Coppell Chronicle Vol. 2, No. 3
Board Votes to Retain ‘Gender Queer’ • Coppell ISD Due for New Bond Election • Schools Focus on Mental Health • Kayak Business Gets Sign Exemption
Dang, what time is it? What day is it? Between spring break and daylight saving time, I’m in a fog.
Board Votes to Retain ‘Gender Queer’
The Coppell Library Advisory Board reconsidered Gender Queer last week after being deadlocked last month. A motion to remove Maia Kobabe’s graphic memoir from the Cozby Library’s collection failed Thursday on a 2-4 vote.
After last month’s vote went 3-3, I wrote in the Feb. 13 edition that absent board member Sekhar Katkam was in the hot seat. He would be in a position to cast the deciding vote at Thursday’s meeting, assuming nobody changed their mind and everybody showed up.
Well, both of those assumptions were wrong. Once again, Katkam was a no-show. (If anybody reading this knows him, you may want to consider a well-check.) Meanwhile, Haridas Radhakrishnan changed his mind.
In February, Radhakrishnan voted with Michelle Ostrander and Mathew Ittop to remove the book. But Radhakrishnan has since watched an interview with Kobabe hosted by the Portland Public Library in Maine, which he said provided context “directly from the horse’s mouth.” He then made a few points:
Director of Library Services Dennis Quinn and his staff did their due diligence on researching the book before adding it to the collection.
The Library Advisory Board is charged with making the right decisions for the community.
Radhakrishnan feels it is his responsibility to provide opportunity for Coppell residents, including himself, to gain knowledge.
“In that aspect, I think the book should remain in the library,” he said. “I am totally convinced now — compared to last time, knowing the context — following the process clearly makes the point for the book to be in the library.”
The library’s process was referenced by both of the board’s alternate (non-voting) members. Patricia Graziano asked the board to support Quinn and his staff: “In their response to this challenge, they addressed the validity and legality of this work and that it does not constitute pornography. If, as a board, you start down this road of banning books, removing books, what’s next? What book is next?”
The other alternate member is Carly Brenner, who said, “We’re not here to assess whether or not we think the book is appropriate. We’re here to assess whether or not it aligns to the criteria. And I think that is the thing that keeps getting lost in these conversations. Our personal opinions about the book don’t matter at all, regardless of which side of the line we fall on.”
Ostrander and Ittop remained on the side of removing the book, largely because of the explicit nature of a few of Kobabe’s drawings.
“This is not anything against the text in the book,” Ostrander said, “because I read the whole book, and it was enlightening, and I have empathy for the writer.” Her issue was “the appropriateness of the sexually explicit images. It just comes down to the images.”
During February’s debate, Board Chair Frank Gasparro said there were only three pages in Gender Queer that he found objectionable.
“It’s not a whole lot out of 300 pages,” Ittop said Thursday, “but we know that poison don’t take that long, that much to do its work. Even with small quantities, the poisonous things can work.”
Gasparro and Radhakrishnan joined Anne Diamond and Martha Garber in voting against Ostrander’s motion to remove the book.
“I’m against pulling any book from a public library at the request of a person or a group of people’s opinions and thoughts,” Diamond said. “If this occurs, what will be the next book because someone disagrees with the contents?”
Ostrander said that argument is a two-way street: “Where does it end, though? Like, it’s a slippery slope if we let things like this come along on in.”
Gasparro said the library’s inclusion of Gender Queer in its stacks is not an endorsement of the book. He said it’s just one of about 80,000 books in the library’s collection.
Actually, it’s four of them. Quinn said the library has ordered two more copies of Gender Queer since last month’s board meeting due to increased demand. But he said the library has also ordered a copy of a book that Ostrander brought up in February: Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters by Abigail Shrier.
Coppell ISD Due for New Bond Election
Coppell ISD voters should expect to see a bond package on their ballot in 2023. District administrators laid out the process during a Board of Trustees workshop on Monday.
