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Denton library cancels story time, citing safety concerns

The Denton Public Library on Monday canceled a children’s story time scheduled for Saturday, citing safety concerns for library patrons and staff. The library said it had received complaints from people who mistakenly believed the event included books about transgender children.

The program, called Rainbow StoryTime, happens three times a year and is scheduled to coincide on days focused on marginalized groups. The Saturday morning program at North Branch Library would have included three titles about children accepting themselves and one another.

A statement released Monday said some printed materials incorrectly used the word “transgender” in reference to the program because the story time falls on the national Transgender Day of Remembrance, a day to memorialize transgender people who have been murdered as a result of transphobia. The printed material, which was lifted from an age-appropriate transgender story time the library hosted in 2019, was then corrected.

The statement from city spokesman Ryan Adams said inaccurate information about the three books — Red: A Crayon’s Story by Michael Hall, I’m a Girl by Yasmeen Ismail and What Riley Wore by Elana K. Arnold — had been spread in Denton and beyond, resulting in disrespectful and hostile complaints to the library staff.

Jennifer Bekker, the director of libraries, said the library started getting emails and calls raising objections on Nov. 9.

Jennifer Bekker

“On Wednesday, it kind of exploded,” Bekker said, adding that the library staff spent hours reading and replying to emails about the program and talking with callers. “Quite a few were from non-Denton residents, with one coming from as far as California.”

At first, Bekker said, callers were registering their objections.

“There were no direct threats through phone or email,” Bekker said. “We did see on some public social media posts some things that made us concerned for public safety. And it made us concerned about the safety of the staff.”

The library reached out to the Denton Police Department earlier Monday before deciding to cancel the event. Bekker said the library wanted to discuss security and crowd control “in case a lot of people showed up.”

The library later decided to cancel the event.

While the books don’t make mention of sexuality or gender, the titles help adults and children consider and discuss differences, acceptance and self-expression, Bekker said. Inclusion is a part of the library’s mission, and while the Rainbow family story time was a way to include transgender awareness in programming, Bekker said the titles were deliberately selected because they can appeal to a broader young audience.

“We do story times for all ages, on all sorts of holidays and observances through the year,” Bekker said. “Everything from veterans observances to Halloween stories, and Santa story times. We put notices out about the special story times, because we know we have patrons and families who don’t observe certain holidays.”

The library launched the Rainbow StoryTime programs in 2018 and broached transgender awareness in 2019 with a story time that encouraged authenticity, friendship and a self-portrait sketching session.

“When we discussed a story time on the Transgender Day of Remembrance, I looked at it, and we kind of asked ourselves, ‘Can we broaden it to a larger audience?’ What we’ve learned is that children resonate with stories about family, friendship and expressing themselves.”

The city’s statement clarified that the books planned for the event are not about gender or sexual orientation.

“Contrary to inaccurate information being spread, this event is not focused on teaching children about gender identity or anything relating to sex or sexual orientation,” the statement said. “It is certainly not, as some have claimed, ‘indoctrinating’ children into a transgender way of life.’”

The featured books are about families, friendship and being yourself.

“Its intent is to provide an inviting atmosphere for families to hear stories together featuring books focused on self-acceptance, learning, and friendship,” the statement said.

Texas gubernatorial candidate Don Huffines, a Republican, posted a news release on his campaign website calling for Denton to “End Taxpayer-Funded Transgender Story Time, Fire Employees.” Huffines’ campaign hadn’t responded to calls or an email asking for comment by late Monday.

Alison Maguire

District 4 Denton City Council member Alison Maguire tweeted on Nov. 11 that she had purchased the three books, but had not yet read them, and had planned to attend with her 5-year-old son and 2-year-old daughter.

“It got on my radar because a few Denton residents emailed me about it,” Maguire said. “I did get an email from someone from Southlake, but most of them were local.”

In her series of tweets on the objections to the program, Maguire said she believed the local backlash was started by local pastor Jim Mann, a former City Council candidate. Mann declined to comment for this story.

“The language in the emails I was getting followed the pattern of the language in the emails I get from Jim Mann,” Maguire said.

Maguire shared an email exchange from Mann, which he also sent to Mayor Gerard Hudspeth and the entire council, in which Mann urged the council to “intervene and stop the upcoming Transgender Story Hour.”

“The sexualization of our children is completely immoral and this is clearly an agenda-driven event,” Mann said in the email, sent from his email address at New Life Church at Denton. “It is a ridiculous waste of taxpayer money. The public library should be a place of learning, not of division. There are a lot of us out here who will be letting you know our thoughts.”

