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End of Year: 5 education stories to look for in 2021

Unlike 2020’s retrospectives, this new year at least has the possibility of less pandemic news.

The one constant expectation around many Denton County schools is growth.

Additionally, there are several lawsuits and investigations that might come to term in the new year.

Below are five of the most promising Denton Record-Chronicle education articles-to-come for 2021:

What happens to the special education cooperative?

Argyle and Krum ISDs took steps toward creating their own special education programs in the near future.

Argyle school board members recently approved $1.2 million for their new program, which would likely start up in earnest for the 2021-22 school year.

Krum ISD hadn’t made the same drastic moves, but its own board members and interim superintendent expressed interest in eventually severing ties with the cooperative that serves KISD students.

Both school districts had been part of the Denton County Special Education Cooperative, which serves several smaller districts in the county.

It wasn’t clear what their departures might mean for the co-op and the remaining districts that depend on it.

How will districts position themselves for expected, but not guaranteed, growth?

Krum ISD could possibly quadruple enrollment over the next decade or so, and Argyle ISD could more than double over roughly the same time period.

Growth is dependent upon housing developers following through on plans to bring thousands upon thousands of homes to Denton’s neighbors.

Additionally, two other large developments, Hunter and Cole ranches, are expected sometime over the next several years within Denton ISD. Those developments could bring 12,900 single family homes, according to a February projection.

While significant, that doesn’t look to have an impact on the same scale as growth does for smaller districts.

What will happen with all the allegations of racism from that Guyer High football game?

Allegations of racism against Guyer High football fans began to swirl during the school’s game against Mansfield Lake Ridge High in early October.

The waters were muddied, but the essential allegations were that Guyer fans had yelled racist, sexist and sexually explicit comments and threats against students from the visiting school district.

Guyer Principal Shaun Perry sent a letter apologizing for the incident to Lake Ridge Principal Ashley Alloway shortly after the events.

Denton ISD officials quickly determined three people, none of whom were current Guyer students, were at the core of the problem.

One was a Guyer graduate, one was a Lake Dallas High student and the third was a Denton High student.

Denton and Mansfield ISDs conducted separate investigations into the event. DISD determined nothing racist was said and claimed MISD found the same thing.

A representative for MISD said that wasn’t the case. Each district sent their findings to the UIL for any potential further actions.

A representative for Lake Dallas ISD said they were never informed who the alleged Lake Dallas high schooler involved was, so no disciplinary action was taken.

What will happen in the UNT microaggressions suit?

UNT professor fired over microaggressions dispute sues university

Nathaniel Hiers, a former adjunct professor, is suing the University of North Texas, alleging wrongful termination and a breach of his constitutional rights.

According to the lawsuit, Hiers’ contract was rescinded after he criticized flyers decrying microaggressions, left by an unknown person in a faculty break room.

Nathaniel Hiers, a former adjunct professor, filed a suit against UNT on April 16 alleging he was wrongfully terminated and his constitutional rights were violated.

In the lawsuit, Hiers’ lawyers argued his contract with the university was rescinded after he criticized flyers about microaggressions.

The filing stated Hiers “firmly rejects bias and prejudice against any person or group of people, including marginalized groups;” however, he thinks the concept of microaggressions harms diversity and tolerance by promoting a culture of victimhood.

The suit was filed in federal court in the Texas Eastern District. No major actions had taken place since it was filed in April.

The most recent filing was a response to motion entered on Sept. 15.

How might UNT help distribute vaccines?

UNT regents in November heard how the system’s Denton campus and Health Science Center in Fort Worth might serve as distribution centers for coronavirus vaccines.

The campuses have ultracold storage capacity, which is a must-have to store Pfizer and Moderna vaccines.

Steve Maruszewski, UNT vice chancellor, estimated the Denton campus has a total of 100 cubic feet of adequate storage space, but officials are in the process of expanding that area.

The Denton campus had not received any vaccines by Dec. 23.

Denton County commissioners approve purchase of vaccine registration system

Denton County commissioners unanimously approved the purchase of a vaccine disbursal management system during their meeting Friday afternoon.

It will cost $271,000 for the first year of operation and $186,000 each subsequent year, according to the agenda item for county commissioners.

The item was one of the first approved by the new Commissioners Court, which included newcomer Ryan Williams.

Williams defeated incumbent Hugh Coleman in the March primary for the Republican nomination to represent Precinct 1, which includes Denton and northern Denton County. In the Nov. 3 election, Williams defeated Democrat Sandy Swan to claim the seat. He and incumbent Bobbie Mitchell, who was reelected to Precinct 3, were sworn in Friday before the court discussed the item.

County Judge Andy Eads said county officials would work with the system over the weekend to get it operational as soon as possible.

At that point, it will allow Denton County Public Health to better register residents for and manage the distribution of the COVID-19 vaccine.

