “But anytime they’ve changed who’s driving the route, you’ll have some issues and get those straightened out.
If the city requires trash cans, they would negotiate a contract that includes providing cans for all residents, Williams said.
Commissioners on Monday said they wanted to put the contract out to bid to see what options/prices they’d get.
“Only fair thing to do in my opinion would be to put it out to bid and see what’s out there,” Commissioner Jerry Hanszen said. “We can accept or refuse any and all bids.”
In a statement Friday, Gov. Greg Abbott said local health authorities can shut down schools if there’s evidence of an outbreak after students have already returned to campus — but cannot shut them down weeks before schools open.
His statement backs a legal opinion released by the Texas attorney general issued on Tuesday.
But Abbott, who issued the statement with top education officials, said school districts could apply for waivers to keep their buildings closed beyond the state’s eight-week maximum if they believe they need one. The Texas Education Agency will review those requests on a “case-by-case basis,” according to the statement.
“Local health authorities play an important role in school closure determinations during the course of a school year if it is determined that a contamination has occurred necessitating closure, but local health authorities do not have the power to issue preemptive, blanket closures of schools weeks or months in advance of when a school may open its doors to students,” the statement reads. Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, House Speaker Dennis Bonnen, state Rep. Dan Huberty, who chairs the House education committee, and state Sen. Larry Taylor, who chairs the Senate education committee, also signed onto the statement.
This statement, which comes more than a month after Texas first ordered schools to reopen classrooms this fall, is the most clear Abbott has been on the issue to date, after school superintendents and parents begged him to weigh in on when and how schools would resume this fall.
“The [TEA] is committed to providing necessary flexibility for school districts to ensure schools are able to educate students while maintaining the health and safety of all students, teachers, staff, and families,” said Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath in a separate statement Friday.
The TEA has been revising its guidelines piecemeal over the last month, gradually giving school districts more and more flexibility on when they can reopen their buildings. At first, school districts only had three weeks after their start date to limit in-person instruction, before they had to admit everyone who wanted to come back to campus.
Under pressure from educators terrified for their safety, the TEA later revised guidance to give districts up to eight weeks to limit in-person instruction and slowly increase the number of students they brought back. They also clarified that local school boards could push back their start dates and allowed districts to offer hybrid in-person and remote instruction for high school students to reduce the number of students on campus at once.
In the meantime, local health authorities, watching their cases rise, issued a series of orders banning schools from offering in-person instruction through August, or in some cases September. While some school superintendents were glad to have the local orders, and the additional flexibility from the state, other public and private school leaders were upset to be banned from offering in-person instruction.
Virtual instruction is especially challenging for the large number of students who do not have access to internet or devices, and need services such as food and medical care from their schools.
The TEA at first said it would continue to fund school districts that stayed closed under these mandates. But Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton muddied the waters this week when he released a legal opinion saying local health authorities could not legally issue blanket orders closing schools in their jurisdictions.
The TEA the same day said they would not fund unlawful school closures.
State leaders’ statement today appears to clarify that local health authorities may close schools if COVID-19 is spreading through their buildings, but not in advance. Districts may also close campuses for up to five days to sanitize after a COVID-19 case is confirmed, and will be funded for providing remote instruction.
“It is clear that school boards can and should work collaboratively with, but not be subject to the advance directives of, local public health authorities, to ensure a safe and effective learning environment for Texas students,” the statement reads.