The first step is to form a bond committee. The seven trustees were asked to each recommend five people for consideration by March 22. The aim is to finalize a committee roster by May 24 that would include the following:
At least 25 Coppell ISD parents
At least five Coppell ISD students
At least five Coppell ISD employees
At least five other community members
At least three business owners or city leaders
Over the course of four monthly meetings during the fall semester, the committee will learn what’s needed at some of the district’s older facilities, and then debate which needs are the highest priorities. Chief Operations Officer Dennis Womack provided a preview via this slide:
“Within the next five years, we know we’re going to have to go in and do some renovations and some update work within these campuses, really just to bring them up to the same level of quality that we have at Lee and Canyon Ranch,” Womack said. The new Richard J. Lee Elementary School opened in 2014, followed by Canyon Ranch Elementary in 2019.
As you can see on that slide, below the list of tangible items such as drinking fountains and bleachers are a few concepts: accessibility, safety, and equity. Womack used the following as a “perfect example” of equity.
“If Mockingbird and Lakeside and Cottonwood Creek all have a kiln, then we probably need to consider putting a kiln at Austin and Pinkerton and Town Center and Valley Ranch,” he said, “so the kids have the same opportunity to do clay work and fire the clay work and have the same experience that they would at any one of our campuses.”
Of course, some campuses need much more than a kiln to equal the modern amenities at Lee and Canyon Ranch. The days of Pinkerton Elementary, the district’s oldest campus by far, may be numbered.
“I’m afraid that that particular facility may cost us more to renovate and/or expand than it would be to start fresh,” Womack said of Pinkerton, “but that doesn’t mean that we can’t renovate it. We can still do that. The cost would just exceed what a new campus would cost, and that’s just what it is. So it’s a matter of what the board would want to do and what the community would want to do with that particular school.”
The district’s most recent bond election was in 2016, and seven years between such elections is “a long time for us,” Trustee Tracy Fisher said. Superintendent Brad Hunt added, “It’s probably one of the longest stretches we’ve had for a while.”
That 2016 bond package barely passed, with 50.2 percent of voters supporting it and 49.8 percent opposing it. Just 22 of the 5,582 votes made the difference.
In 2016, Coppell ISD voters were asked a single question about the $249 million bond package. In 2023, there will likely be multiple questions to consider. The Legislature has made changes that require separate ballot propositions for stadiums with more than 1,000 seats, natatoriums of any size, recreational facilities other than gyms or playgrounds, performing arts facilities, and technology such as tablets or laptops.
Here's another big change in the state’s laws since 2016: Each ballot proposition regarding school bonds must include the statement “THIS IS A PROPERTY TAX INCREASE.” As Womack explained, that’s because a district could lower its debt-service tax rate if it didn’t sell bonds.
“To be just quite candid with you, I think it makes it difficult for districts to be able to call bond elections, and then to be able to explain that to all of our stakeholders,” Womack told the board.
Nonetheless, the trustees on Monday all seemed to think that bonds need to be sold so improvements can be made.
“These buildings, not only are they aging, they get a lot of wear and tear,” Trustee David Caviness said. “It’s not like your home that was built in 1984 but only has five people in and out of it on a regular basis. There’s a lot of use there.”
Schools Focus on Mental Health
Superintendent Brad Hunt said some things during Monday’s workshop that broke my heart. He started by relaying a question he was asked during a recent meeting with PTO presidents: “Brad, is it normal for my kid to cry every day?”
Thankfully, Hunt said that’s not normal. But the superintendent said he hears from parents, teachers, and counselors about students’ increased levels of anxiety and decreased abilities to persevere. He provided a few general examples:
“Fifth-graders that are getting ready to move on to middle school might be experiencing some kinds of behaviors that you would typically see in third-graders.”
“Kids were getting to that frustration wall and just kind of melting down instead of working through issues.”
“Kids that are going from zero to 60 with a conflict with someone on the playground and getting in trouble.”
He also mentioned instances of “self-harm” in which kids “might be trying to cope with some of their anxiety or stress with either substance abuse, or something else.” He said the district is dealing with mental-health issues “probably more so than we’ve ever seen before.”
“Obviously, the pandemic has been a catalyst and definitely made it more intense,” Trustee Leigh Walker said during the ensuing discussion.
