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TWU launches new bachelor's in gender studies
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Clarification: The new degree isn't yet approved by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, but is expected to. TWU officials don't know when the board will consider new degrees. The Board generally holds its regular quarterly meetings on the fourth Thursday of every January, April, July, and October.

Texas Woman’s University has a new bachelor’s degree in its catalog: Multicultural Women’s & Gender Studies.

The multicultural women’s and gender studies program has been offered to students as a minor field of study, a graduate certificate, a master’s degree and a doctoral degree.

The 

degree is pending approval from the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, TWU spokesman Matt Flores said. TWU doesn't know when the board will approve it, but said it's rare for the board not to approve bachelor's degrees.

Now the program will offer a bachelor’s degree with three possible study tracks to choose from, program director Danielle Phillips-Cunningham said. Students pursuing the new degree can choose from a focus on general studies, health and community leadership.

“Students can find a focus in the program for a lot of different careers,” Phillips-Cunningham said. “Students who want to be academic professors can study under this new degree. Students who are interested in leading public health policy can study it. And it’s also for students who want to go into nonprofits with social justice focuses: reproductive rights, voter suppression, women’s health care. For those students who are looking toward careers in nonprofits, the degree will prepare them well.”

Phillips-Cunningham said the degree is especially useful for students with an eye on the corporate world.

“In human resources, there is a demand for people with this kind of background,” she said. “Companies are looking for human resources employees who can lead on diversity, and they’re looking for people who can enforce those policies.”

All TWU undergraduates study multicultural women’s and gender studies as part of the core curriculum. Now, they can study the field and graduate with a deep education and understanding of the tectonic social changes that a lot of workers and brands are cheering for.

Phillips-Cunningham said the program started developing the degree a year ago, after mass protests and a renewed push for racial and gender equality merged with the ongoing movement for LGBT equality.

Phillips-Cunningham said she’s not worried about the backlash that follows anything critics see as being “woke” or college-related. But the university’s program hasn’t shrunk from incendiary social debates. The program supported Black Lives Matter in 2020 and announced its solidarity with the National Women’s Studies Association in its stand against police and state violence.

“I have no anxieties about it,” Phillips-Cunningham said. “What also makes it exciting is that there is so much going on right now in our current society. Disparities have existed for a long time, but the pandemic has brought that out into the public in a way that can’t be swept under the rug.”

She said the degree program might rub critics the wrong way but ultimately will prepare Pioneer students for careers and community needs that reflect shifting demographics. While politicians and activists spar over social change, Phillips-Cunningham said the marketplace is already accommodating an increasingly racially integrated culture, as well as consumers who are increasingly affirming of LGBT equality and opportunities for women. Advertising increasingly depicts interracial couples and families headed by same-sex couples. Brands want to curate loyalty from a multiplicity of shoppers.

“Companies are reasserting their commitments to diversity, but they might not know how to do that,” she said. “Being against diversity and inclusion is bad for business. Our students are learning and preparing for that wave of the future. The demographics of the country are changing. There’s resistance. We’ve been here before … It’s hard for students in their 20s to understand sometimes that there were times where we couldn’t sit in a classroom together. There was a time when it wasn’t legal for different races of women to be in a classroom together. Sit down in a classroom today, and you’ll see how far we’ve gone — how far the country has come.”

Phillips-Cunningham said the health track can prepare students to work in public health and hospital networks, where women, people of color and LGBT people face greater barriers to health care. Texans face particular hurdles when it comes to maternal health care.

“Texas has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the country, especially among Black and Latina mothers,” Phillips-Cunningham said. “After completing the program, a graduate on the health track would be able to advise hospitals on these sort of issues. TWU nursing students are already taking our classes to learn how race and gender and sex affect health care policy and delivery. Now, with this health track, they will be able to seamlessly integrate the program into their work in health care.”

The program already has interest, and Phillips-Cunningham said she hopes more high school seniors will learn about the degree. The community leadership and health tracks include internships that will count toward course credit while giving students practical experience.

“I can’t imagine a better place in North Texas to have this bachelor’s degree,” she said. “We’re excited for people to learn that we’re here offering this, and we’re looking forward to seeing students.”


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Denton ISD sees progress on Braswell additions, stadium

Construction crews at Braswell High School are steadily working on building additions and the much-anticipated Carrico Athletic Complex.

Students, their families and drivers passing by on U.S. Highway 380 have noticed big doings on the east side of the campus since August.

In addition to the new stadium and gym additions, the project includes the high school’s third academic wing.