Maguire said Mann emails the council on a number of issues but has repeatedly emailed to object to city initiatives that promote LGBTQ equality.

“I got tired of hearing from Jim Mann and his parishioners,” Maguire said. “They are a group that use this rhetoric that transgenderism is a mental illness and people who want to talk to children about gender are grooming them for sexual abuse. This idea that talking about gender is sexualizing children, that was something in almost every email I received from them.”

Maguire said in her years as a teacher, she worked to make her classroom a safe space for students, and that a few middle school students came out as gay or as questioning their gender identity. She recalled a student who told her they didn’t have a supportive adult in their life and feared being kicked out of their home if they came out to their family as nonbinary or transgender.

Maguire said the current council has been interested in a comprehensive nondiscrimination policy that extends to LGBT residents and affords them public accommodations. Some of her constituents aren’t pleased with the idea of such an ordinance.

“The people who object to this program are the same people who object to transgender people existing in public spaces,” she said.

Hudspeth hadn’t responded to a request for comment by Monday night.


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Few people in Denton County text 911, but operator says it's important that they can

Although texts for 911 services in Denton County haven’t been as common as calls, the option is much needed for people with disabilities and those in situations where it’s too dangerous to make a phone call, Denco 9-1-1’s executive director said.

Denco 9-1-1, Denton County’s emergency communications district, handles and maintains the 911 network here. Five years after the text message option rolled out in Denco’s service area, there have only been 4,506 texting sessions, as of Wednesday. Greg Ballentine, Denco’s executive director, said they didn’t know what to expect when the option was up and running Oct. 4, 2016.

At about 900 text sessions per year, the figure is much lower than Denco’s 264,905 phone calls last year. Ballentine said the texts and calls are logged separately.

“An easier way to answer might be to say I’m not really shocked at the number,” Ballentine said. “It’s less than 1,000 a year, which is 3-ish a day across the district. … I think our public education [messaging] has probably kept the number pretty low, which is a good thing because a voice call is better.”

He said calls are still ultimately better because the back-and-forth nature of texting takes up more time than a phone call does, and because dispatchers can listen in for other important context clues in a call.

But that doesn’t mean the texting service isn’t needed, Ballentine said. People with vocal and hearing impairments were a group at the forefront of Denco staffers’ minds when they started talking about texting services.

“It’s primarily to give citizens another method of contacting emergency services if they find themselves in a situation where they’re unable to communicate verbally,” Ballentine said. “What we’ve found is that primary users … that benefit most are speech- and hearing-impaired callers. But also there’s situations where reporting a crime in progress, speaking could put a caller at risk.”

Before this service was available, Ballentine said people with those impairments and disabilities had to use a telecommunications device for the deaf. They operated under several acronyms that referred to text-based telecommunications devices for people who couldn’t understand speech even with amplification, according to the University of Washington.

Sarah Wainscott, a professor at Texas Woman’s University who focuses on pediatric deafness, said Texas has become “one of the leaders” in implementing 911 text messaging.

“It hasn’t all come up at one time,” Wainscott said of areas adopting 911 texts. “There are some states that kind of rolled it out all at once. … Texas is pretty widely covered geographically.”

The texting service launched in Denton County five years ago, but Ballentine said they had wanted to get it off the ground earlier than that. He said officials had to wait for technology to catch up. In 2014, the four major wireless carriers in the U.S. met a voluntary deadline to have the technology ready to provide text-to-911 services, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

“Wireless carriers need to be able to transmit the text information to the appropriate agency based on the geographic location of the caller,” Ballentine said. “It’s different than texting someone with a unique number. To call 911, it’s routed to the emergency communication center. The other [major side] is having 911 equipment at the local level to receive and process that information.”

Wainscott said one challenge for people — especially students in Denton County — is that text-to-911 services still aren’t available everywhere they go.

“At TWU, we have 70 students who are registered as deaf or hard of hearing with special services,” she said. “They don’t all come from Denton. They may be from an area [where it’s not available] and they’re not familiar with it. It’s a real transient community … and [a challenge is] making sure people who enter are aware of it and how to utilize it.”

Even if they never have to use the service, Wainscott said having that plan can alleviate anxiety.

“I think there’s always lot of anxiety in what’s going to happen in an emergency, how am I going to be able to communicate,” she said. “Even if they never have to use that 911 text, simply knowing it’s available and ‘here’s a plan when I’m in trouble’ can reduce some of that anxiety and helps us feel safer.”

