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Denton County now offering Pfizer shot for kids as young as 5
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Denton County Public Health has opened COVID-19 vaccine eligibility to children ages 5-11 and soon will host kid-friendly clinics specifically for young children and their parents starting next week, the department announced Wednesday.

Following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot for ages 5-11, local parents now can register their children on DCPH’s list to receive the vaccine. As with other age groups, children will receive the shot in two doses, with the second given at least three weeks after the first. But for kids between 5 and 11, the Pfizer dosage is one-third that of an adult dose.

“Prioritizing children who have now patiently waited 20 months for protection from COVID-19 is now our greatest priority,” DCPH Director Matt Richardson stated in the news release. “We know children can get and spread COVID-19, and vaccination remains the best way to protect them. With over 70,000 children in Denton County now eligible, we are eager to provide our clinics alongside the many pediatricians and pharmacies offering vaccines to children.”

The county will host several pediatric-only vaccine clinics for the newly eligible children and their parents. Those will begin next week with three indoor clinics at the Denton County Morse Street Facility, rather than the drive-thru model the department has used frequently.

“The children will be vaccinated in individual rooms instead of that large setting,” DCPH spokesperson Jennifer Rainey said. “That’s so parents can assist their children and keep them calmer.”

Because the dosage is smaller and comes in a different concentration more suited for children, providers can’t vaccinate children with their existing Pfizer stock. Rainey said DCPH has already received 8,100 of the new doses after making an order in anticipation of the announcement.

Second-dose appointments will operate the same as the other age groups, Rainey said, which means parents can set up a child’s next dose after three weeks have passed. The department recommends checking with other health care providers as well, especially if a child gets nervous about shots and would be more familiar with their pediatrician’s office.

“It might be a little different than when your child goes to a pediatrician,” Rainey said. “If there’s a location they can go [that] their kid is comfortable with, we absolutely encourage that.”

Parents can register their children through the county’s online vaccine registration system at dentoncounty.gov/vaccine. Once registered, they will receive a self-scheduling message allowing them to choose a clinic and appointment time that works best. For the clinics, children must be accompanied by a parent or guardian and must bring identification with name and date of birth, such as birth certificates, medical records or vaccine records.

Guests mingle during Wednesday’s opening reception for the Texas Downtown Conference at Sunago Bell on the Square. The only statewide conference dedicated to downtowns is happening in Denton this year.

Texas’ new House map challenged in state court, expanding redistricting fight

Opening a second front in widening legal wars over redistricting, a coalition of mostly Hispanic, Democratic members of the Texas House filed suit in state court Wednesday challenging the constitutionality of the new political map for the state House.

Multiple lawsuits challenging new political districts drawn by the Republican-controlled Legislature will play out in federal court, but the Mexican American Legislative Caucus filed the state case citing language in the Texas Constitution requiring legislators drawing the Texas House’s 150 districts to keep intact counties with sufficient population to make up one House district.

MALC’s challenge centers on the reconfiguration of Cameron County in the Rio Grande Valley, which breaks the county line twice to create three districts — only one wholly contained within the county. The state’s “county line rule,” MALC argues, would require two districts be drawn within Cameron, with the remaining population connected to a single neighboring district, as was the case under the map the state used for the last decade.

Texas redistricting fights have typically played out in federal courts, which decade after decade have found that lawmakers, often intentionally, flouted federal protections for voters of color, and two federal lawsuits had already been filed against the new maps. The caucus simultaneously filed a federal lawsuit Wednesday, alleging the state’s new maps were drawn with discriminatory intent and violate the federal Voting Rights Act. Filed in Austin, MALC framed the suit as an effort to “redress once again Texas’s sordid pattern of racial discrimination.”

The new lines in Cameron, drawn over the objections of lawmakers who represent the affected areas, would afford Republicans a newly competitive state House seat in an area currently dominated by Democrats. In its federal lawsuit, MALC alleges the lines would also “severely dilute” the ability of Latinos and the Spanish-speaking community in the area to elect their preferred candidates.

The MALC lawsuits are just the latest entries in the growing stack of legal challenges to the new maps for the statehouse, Congress and the State Board of Education.

The Republican-controlled Legislature this year took on the work of redistricting to include a decade of population growth into the state’s maps and equalize the population of districts. The final product was contained in district boundaries that solidified the GOP’s dominance while weakening the influence of voters of color.

Of the 4 million residents the state gained since 2010, 95% were people of color. But throughout their mapmaking, Republicans manipulated boundary lines around communities of color and drew them into districts that diminish their voice.

Half of the state’s population gains in the last decade were among Hispanics. Yet the House map drops the number of districts in which Hispanics make up the majority of eligible voters from 33 to 30. The congressional map reduces the number of districts with a Hispanic voting majority from eight to seven.

Republicans who led the redistricting process have argued the maps were drawn blind to race and cleared by legal counsel for compliance with federal law, though they have declined to disclose how those conclusions were reached.

In its federal lawsuit, MALC challenges the new maps for Congress, the Texas House and the State Board of Education, saying they are intentionally discriminatory and mired in illegal racial gerrymanders. The caucus also raises specific claims on a litany of districts where they allege the Legislature packed and cracked communities of color to limit their electoral impact.

