When the pandemic shut down Austin student Grant Sherwood's school along with the rest of the district in March, continuing his education online was simply not possible.
For Grant, a 20-year-old with cerebral palsy and severe cognitive disabilities, education is almost entirely social and emotional skill-building, practicing communication and finding joy in being with people like himself.
So when his teacher at Rosedale School attempted Zoom video sessions with him, as educators across the district were instructed to do, Grant was so dismissive that it was almost comical, said his father, Dr. Stephen Sherwood, a pediatric dentist in Austin.
"He would just start saying 'goodbye!'" his father said with a chuckle. "His learning is very, very delayed. He has the ability to learn, but learning online is not even an option for him."
In-person or not at all
Earlier this week, Dr. Mark Escott, interim health authority for Austin and Travis County, told county commissioners that he strongly agreed with a recent national study urging schools to prioritize younger children and special education programs as they come up with ways to reopen schools to in-person classes.
They were welcome words for the Sherwoods, who are outliers in an increasingly tense national debate, as parents and politicians weigh the pros and cons of sending kids to school in person during a pandemic or keeping them home to learn virtually until COVID-19 cases flatten.
For Grant, who will need round-the-clock physical and medical care for the rest of his life, there really is no debate, and there is certainly no "pro" to online learning.
This fall, Grant will be entering his third year at Rosedale, an Austin ISD campus that specializes in teaching and caring for children with severe disabilities up through age 21.
Without the doors open, there is little role that Rosedale—which Sherwood described as a warm and nurturing place—can play in Grant's life.
"He enjoyed riding the bus, he was at school all day long," he said. "His teachers, his classmates—he just really thrives on having his regular social interaction with the people in his life."
Social distancing is difficult
Sherwood, whose wife Krista stays home to take care of Grant and their other three kids, ages 13, 16 and 18, while he works, also recognizes how difficult it would be for students like Grant to follow health guidelines at school.
In Grant's case, he coughs a lot, and he won't keep a mask on, which means the family can't really take him anywhere that requires it, Sherwood said.
"They don't have the ability to really control how they spread their germs," he said. "It's just a hard situation because we want our teachers to be safe, too, and don't want to put them at additional risk."
He believes the school will advocate for Grant and the other students, and that administrators will work to bring them back as soon as possible.
Sherwood said they'll take anything they can get, because while the tight-knit family has enjoyed some aspects of so much togetherness, the isolation has taken its toll on everyone.
"His cognitive disability is such that he can't tell us, 'Man, I really am bummed out because I can't see my teachers and my friends,'" Sherwood said. "But we've noticed that he's not really been himself."
With no plans announced and no real idea when Grant will be able to go back, there's not much to do but play the waiting game that's been dragging on through an exhausting summer.
"We'll just keep doing what we've been doing," Sherwood said. "One day at a time."
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Nineteen kids and two adults are dead after a shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas—a small town an hour and a half west of San Antonio—on Tuesday afternoon.
Gov. Greg Abbott said the suspect, 18-year-old Salvador Ramos, is believed to have been killed by the police. The Uvalde Police Department said the shooting began at 11:43 a.m. Tuesday.
“What happened in Uvalde is a horrific tragedy that cannot be tolerated in the state of Texas,” Abbott said. “He shot and killed—horrifically, incomprehensibly.”
Texans are grieving for the victims of this senseless crime & for the community of Uvalde.
Cecilia & I mourn this horrific loss & urge all Texans to come together.
I've instructed @TxDPS & Texas Rangers to work with local law enforcement to fully investigate this crime. pic.twitter.com/Yjwi8tDT1v
— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) May 24, 2022
According to University Health Hospital officials, a 66-year-old woman and 10-year-old girl arrived in critical condition. Uvalde Memorial Hospital reportedly received 13 children for treatment and two individuals who were already deceased. At the time, it was believed 14 had died in this shooting.
The shooter prompted a lockdown at the elementary school of just under 550 students, with San Antonio Police sending SWAT, and Eagle chopper and Crime Scene Investigators.
According to White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, President Joe Biden has been briefed on the tragedy and “His prayers are with the families impacted by this awful event, and he will speak this evening when he arrives back at the White House.”
At 21 deaths, it is the deadliest school shooting in Texas and one of the deadliest in the U.S. since 26 at Sandy Hook Elementary lost their lives. This is the U.S.'s 213th mass shooting of 2022.