The project is funded from a 2018 bond authorization, and since the summer, a number of tasks have been completed on the construction project. The additions are designed by VLK Architects, and the work is being done by Balfour Beatty Construction.

Crews have completed the concrete masonry on the home side stair tower and auxiliary building for the future stadium, as well as construction on the press box. A visitor concessions area and locker room have been finished, as well. The practice field was drilled for a geothermal well and manifold.

Crews have also finished the mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection on new classroom additions.

On the gym addition, crews have finished mechanical, engineering and plumbing work as well as the brick exterior.

The next phase of the project includes more work on the stadium, including structural steel and decking on the home side and auxiliary joists.

Al Key/DRC 

Denton ISD continues construction on classroom and gym additions at Braswell High School in Little Elm. 

Classroom additions are getting second-level mechanical, electrical, plumbing and fire protection work as well as framing and roofing. The gym addition is getting roofing, lighting and equipment. Crews will drill the geothermal well and manifold on the east parking area. There are also equipment upgrades to come in the main distribution frame room, which is where servers and hubs are kept.

In a presentation to the Denton school board in November, the district’s operations division said the expected move-in date for the additions is this summer.

The district has construction in progress at the nearby Sandbrock Ranch Elementary School and the new Denton High School campus on North Bonnie Brae Street, and improvement projects in progress at multiple campuses.


White House promises to provide schools 10 million free coronavirus tests per month

The White House is promising to provide 10 million free coronavirus tests each month for schools, aiming to help keep classes in person at a time when testing across the country is uneven and, in some cases, virtually nonexistent.

President Joe Biden has pushed schools to open and stay open for in-person learning, mindful of the academic and social-emotional damage wrought by remote learning, as well as the political risks among frustrated parents who crave normalcy and fully functioning schools.

Last year, the administration said it was providing $10 billion for school-based testing. Nonetheless, before the omicron variant began racing across the country, relatively few districts even attempted testing for students and employees absent symptoms of COVID-19.

Experts point to confusing guidance on when testing is needed, difficulty implementing programs and lack of interest on the part of schools, plus test shortages.

The new investment is expected to double the number of coronavirus tests that schools conducted as of November, the White House said. A fact sheet said the administration “will do all that it can to keep schools safely open for all students.”

The administration said it would distribute 5 million free rapid antigen tests to K-12 schools each month, to be used in two types of testing. The first is screening tests, in which a portion of students are tested on a regular basis in hopes of finding those who did not realize they were infected.

The tests may also be used to create test-to-stay programs, for which students exposed to someone with the coronavirus are allowed to stay in school rather than quarantine at home as long as they periodically test negative. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention endorsed this approach last month.

The White House said states will be able to request tests, and the first shipments were expected later this month.

The White House said it also was making lab capacity available to process an additional 5 million PCR tests, which screen for the presence of genetic material from the virus and are more accurate than antigen tests, though they take longer to produce results.

The Biden administration faces enormous political pressure to keep schools open, as parents across the country express continued frustration about the persistence of closures and other restrictive measures. Analysts in both parties attribute Republican Glenn Youngkin’s surprise victory in November’s gubernatorial race in Virginia in significant part to voters’ frustration with school closures.

Democratic operatives worry that if voters see closures persisting, it could badly damage the party’s prospects in the November midterm elections, for which Democrats already face an uphill climb.

In response, Biden has said repeatedly in recent days that there is no reason for schools to close and that he favors keeping them open. The White House stresses that 96% of schools are now open, compared with 46% in January 2021, arguing that Democrats are responsible for opening schools, not closing them.

The first days of school in 2022 have been chaotic, with large numbers of teachers and students absent because of illness and some teachers and students campaigning for a return to virtual school. But the vast majority have remained open, and teachers unions in most of the country have gone along with in-person plans.

Tracking by the data firm Burbio found that on Monday and Tuesday, about 2,700 public schools had in-person learning disrupted, a small slice of some 100,000 K-12 schools in the country.

Nonetheless, many voters associate Democrats with school closures, given that since the pandemic erupted, the party has generally pushed public health measures to fight COVID, while many Republicans have been vocally opposed.

The CDC has long recommended screening tests as a powerful tool to keep schools safe, but functioning screening tests remain the exception, not the rule, in K-12 schools.

Current and former administration officials acknowledged that the White House had struggled with its national testing strategy, and one current and one former official, both of whom spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the matter candidly, said this latest move would have been far more effective if it had been in place before schools confronted this surge of cases.