“The plans adopted by the State not only failed to increase Latino and minority opportunities for representation, they actually decreased them while increasing the number of districts in which Anglos form a majority of the eligible voter population,” the MALC complaint reads. “This turns the concept of representative democracy on its head.”

Echoing the two federal lawsuits already in the pipeline, MALC is also challenging the Legislature’s refusal to create additional districts in which Hispanic voters would control elections. Republicans, who had complete control over the redistricting process this year, declined to create those districts even as they reconfigured the congressional map to include the two additional U.S. House seats the state gained, the most of any state in this year’s reapportionment, because of its explosive growth.

Latino voters and organizations that represent them filed the first federal lawsuit last month before all of the maps were sent to the governor, arguing the new boundaries intentionally discriminate against them and would pull back on their influence on elections.

A second lawsuit dropped shortly after Gov. Greg Abbott signed the maps into law. Backed by an organization affiliated with former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, a group of voters and Voto Latino are seeking to overturn the state’s new congressional map based on claims that it dilutes the voting power of people of color.

Representatives for Abbott, who is named as a defendant, did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the lawsuits.

Pandemic redirects UNT grads' dreams to jewelry making
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  • 3 min to read

On their back porch in the Denton suburbs, a couple make handmade jewelry, designing and building their pieces entirely from the ground up, from design to gem cutting to the final product.

After being unable to work in early 2020 because of COVID-19, these two University of North Texas graduates have been active throughout the pandemic as jewelry creators that operate entirely independently, marketing, designing, creating and selling their pieces by themselves.

Kera Dockins, a 2020 UNT graduate with a bachelor’s degree in music, is the owner of Modern Folia, a handcrafted jewelry business run with her boyfriend and business partner, Ryan Kirby, who also has a music degree from UNT.

Dockins, a self-taught metalsmith, and Kirby, a self-taught lapidarist (someone who cuts and shapes gems and stones), both produce their handcrafted jewelry at their home in Denton. Originally a small online vendor selling jewelry to friends and family through Dockins’ parents’ yoga studios, the business has expanded to its own small enterprise with a dedicated online store and a Facebook page. The business was originally founded as “Namatags” (a play on the word “namaste”) by Dockins’ mother, Stacy Dockins, about a decade ago and has been owned by Kera Dockins since 2014.

The business, formerly known as both Arek Jewelry and Namatags, has undergone many changes over the past few years.

Jeff Woo/DRC 

Pieces of jewelry created by Modern Folia are displayed on a stand on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021, in Denton, Texas.

“Early 2020 was when I shifted my style to Arek Jewelry [from Namatags],” Dockins said. “Arek Jewelry started right at the beginning of the pandemic. I was out of college and out of a job because of the pandemic. I started getting into purchasing premade pendants and putting pieces together, which is what a lot of people who sell jewelry do.”

She met Ryan Kirby around this time, and they realized they could begin creating their jewelry entirely by hand.

“It almost felt like I was lying to clients because I wasn’t making pieces from scratch,” Dockins lamented. “Around December [2020], I started looking into how to make the pendants myself instead of buying them premade. People find that so much more interesting and really appreciate it a lot more when it’s something that you put that much work into. It just feels way better to be able to produce that. It’s not like those premade pendants where you can buy 50 and they all look exactly the same.

“We bought the most basic, cheapest materials at first to learn and practice,” Dockins said. “Really it was all from YouTube and just various articles we could find online.”

Over the course of the next few months, the pair began teaching themselves different aspects of jewelry-making, with Dockins focusing on the metalsmithing and Kirby focusing on the stones and lapidary work.

“I don’t know of any people, even those we’ve tried to find on social media, that are going to both do the lapidary work and the silversmithing, having control from top to bottom of the creation process,” Kirby said. “I feel like all the individual pieces are art. It’s made with love; it’s all cared for. It’s not easy, but nothing worth being good at is easy.”

Jeff Woo/DRC 

Ryan Kirby grinds and smooths a gemstone that will be used on a piece of jewelry on Saturday, Oct. 23 in Denton.

Kirby was introduced to Dockins’ business around the time the pair met and became interested in helping Dockins with her business.

“If I can be someone who helps push her to achieve her dreams, because she’s already helped push me to achieve mine, I want to do that,” Kirby said. “It’s a two-way road. If that’s how I can help, and assist with the jewelry, that’s what I want to do.”

“Most couples don’t work together. When people come home from work, it’s like a separate personal family life at home, but I feel like it’s another thing to have that and also share a business side of things,” Dockins said. “Having that other level of being together and the business aspect too just opens up a whole other layer of communication that wouldn’t even be there otherwise. If anything, it’s brought us closer together.”

The couple operate the business entirely from their home in Denton.

“We do pretty much everything on our back patio,” Dockins said. “Using an open flame with fumes, that has to be done outside, which can be a struggle depending on the weather.”

The couple also make use of a buffing machine to shape the stones for their jewelry.