Embattled incumbent Attorney General Ken Paxton beat out Land Commissioner George P. Bush on Tuesday in the Republican primary runoff as Texas GOP voters picked a beleaguered candidate with legal and personal scandals over the last remaining Bush to serve in public office. Decision Desk called the race early for Paxton, about 40 minutes after polls closed.
Paxton has faced a securities fraud indictment for seven years. More recently, the FBI began investigating him for abuse of office after eight of his former top deputies accused him of bribery. He also reportedly had an extramarital affair. Paxton denies all wrongdoing.
Bush, who has served for seven years as the state’s land commissioner, campaigned on restoring integrity to the attorney general’s office and hit Paxton for his legal and ethical troubles. He also criticized Paxton’s legal acumen, saying some of his lawsuits were frivolous, including one that he filed to overturn the 2020 results in four battleground states where former President Donald Trump lost.
But none of Bush’s attacks gained traction with socially conservative voters in the runoff, who said they preferred Paxton’s combative style to Bush’s more civil and polished approach. Voters cited Paxton’s frequent lawsuits against the Biden administration on immigration and COVID-19 policies, as well as his efforts on hot-button social issues like abortion and LGBTQ rights.
While Bush had supporters who embraced his vision of a more diverse Republican Party that welcomed people of different viewpoints, a majority of voters tied him to his family’s center-right, pro-business politics. That approach is not conservative enough for today’s Texas GOP, which has largely turned against establishment candidates. His opponents rallied around a call to “end the Bush dynasty” and lambasted Bush for his rightward shift during the campaign.
In the lead-up to the runoff, Bush said he supported state investigations into families that provided gender-affirming health care to transgender children, and he made border security a priority issue.
Paxton hit Bush for his change of tone, resurfacing 2014 comments from Bush in which he expressed support for the Texas Dream Act, a 2001 law that allows undocumented immigrants to receive in-state tuition at public universities. Bush now says he supports the Republican Party of Texas’ platform to repeal the law.
The race was also noteworthy for its negative campaigning. Paxton’s camp created an attack website titled GeorgePBushFacts.com that denounced him as a “RINO establishment darling who has sold out Texas” and hit him for his office’s management of Hurricane Harvey relief funds and its handling of the redevelopment of the Alamo.
Bush struck back with KenTheCrook.com, which proclaimed “it’s time to fire Ken Paxton” and detailed several legal and ethical issues that have plagued Paxton, including the FBI investigation, his securities fraud case and his reported extramarital affair.
But none of the attacks stuck to Paxton, who continued campaigning with socially conservative groups while avoiding head-to-head encounters with Bush where he could expose himself to attack.
Bush, who had challenged Paxton to five debates in the runoff and pledged to take the battle to the incumbent, was frustrated in his attempts to draw out Paxton. He also received no help from the two defeated candidates in the Republican primary, former Texas Supreme Court Justice Eva Guzman and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler, who refused to endorse in the race.
Things got worse for Bush as a slew of GOP officeholders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, released their endorsements of Paxton. Bush had been fighting an uphill battle since last year, when Trump rebuffed his request for an endorsement and instead sided with Paxton.
Paxton never took his foot off the pedal, continuing to file immigration lawsuits against the Biden administration and wading into legal battles over LGBTQ rights during the campaign. He frequently went on cable news shows to attack the Biden administration’s policies and lumped in Bush as the state’s “liberal land commissioner” with a “woke” agenda.
Paxton also fought back against those who questioned his ethics or legal acumen. When the state bar announced it was investigating a complaint against him for professional misconduct, Paxton called it a political attack and denounced the members of the disciplinary committee looking into the complaint as “leftist” Democratic sympathizers.
As the runoff election neared, polls showed Paxton with a strong lead over Bush. One poll found that 40% of Republican primary voters said they would never vote for Bush.
Paxton closed out the campaign confidently, attending packed meetings of conservative voters. Bush released a late flurry of negative attack ads against Paxton but did not gain the boost he needed.
Last week, Bush’s camp told reporters it would not have media availability on Election Day, a clear sign it did not expect a positive outcome. Paxton’s team, meanwhile, planned an election day watch party just north of Austin.
Paxton will face the winner of the Democratic runoff – either Brownsville lawyer Rochelle Garza or former Galveston Mayor Joe Jaworksi – in the November general election, where the odds are in his favor, as no Democrat has won a statewide seat in Texas since 1994.