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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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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