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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Major Republican donors, including some that have contributed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s campaigns, joined other conservative Texans in signing an open letter supporting congressional action to increase gun restrictions in response to the mass shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two teachers dead last week.
The letter, which is expected to run as a full-page ad in the Dallas Morning News on Sunday, endorses the creation of red flag laws, expanding background checks and raising the age to purchase a gun to 21. More than 250 self-declared gun enthusiasts signed it.
“Most law enforcement experts believe these measures would make a difference,” the letter reads. “And recent polls of fellow conservatives suggest that there is strong support for such gun-safety measures.”
“We are grateful that our Senator John Cornyn is leading efforts to address the recent tragedies in Uvalde and elsewhere across our great Country,” the letter says. “He’s the right man to lead this bipartisan effort, as he has demonstrated throughout his career.”
In an interview with Politico, Cornyn stressed that he was not interested in “restricting the rights of law-abiding citizens under the Second Amendment,” but said it would be “embarrassing” if Uvalde didn’t spark Congress to reach some sort of bipartisan legislative response.
The letter was paid for by Todd Maclin, a former senior executive at J.P. Morgan Chase who now runs the Dallas-based finance firm Maclin Management. Maclin said he is a conservative gun owner who has been stirred to action by the shooting in Uvalde.
“These events have really motivated me and really gotten under my skin and encouraged me to support the effort that’s underway,” Maclin told The Texas Tribune. “I just felt like I needed to do something, and I also believe that there are reasonable things that can be done.”
He said he is still hearing from more conservative gun owners who are feeling a “great sense of urgency and a great need to support [Cornyn] as he does his best to address these issues.”
Maclin said the group is focusing on federal legislation, which he believes is the best avenue to passing gun safety laws and ensuring they are applied uniformly across the country. He declined to comment on the state response to the shooting or gun legislation, except to say that he hopes any federal plan led by Cornyn and passed with conservative support would be embraced by state governments.
Among the signatories are deep-pocketed Abbott supporters, including billionaires Robert Rowling, whose holding company owns Omni Hotels, and Ray L. Hunt, executive chairman of Hunt Consolidated Inc.
The contents of the letter are in line with policies Abbott and other party leaders, including Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, have supported in the past — though not the ones they are endorsing now.
After the 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, outside Houston, Abbott supported “red flag” laws, which would allow local officials to take someone’s guns away if a judge declares them to be a danger. He later dropped his support for the measure, citing a “coalescence” against it from his own party.
The next year, after back-to-back mass shootings in El Paso and Midland-Odessa, Patrick said he was “willing to take an arrow” from the National Rifle Association and support expanding background checks.
The next time the Legislature met, however, lawmakers instead passed a law that allows Texans to carry a handgun without a license or training.
This time, neither Patrick nor Abbott have expressed any support for tightening gun laws. They have instead offered suggestions that have ranged from expanding mental health services and minimizing the entrances to school buildings to doing surprise security checks.
On the federal level, both Cornyn and Sen. Ted Cruz have A+ ratings from the NRA and are top Senate recipients of gun industry donations. But they’ve taken differering tacks in response to the shooting in Uvalde.
Cruz said in the wake of the massacre that passing laws that restrict gun access “doesn’t work. It’s not effective. It doesn’t prevent crime.” But Cornyn has shown a willingness, now and in the past, to support some bipartisan gun legislation.
In the wake of the 2017 Sutherland Springs shooting outside San Antonio, Cornyn worked with Democratic colleagues to improve the background check system to prevent felons and domestic abusers from purchasing firearms.
He has also supported banning “bump stocks,” which allow semi-automatic guns to fire faster, and shepherded into law a bill that funded the screening and treatment of offenders with mental illness.
After last week’s shooting, Cornyn has said he’s “not interested in making a political statement,” but is focused on making “the terrible events that occurred in Uvalde less likely in the future.”
Legacy grocery store and deli Avenue B Grocery & Market, 4403 Avenue B, re-opened its hundred-year-old doors this week, serving up sandwiches after two years of a pandemic-induced closure.
Mason, the 10th owner of the location, has been running the shop largely by himself since his family bought the location to save it from closing in the early ‘90s. Mason greeted customers with a smile and a homemade sandwich on Friday while telling them a little bit about the history behind the building.
Mason, who would not let us photograph his face, starts removing the paper that has covered the menus for two years. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
“I'm still testing the water, gauging how things are gonna go and slowly bringing things back online,” Mason told Austonia. “I haven't personally been telling people I’m open yet because I wasn’t ready. Only today, as you saw, did I uncover the menu.”
Aside from the groceries and famous sandwiches, the store sells Maine Root sodas, candy, dinnerware, records and miscellaneous knick-knacks. If you ask, Mason will pull down some antiques from the shelves behind the till.
Try Ave. B's R.L.T. (Ross a.k.a avocado, mushrooms, green olives, lettuce and tomato), Mason's take on the classic sandwich. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
The store unofficially opened when passerbys saw lights inside on Wednesday but Mason said he never told anyone he was opening, it just sorta happened. Mason didn’t uncover his sandwich menus until Friday.
“It's my social life, you know, that's how I meet people and people come to visit me,” Mason said. “People have been very understanding. I wanted to be more relaxed and social–it used to be so busy.”
First-time Ave. B visitor Rose Bowditch recently moved to the Hyde Park neighborhood from California and told Austonia she had been waiting for the store to open up so she could see what was inside. Mason offered her roast beef samples while he helped her dig for jars.
Rose bought some mason jars and a teacup on her first visit. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
Meanwhile, Brianne Bowland and John Lyman began eating Mason’s sandwiches when Lyman started working nearby. The two said they’ve become big fans since and had been waiting for the reopening.
Bowland and Lyman took in all the sights upon their first time back in the building. (Laura Figi/Austonia)
“(Ave. B) is like a go-to for everyone in my company to come for lunch,” Lyman said. “I even have a T-shirt. I've always just loved that it's a really eclectic selection of things on the shelf–and then the sandwiches are really pretty special.”
Mason accepts call-in orders at all times except the busy rush hour at noon, during which he asks for your patience as he’s a one-man band. But patrons are free to stop by from 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Thursday-Monday for a great sandwich, conversation and a beer now that the store is back open.