Hunt said all this in response to a question from Trustee Manish Sethi. During a presentation regarding visioning work, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Angie Brooks showed a slide that described how “social emotional learning and counseling needs” relate to two of CISD’s four core values: great teaching and authentic relationships. Sethi asked Brooks to elaborate on social emotional learning.
“I know what we are doing,” Sethi said, “but it has become a political catchphrase for all kinds of stuff that I know is not going on in Coppell ISD.”
After Hunt shared all those depressing anecdotes, Brooks said Senate Bill 11, which the Legislature approved in 2019, mandates mental-health practices that some businesses might call “soft skills” — integrity, coping skills, and conflict resolution, whether conflicts are external or internal. The Texas Education Agency says SB11 “requires public schools to conduct behavioral threat assessment and collect relevant data on its efficacy.”
If you think about it in terms of behavioral threats, social emotional learning is more important than anything a kid learns in their trigonometry or chemistry or Texas history classes. The students who shot up Columbine High School in Colorado back in 1999 definitely could have benefited from some more social emotional learning. The same goes for the kids who killed classmates at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida four years ago and at Oxford High School in Michigan last year.
“It is very detrimental that social emotional learning has become kind of one of those words that falls into some of the other things that people are saying, I feel, in politics right now,” Brooks said. “I would hate to think that we had an organization that wasn’t focused on relationships and thinking about the whole child and their social emotional needs.”
Kayak Business Gets Sign Exemption
If you’ve driven by Trinity River Kayak Company and wondered whether it was open, you’ll soon have to wonder no more. The Coppell Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business of the Year has been granted permission to erect a monument sign with changeable letters, which will be used to advise the public of its seasonal operating hours and special events.
You may recall from the Dec. 26 edition that city planner Matt Steer proposed changing the city’s sign ordinance by adding “seasonal businesses” and “public and private schools” to the list of organizations that could have such signs. (As is, the list is limited to “governmental and religious organizations.”) The members of the Coppell Planning and Zoning Commission weren’t comfortable with such a sweeping change regarding seasonal businesses, because nobody could think of any such businesses besides Trinity River Kayak. One commissioner suggested that the regulations for just the kayak company’s planned development district could be revised accordingly in a two-minute hearing.
Although it lasted longer than two minutes, that hearing happened during the Planning and Zoning Commission’s Feb. 17 meeting. The commissioners approved the request from Trinity River Kayak owner Jeff Varnell on a 6-1 vote, despite some concerns about potential political messages. They’ve noticed that Varnell is not shy about erecting campaign signs for his preferred politicians on the property, which is also his home.
Varnell asked his fellow Coppell Realty agent Aaron Duncan, a former member of the City Council, to represent him at the Feb. 17 hearing before the Planning and Zoning Commission as well as Tuesday’s hearing before the council. Duncan assured everyone that Varnell is too smart a businessman to put political messages on his monument sign. The council subsequently voted unanimously to approve his request.
(By the way, Trinity River Kayak opens for the season on Saturday.)
• During Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Director of Public Works Kent Collins said he couldn’t see how any Coppell residents could have been surprised by the lane closures along South Belt Line Road that began on Feb. 28. I’m right there with him.
• Later in the meeting, City Manager Mike Land said the reconstruction of Plantation Drive should be finished by the end of April. Hallelujah!
• Channel 8 recently aired a heartwarming story about the Coppell High School band.
Shade of Green: March 21 is the entry deadline for the Coppell Creatives’ next exhibit at the Coppell Arts Center. Works in any media are eligible as long as they are predominantly green or “developed around the concept green.”
Community Movie Night: Coppell ISD will host a screening of Monsters Inc. at Buddy Echols Field on March 26. The gates will open at 6:30 p.m., and the movie will begin one hour later.
Coppell Connected — Neighbors Helping Neighbors: On April 23, Coppell residents are encouraged to provide assistance to their neighbors with home maintenance and repairs. April 1 is the deadline to sign up as a volunteer.
i thought your reporting on both the February and March Library Advisory Board Meetings was accurate and compelling ... You captured the issue and the positions on it in not only accurately but with authenticity.
I appreciate the hard and thoughtful work of the library board and the staff.