“Within the next year, we want to get to the point where we can purchase a flat faceting machine, a flat lap, something we can use to make those classic emerald, ruby, diamond shapes,” Kirby said. “Then we can do more precious gemstones with more traditional stone shapes and gem shapes.”

Photos by Jeff Woo/DRC 

Kera Dockins bezels a stone that will used to make jewelry for her business on Saturday, Oct. 23 in Denton.

The pair currently operate the business part time, working around six hours on weekends and producing between one and three pieces a week. The pair both currently work different full-time jobs, Kirby as an electrician and Dockins at Meador’s Garden Center & Landscaping

“The goal in the future is for this to essentially be the primary income source for us.” Kirby said. “I mean, you could go out and work for another person, but why would we not want to work for ourselves? That’s what we’re trying to do. We’ve already proven that we can make great things together, and it’s something we both care about.”

For those interested in Dockins and Kirby’s jewelry, visit their website at modern-folia.com or check out their Facebook page at facebook.com/modernfolia.

Attorney for Jenna Ryan arguing for probation sentence in U.S. Capitol riot case
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Of the 24 people who have been convicted in connection with the U.S. Capitol riot, half have been sentenced to probation. That’s the sentence Jenna Ryan, who flew from Denton to the protest, and her attorney are seeking.

Ryan and her attorney are seeking probation for parading, picketing or demonstrating in the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, but U.S. prosecutors are standing by their suggestion for 60 days of incarceration. Both have agreed to Ryan paying $500 in restitution.

A U.S. federal judge will have the final say Thursday when Ryan, a Denton County real estate agent, will appear in person for her sentencing in Washington, D.C. Almost 700 people have been charged in connection with the Jan. 6 riot; about 105 have pleaded guilty, and 24 have been sentenced, according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ryan will be the first Denton County resident to be sentenced. She was the first area resident to plead guilty and as of Wednesday remains the only local guilty plea.

In a letter to presiding Judge Christopher Cooper, Ryan apologized for entering the Capitol building, emphasized that she didn’t see, commit or lie about any violence that day and said U.S. prosecutors have created false statements and a false timeline to get a harsher sentence. Her attorney’s response to the government’s sentencing memorandum says U.S. prosecutors rely on the comments she made before and after trespassing, which are protected by the First Amendment.

In her letter, Ryan said she was never interviewed nor interrogated by the FBI although she offered to do so many times.

“Never once did they ask for my version of events,” she said in the letter. “I was unable to give any statement under oath. Yet the prosecutor makes accusations about my culpability and integrity using television interviews in order to justify a very harsh punishment.”

Ryan’s attorney claims the comments she made in television interviews are protected by the First Amendment and that the prosecutors have created a timeline of her knowledge of destruction at the Capitol. Their filing says they have tried to enter a plea agreement with the U.S. since Ryan retained him to represent her in February, but they didn’t get a response from the Assistant U.S. Attorney’s superiors until late July.

U.S. prosecutors in a response say they stand by their suggestion of 60 days’ incarceration and $500 in restitution. In a filing, U.S. prosecutors cite photos and videos they obtained from Ryan’s phone showing she knew of the violence before she arrived at the Capitol.

“The recording, with the filename IMG_5707.mov, documents the defendant watching a Fox News report of the breach of the Capitol,” prosecutors say.

Prosecutors quote Ryan’s comments from the recording, stating she said “we’re gonna go down there and move them out of their chairs … We’re not here to play around.” The recording was from 2:20 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, about an hour before Ryan entered the Capitol building.

Ryan also said the statement about her not going to jail because she’s white and blonde was taken out of context.

“Unlike what the Prosecutor says, I do not feel that I am immune to punishment due to my appearance and social status,” she states in the letter. “I do not feel that I will get off ‘Scott Free’ (quoting the prosecutor), but I was trying to maintain my dignity to a mob of haters who were harassing me relentlessly by social media, phone and email.”

The tweet originally from March 26 is still online and reads: “Definitely not going to jail. Sorry I have blonde hair white skin a great job a great future and I’m not going to jail. Sorry to rain on your hater parade. I did nothing wrong.”

The tweet was in response to someone sending her a gif of Oprah with the caption, “You goin’ to jail.”

Although she was initially charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds, she pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor count of parading, demonstrating or picketing in a Capitol building.

The maximum penalty for the charge is six months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000 — much higher than what prosecutors are suggesting.

Of the 24 people who have been sentenced in connection with the January riot, the longest sentence of incarceration went to a Dallas-area man. Troy Anthony Smocks pleaded guilty to threats in interstate commerce and was sentenced to 14 months of incarceration with three years of supervised release after.

Nine people were sentenced to incarceration between 14 days and 14 months. Twelve have been sentenced to probation, with timing ranging between two months and five years. Most of those sentences have come after defendants have pleaded guilty to the same charge as Ryan.

Ryan’s attorney’s filing in federal court asks the judge to consider a probation sentence, as a probation officer recommended.

“As noted in the Probation Officer’s Sentencing Recommendation, rehabilitation of Ms. Ryan does not appear to be a particular concern, she does not pose a danger to the community, and is in full compliance with the terms of her release since this case began,” the filing states.

Ryan’s attorney didn’t return a call for comment by Wednesday afternoon.