DCPH phone lines were inundated with calls earlier this week from people hoping to get their place in line for the vaccine. County officials have stressed that limited vaccine supply, as well as changing directives from state officials, were factors in the trouble.

The system will only help DCPH to coordinate vaccinations for shots it is allocated by the state. There are 139 other entities registered to provide vaccinations in the county. Only 14 of those, DCPH included, were allocated vaccines before Friday’s meeting.

“We are a registered provider; we are not the main source of this vaccine,” Commissioner Ron Marchant clarified Friday. “We will be a provider of the vaccine just like if they went to a [private hospital].”

Eads confirmed that, but he was clear the county would gladly take on a larger role in the vaccine rollout, much like it did on a smaller scale for the H1N1 vaccine.

Jody Gonzalez, director of Denton County Emergency Services, said local workers are standing by and have existing distribution plans in hand in case the state decides to allocate more shots to DCPH in the coming weeks.

“Our capacity is not limited, it’s really not,” Eads said. “It’s just the availability of the vaccine.”

City officials say that more affordable housing is needed in Denton

In Denton, 67 properties — or about 2,411 units — are classified as affordable housing, but some city officials say more is needed.

“We have a housing affordability crisis in Texas, and Denton is not unique to that in a state where cities are prohibited from raising a minimum wage and rents keep rising,” at-large Place 6 Denton City Council member Deb Armintor said. “I hear from constituents who are on waiting lists for federal vouchers. The city, in my opinion, needs to stop seeing affordable housing as a federal issue.”

Deb Armintor

According to the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs, affordable housing is considered that which is where the tenant is paying no more than 30% of gross income for housing costs, including utilities.

The federal housing choice voucher program is designed to help low-income families, the elderly and people with disabilities obtain housing in the private market.

“We can tackle this problem using our general fund dollars as well as federal housing dollars,” Armintor said.

According to the Texas A&M Real Estate Center, the median price of a home in Denton is $280,000. The median household income, U.S. Census data shows, for Denton County is just over $60,000. About 50% of residents in Denton are renters, and the average monthly rent is about $1,300.

“If you are having a conversation about the average price of rent for comparable prices for Denton County or North Texas, that is 100% market driven,” Mayor Pro-tem Jesse Davis said. “We have no programs for making average rent affordable for the average Texan. Because it is market-based, it is supply and demand.”

Jesse Davis

Furthermore, Davis said, the occupancy rate in Denton for rental properties is at 98%.

“That is no vacancy rate at all. Essentially, our apartment and rental market in Denton is zero vacancy. One issue we have in Denton is that we have a very healthy market.”

City officials are awaiting the results of a housing-market study commissioned late this year. The most recent affordable-housing development they approved was in September, when they signed off on a $58 million project on Duchess Drive and South Loop 288.

It involves 12 two- and three-floor buildings with 524 parking spaces and sidewalks on the loop. The apartments will have several amenities, including a pool, playground, game court, pavilion, grills, pedestrian paths, community park, dog park, tree preservation area and butterfly garden.

“There is a general sense in the public — and I think it’s accurate — we have a shortage of affordable housing,” at-large Place 5 member Paul Meltzer said. “We need a strategy, and we need some recommendations. The market says that if we build more, the prices will come down. There’s a shortage of housing in Denton.”

Paul Meltzer

Sherri McDade, executive director of the Denton Housing Authority, did not return a message seeking comment.

“The availability of housing that is affordable, especially for low-income families, people who are elderly, and people with disabilities, is limited in most communities,” said Ryan Adams, the city’s director of customer affairs and public affairs, in an email. “Determining housing affordability is complex and is commonly a combination of factors within the whole housing system that includes household incomes, housing costs and total housing supply.”

Just before he left office in December, then-Mayor Chris Watts said that whether Denton has an affordable housing could not be determined without explaining the issue.

“What is affordable housing defined as?” he said. “That is one of the biggest issues. From a policy perspective, what are we talking about? We have an issue because we are in one of the hottest real estate markets in the country, and it is run primarily by supply and demand.”

Denton is one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, according to research.

“You see people building houses,” Watts said. “Apartments are being built. Those are filling up. Are there affordable places out there? Yes.”

The city of Denton could not immediately provide figures on how many apartments are considered affordable housing are in Denton, including student apartments designed to accommodate the University of North Texas and Texas Woman’s University.

Yesteryear's crimes, tomorrow's cases: Where do Denton County cases stand in 2021?

Among the many court cases filed this year, a few in Denton County stood out because of their impact.

The Denton Record-Chronicle compiled five crime stories of 2020 and where the cases stand as we head into 2021.

New Year’s Eve homicide

Steven Daniels, 22, was shot and killed over New Year’s Eve 2019 and died in the early hours of 2020, marking the first homicide of the year.