Districts have struggled to set up coronavirus testing and, until recently, many did not see it as a priority. In September, a Washington Post survey found just four of the nation’s 20 largest school districts were screening asymptomatic students, who can infect others even though they have no symptoms. Separately, a review at the time by the Center on Reinventing Public Education found that only 14 out of 100 large and urban districts were screening students routinely.

With the rise of the omicron variant, more schools are attempting testing, but with decidedly mixed results. Teachers in Broward County, Florida, were given expired test kits. In Chicago, thousands of at-home student tests conducted as the winter break concluded were destroyed.

Other school systems have done better. In Washington, D.C., 39,000 students were tested in the days before school resumed after winter break, with about 2,200 testing positive. New York City has operated a screening test program inside schools since last school year.

The Los Angeles Unified School District, which resumed school after winter break Tuesday, reported that 91.3% of employees and 88% of students uploaded test results to the district’s system. Of them, 15% of employees and 17% of students tested positive for the virus.

Lawmakers at a Senate committee hearing Tuesday repeatedly pressed Biden administration officials on the nation’s testing strategy and guidance for schools. Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), who chaired the hearing, told officials that she was “frustrated” with the continued uncertainty over how schools would navigate the omicron surge.

“I’m hearing from schools in my state that they’re worried they’ll have to shut down again if they can’t get the support for testing they need or they have staff shortages because of staff who are ill,” Murray said. “When we talk about these problems, we have to be focused on solutions. You can’t just say our schools must stay open.”

Biden administration officials replied that they were working to address school testing needs.

“Schools having enough testing supplies to stay open is a critical priority for us,” said Dawn O’Connell, assistant secretary for preparedness and response at the Department of Health and Human Services, citing ongoing federal investments and promising further aid. “We are in the process . . . of looking at our contracts to see if we have any additional capacity, and we will commit to sending that capacity to the school programs.”

Experts said the tests could help schools blunt further spread of the virus, particularly given the emergence of the fast-spreading omicron variant.

“Providing more rapid tests in schools is important to reduce spread in schools and back home, as well as to teachers, staff and bus drivers,” said Julia Raifman, an assistant professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.

But experts say the Biden administration missed opportunities to invest in more testing before the school year began.

“Ten million free tests is a start, but a drop in the bucket,” Celine Gounder, an infectious-disease doctor at New York University who advised Biden’s transition team on the coronavirus, wrote in a text message. She added that testing has generally been an “afterthought” in the White House’s vaccine-heavy strategy.

“If teachers and students age five and up got vaccinated and wore masks, testing in schools would be icing on the cake,” Gounder wrote. “But so long as a third of Americans aren’t fully vaccinated and don’t consistently and correctly wear masks, we will have to layer additional measures to protect the public, especially the most vulnerable. Testing and isolation are one of those additional layers.”


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Krum, Pilot Point schools closed for two days as COVID cases surge

Two Denton County school districts have closed their campuses as cases of COVID-19 have spiked.

Krum ISD and Pilot Point ISD both announced Wednesday night that their campuses would be closed for the rest of the week after the coronavirus surged in their schools and staffing shortages persist.

Sanger ISD reported Wednesday night that its campuses will remain open Thursday and Friday.

School leaders across the state have reported insufficient numbers of substitute teachers available to take over classes for teachers and support staff who have COVID or have been exposed to the virus.

Krum ISD sent a letter to families Wednesday and posted the announcement on its website.

“As confirmed COVID-19 cases across our district continue to rise, Krum ISD has made the decision to close campuses on Thursday, January 13, and Friday, January 14,” the announcement read. “There will not be remote instruction provided, and students will not need to make up the minutes of missed instruction. All extracurricular activities are canceled during this campus closure as well.”

Classes will resume on Krum campuses on Tuesday, as Monday is a federal holiday commemorating Martin Luther King Jr.

Pilot Point officials announced closures through Monday for the same reason.

“Our principals are struggling to cover classes, and we know that instruction is suffering,” the district said in a statement.

Pilot Point ISD officials said district leaders built additional days off into the school calendar, and because of that flexibility, families wouldn’t need to use remote learning.

Krum and Pilot Point officials said campuses will be disinfected during the closure.

Last week, a Sanger ISD spokesman said campus closures would happen in the event there aren’t enough staff to teach and cover classes.

At Denton ISD’s school board meeting Tuesday night, Superintendent Jamie Wilson told the board that the number of available substitute teachers has shrunk during the pandemic.

“There aren’t a lot of substitutes who are interested in coming in at the moment, as you could imagine,” Wilson said. “We’re just going to keep going until something happens and we have to close.”

Wilson said district officials are monitoring Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Texas Education Agency guidelines closely through the surge in COVID-19 cases.


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