The geographic location technology for texting services is still the same as when you make a call. The call or text will reach first responders very close to the caller, and as technology improves, it will become more accurate.

“As location information becomes more precise, we’re working to do indoor mapping to some commercial or public facilities so that eventually, 911 calls from a school, for example, we’ll be able to know what specific location within the school the caller is calling from,” Ballentine said.

Wainscott said something else text services, and even dispatchers, can improve on is simplified language.

“There are some deaf students who are really good readers, but typically deaf students have difficulty reading and deaf adults have a low reading level,” Wainscott said. “Simply text-based doesn’t necessarily alleviate the language barrier.”


State
O’Rourke’s run for governor will test Democrats’ strength

EAGLE PASS — Beto O’Rourke entered the race for Texas governor on Monday, criticizing what he described as the ultraconservative policies and anti-immigrant rhetoric of Gov. Greg Abbott. It is a long-shot bid to win an office Democrats last occupied in 1995.

In a video announcing his run and in an interview Monday, O’Rourke, a former El Paso congressman and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, presented his campaign as a corrective to what he said were the “extremist policies” of the state’s Republican leadership, including Abbott, who has overseen a sharp turn to the right in Texas.

“I want to make sure we get past the smallness and the divisiveness of Greg Abbott,” he said in a telephone interview as he drove from his home in El Paso for his first campaign swing.

O’Rourke’s entrance into the race gave a boost to Democrats in Texas and around the country after losses or near-defeats on political ground they used to control, including in Virginia, New Jersey and San Antonio. Apart from giving them a shot at the governor’s mansion, Democrats are hoping that O’Rourke’s presence at the top of the ticket will increase turnout and help Democratic candidates in down-ballot races across Texas.

The 2022 contest for Texas governor is expected to be among the most expensive ever in the state, given O’Rourke’s ability to raise money from small donors nationwide, his willingness to take large contributions this time and Abbott’s nearly $60 million campaign war chest.

In the interview, O’Rourke said that Abbott had “abandoned” ordinary Texans during and after the failure of the Texas grid in February, a blackout that killed hundreds of people and left millions without power in frigid conditions. He said that afterward, Republicans focused instead on passing laws limiting abortion and allowing Texans to carry handguns without a permit.

He said Abbott bore some responsibility for the mass shooting in El Paso in 2019 that killed 23 people. The gunman in that attack, at a border-city Walmart, faces federal hate-crime charges; prosecutors said he targeted Hispanics. O’Rourke cited a fundraising letter sent by the Abbott campaign a day before the shooting. The letter urged supporters to “defend Texas” against a surge of immigrants entering the U.S. illegally at the border and to “take matters into our own hands.”

“Within days, somebody did just that,” O’Rourke said. “Having learned nothing from that, he is using the language of invasion,” he added, referring to Abbott’s more recent comments about the border. The continued use of anti-immigrant rhetoric and the easier access to guns, he said, will “very likely cause other attacks like we saw in El Paso.”

Abbott later expressed some regret about the letter, saying that “mistakes were made.”

The Abbott campaign responded to O’Rourke’s entrance into the race Monday by tying him to President Joe Biden visually — in a slowly morphing image of their two faces — and in a statement that attacked O’Rourke for supporting the Biden administration’s “pro-open-border policies.”

“The last thing Texans need is President Biden’s radical liberal agenda coming to Texas under the guise of Beto O’Rourke,” a campaign spokesperson, Mark Miner, said in the statement.

O’Rourke has been a darling of Texas Democrats and party activists since his run against Sen. Ted Cruz in 2018. His narrow loss gave hope to Democrats that the state was on the cusp of turning their way. His campaign hopes to rekindle that enthusiasm as it tries to unseat Abbott, who is seeking reelection to a third term.

But O’Rourke has lost some of the luster of that first run. He followed it up with a presidential campaign that ended in disappointment and saw him take liberal positions on guns and the border that he will now have to explain to Texas voters. One recent public poll found O’Rourke nearly tied with Abbott in a hypothetical matchup, while another showed him losing by 9 percentage points.

Still, the arrival of O’Rourke set the stage for a pitched political showdown next November over the future of Texas at a time when the state — with its expanding cities and diversifying population — has appeared increasingly up for grabs.

Democrats have seen their story of political change in Texas grow increasingly complicated since the 2020 election.