Four people have since been arrested and charged in connection to his death, with one suspect also facing charges in a double homicide reported at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Daniels was shot outside his apartment at Midtown 905 in the 900 block of Cleveland Street on New Year’s Eve. Daniels has a 1-year-old son and his cousin Keiaira Daniels told the Record-Chronicle in January that Daniels moved to Denton to put himself in a better position in life.

Jalin Hargrove

Earnest Rogers

Jacques Smith

Anfernee Rader

The suspects, Jalin Hargrove, Earnest Rogers, Jacques Smith and Anfernee Rader, were indicted on murder charges in March, just before courts drastically slowed down in Denton County due to COVID-19.

And due to COVID-19, jury trials for the three facing charges only in Denton County have not yet been set and announcement hearings are currently set for January 2021.

Smith is currently sitting in the Hunt County Jail, jailed there in early February on capital murder charges for allegedly killing two sisters at a dormitory at Texas A&M University-Commerce.

Announcement hearings for Rader and Hargrove are set for Jan. 7 and Jan 14, 2021. An announcement hearing for Rogers was set for Nov. 5.

What will happen to the former Valley View mayor?

The case against the former Valley View mayor is set to have an announcement hearing in late February 2021, about a year after he was initially arrested on a charge of forgery of a government document.

Joshua Reed Brinkley

Joshua Brinkley was arrested twice in 2020 on charges related to tampering with a governmental record. Brinkley, also an attorney in Denton County, still carried out some of his duties as mayor as of May 21, according to minutes posted to the city’s website.

Mayor Pro Tem John Fortenberry is serving as mayor as of June 25, according to the city’s website. Brinkley’s last meeting as mayor was on June 18, almost a week after he was arrested again.

According to an arrest affidavit, Brinkley forged a client’s signature before forging his secretary’s signature and notarized it with her stamp in October 2017. The second offense for which he was arrested occurred in August 2019, Denton County Jail records show.

The former Texas Rangers pitcher accused of child sex abuse

A jury trial for a former Texas Rangers pitcher is set for May 2021, more than two years after he was initially arrested on charges related to child sex abuse.

John K. Wetteland

Following an announcement hearing July 2019, a trial for John K. Wetteland was scheduled for March 2020 but the Denton County Judiciary has pushed back jury trials due to COVID-19. The trial set for May 24, 2021, was earlier set for Dec. 7, 2020.

Wetteland, 54, is accused of sexually abusing a 4-year-old child in a Bartonville home between 2004 and 2006. He was booked into the Denton County Jail on Jan. 14, 2019, and bonded out the same day after posting a $25,000 bail.

Denton County court records show Wetteland is facing three charges of aggravated sexual assault of a child, a first degree felony.

Wetteland was hired as a bullpen coach for the Washington Nationals after retiring as a pitcher in 2005, but was fired in 2006 for what The Washington Post reported as “a long line of transgressions and insubordinations.”

He then coached baseball and taught Bible classes at Liberty Christian School in Argyle from 2007 to 2008.

Parties going back and forth on the jurisdiction of the Denton County aviation academy suit

The parties involved in a wrongful death suit filed against US Aviation are going back and forth in federal court about whether the case should be handled in federal court or in a Texas state court.

A case filed on behalf of the parents of a Chinese student at the US Aviation Academy in Denton alleges the academy knew he was experiencing depression and anxiety due to his treatment while at the school, yet instructors did nothing to help him.

Attorneys for the parents allege Yan Yang, 21, was harassed by academy employees because of his nationality, that staffers declined to act on information that he was experiencing anxiety and depression due to his treatment. They further allege in the case filings that the harassment led to their son’s death by suicide in 2019.

The case was moved to the Texas Eastern District Court division in Sherman and entered on Oct. 15 because the allegations against the academy and employee Daniel Bryson “pertain to the operation of a flight academy,” and therefore it falls under Federal Aviation Administration regulations.

Attorneys for the parents filed a motion to remand the case back to a state court, and the attorneys for the academy have filed a motion to oppose this.

Former Guyer teacher accused of improper relationship with student

A jury trial has not yet been set for the former Guyer High School teacher accused of having an improper relationship with a student who was 17 years old at the time.

Jeana Wesson

Jeana Wesson turned herself in to authorities Feb. 28, 2019 after a warrant was issued for her arrest for the 2017 incident.

A victim, who was no longer a student at Guyer at the time of the report, told the Denton Police Department Wesson sent inappropriate pictures and videos to him in 2017 and ”performed a sexual act with him in her classroom,” a news release said at the time of her arrest.

Regardless of a victim’s age, it’s illegal for a teacher to engage in a sexual relationship with a student. If Wesson is convicted of the second-degree felony, she could face up to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.

Wesson was booked into the Denton City Jail and posted a $5,000 bond the same day. State records show Wesson voluntarily surrendered her teaching license in 2020.

Denton County court records show the case has seen a series of announcement hearings throughout 2020 with the latest on Dec. 17 being canceled.

The next announcement hearing is set for Feb. 4, 2021.