Last month in San Antonio, a Republican flipped a Democratic seat in the Texas House of Representatives during a special election. And on Monday, Ryan Guillen, a longtime Democrat who has represented a majority-Latino district in the Rio Grande Valley, announced that he was becoming a Republican.

Former President Donald Trump carried the state by nearly 6 points in 2020 and gained ground for Republicans among Hispanic voters in the Rio Grande Valley, a Democratic stronghold along the Mexican border. Republicans also held on to control of the Texas Legislature despite a concerted effort by Democrats to flip it. And Republicans have had an electoral lock on the governor’s mansion that has stretched for nearly three decades. The last Democrat to serve as governor was Ann Richards, who won election in November 1990 and was in office from January 1991 to January 1995.

After his failed presidential run, O’Rourke faces the challenge of demonstrating to Texas voters that he is focused on the state’s issues and not on the national spotlight. His advisers appeared to be aware of the need to remind voters of the actions O’Rourke has taken in Texas, particularly after the storm in February. O’Rourke solicited donations for storm victims, organized wellness checks for seniors and delivered water from his pickup.

His organization, Powered by People, has also helped to register voters — nearly 200,000 since late 2019, according to the campaign — and O’Rourke raised around $700,000 to support Democrats in the Texas House after many fled to Washington to block a restrictive voting measure that ultimately passed.

Democrats had been urging O’Rourke to jump into the race for months, and he had begun to strongly consider doing so by late summer as he called around to Democratic leaders in the state. With the election a little less than a year away, no other major Democrat has entered, leaving Abbott’s advisers to consider a range of messages to attack O’Rourke as too extreme for Texas. They are likely to focus on comments he made about guns and the border wall during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

“Republicans didn’t need a lot of reason to turn out and have intensity, but this is going to juice it,” said Matt Mackowiak, an Austin political consultant who is the chairman of the Republican Party in Travis County, referring to O’Rourke’s entering the race. “It’s going to be kryptonite for Democrats in suburban areas, and it’s going to be rocket fuel for Republicans in rural areas.”

Well before O’Rourke’s announcement, the governor’s campaign began releasing digital ads featuring montages of those statements, including one from a 2019 debate that has come to define what some Texas political observers see as O’Rourke’s uphill battle.

“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47,” O’Rourke said, to applause from the crowd.

At the time, his presidential campaign promoted a shirt with those words. His Texas campaign is likely to take a different tack, however.

“We’re a proud, responsible gun-owning people,” O’Rourke said Monday. “We’re going to protect the Second Amendment.” But, he added, “most Texans agree” that they don’t want to see their friends or family killed by weapons “originally designed for the battlefield.”

Despite having never won statewide in Texas — no Democrat has since 1994 — he has remained one of the few Democrats with enough fundraising prowess and statewide campaigning ability to take on Abbott, a former Texas attorney general. One potential rival for O’Rourke is actor Matthew McConaughey. McConaughey has said coyly that he is “measuring” entering the race but has yet to make any announcement.

For his part, Abbott has recently highlighted his efforts to restrict how race and gender are taught in schools, an apparent nod to the unexpected success of Republicans in Virginia, where the governor-elect, Glenn Youngkin, won with a similar focus. Abbott has also regularly drawn attention to his push to expand the presence of law enforcement and state National Guard troops on the border.

Indeed, the governor’s race was likely to play out on two terrains in the state: along the border with Mexico and in its rapidly expanding suburbs, particularly on the outskirts of Austin, Houston and Dallas.

O’Rourke’s campaign planned aggressive on-the-ground organizing, going door-to-door in places like South Texas where a lack of in-person campaigning appeared to have hurt Democrats in 2020. O’Rourke’s first campaign swing will make several stops in South Texas and along the border.


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How do I recycle that in Denton?
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Monday was America Recycles Day, and if you’re feeling inspired to go green, there are lots of options for recycling in Denton offered by city municipal services, private businesses and nonprofits. Here’s a handy guide for whatever you are looking to keep out of the landfill.

Plastic

If you have a city recycling cart, plastic bottles, cartons and other items numbered 1-7 can go right in the bin. Just make sure they are clean and dry — food particles can contaminate recycled items.

Those pesky plastic grocery bags, on the other hand, cannot go in your blue bin. But several local grocers including Kroger, Winco and Walmart have large plastic barrels just inside the store entrance for recycling them (or at least the excess ones you aren’t using in your bathroom trash can).

Other plastic items like disposable utensils and plates, plastic toys and hangers — both plastic and metal — should be thrown away.

Glass

Like plastic, clean, unbroken glass numbered 1-7 can go in residential recycling carts, but glass that is broken or not marked with a recycling symbol should go in the trash. All lids should be removed before recycling.

Cardboard boxes

Cardboard can be recycled in city carts, but only if it is clean and not soiled with grease or other food (so those pizza boxes from last night’s dinner won’t get a second life, unlike the leftovers). Cardboard should be broken down and flattened before going into bins.

Paper

Whole and shredded paper items, including junk mail, newspapers and magazines, can go in blue bins.

Metal

Aluminum and steel cans that are clean and empty can go in residential recycling carts, but other scrap metal items should be dropped off at the Denton landfill for a fee starting at $25 or scheduled for pickup by calling 940-349-8700. They won’t be recycled, but you can add them to the city’s construction, demolition or remodel debris waste.

If you’re looking for a greener option that won’t cost you, two private businesses — Stubbs Iron & Metal Recycling and Fulton Supply and Recycling Inc. — also offer metal recycling in Denton. Fulton offers 8 cents per pound for scrap metal, while the price per pound offered at Stubbs varies depending on the type of metal, with aluminum cans going for 55 cents per pound.

Electronics

TVs, computers and other small household electronics and kitchen appliances can be recycled at the city landfill, but devices with a screen will come with a “small handling fee per device,” according to the city’s recycling webpage. Other small household electronics are accepted at no charge, and TVs and computers can be collected for curbside recycling for a fee by calling Customer Service at 940-349-8700.

Best Buy also recycles many household electronics — including most computers, TVs, gaming consoles and cellphones — for free, and offers promotions such as in-store coupons for certain items like modems and routers. Consumers should check if their item qualifies on Best Buy’s website; stores accept up to three household items per day for drop-off.

State law requires television and computer equipment manufacturers to offer free recycling options for consumers, and most have trade-in programs. To recycle a TV or computer equipment, visit the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality’s Texas Recycles Computers Program site and find the device’s manufacturer. You can also report violations to the agency by emailing recycle@tceq.texas.gov.

Tires

Tires are not biodegradable, and they take up significant space in landfills. But they can be recycled and find a second life in things such as rubber mulch and asphalt (or even reused around your home as a planter or a good old-fashioned tire swing).

Curbside pickup is not an option for old tires in Denton, but auto shops that are registered scrap tire facilities with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality can take them in. In Denton, Discount Tire accepts tires at both of its locations at 100 S. Loop 288 and 3861 N. Interstate 35. The company charges $2.75 per tire and contracts with a third party for recycling, a store associate said Monday.

For a full list of registered scrap tire facilities and recycling operations in North Texas, visit the TCEQ’s recycling webpage.

Appliances and furniture

Although the city picks up household items as bulk waste, local resale and thrift stores like Goodwill, Thrift Giant, Ruth’s Room and Twice as Nice accept furniture donations. The Denton County Habitat for Humanity ReStore accepts donations of furniture, appliances, housewares, building materials and more. For details on what donations are accepted and the best method to donate, contact the store at 940-382-8487 or stop by 1805 Cornell Lane in Denton.

Small appliances such as vacuums and fans also can be dropped off at Best Buy for free recycling, and larger appliances can be picked up for $29.99 when a replacement product is delivered or $99 without a qualifying purchase. Other appliance stores such as Lowe’s and Home Depot offer pickup and recycling of old appliances under certain circumstances when a replacement is delivered.

What if I don’t have a recycling cart or curbside?

If you live in an apartment or do not have curbside recycling for other reasons, you can still recycle. The city operates two recycling drop-off centers: one at North Lakes Park, open during park hours; and one at the city landfill at 1527 S. Mayhill Road, open 7 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

How important is washing my recyclables, really?

Very. Since Denton uses single-stream recycling — meaning all recyclables are placed into one bin and separated at a recycling facility — forgetting to wash out that soda can or peanut butter jar can mean the entire cart gets contaminated. Unwashed containers can soil cardboard, gunk up machinery and end up diverting the whole well-intentioned pile to the landfill.

Other items that cannot be recycled

Styrofoam, broken items and food scraps can’t be recycled, either in blue bins or the city recycling centers. But if you want to be Earth-friendly with food waste, consider composting at home. Food scraps can enrich soil to help plants grow and keep yard waste and food scraps out of landfills.

You don’t need a fancy composter to do it, either. You can make a compost pile or bin in your backyard or indoors using a homemade or store-bought bin. For a full guide on what to compost and how, visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s composting webpage.


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