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Commissioners approve conditional CARES funding for Leander, Round Rock school districts

Leander ISD and Round Rock ISD represent more than 70% of Williamson County students. The districts will get more than $8M combined.

WILLIAMSON COUNTY, Texas — On Tuesday, the Williamson County Commissioners Court unanimously approved providing more than $8 million in CARES Act funding to Round Rock ISD and Leander ISD to pay for pandemic-related expenses.

The funding comes with two conditions. In LISD, the funding "must be used for reimbursement of the eligible line items provided to the County Treasurer with no substitutions," and "The District follow their approved process and that District staff report to the LISD Board of trustees at a Board meeting and make [the report] available on the District website no later than April 30, 2022 the full and complete results of the EF Local review process (or whatever the right name is for removal from all digital and main campus libraries) of the 11 books that were removed through the District approved CCAC process."

LISD is set to receive $3,738,000 in CARES Act funding from Williamson County. The 11 books referenced by County Commissioner Cynthia Long have been banned from certain reading lists and classroom libraries within LISD, but are still available on campus libraries. Long's motion seeks to have the district review the books to determine if removal from physical and digital libraries in LISD would also be appropriate.

RELATED: Llano County Library temporarily closing to review content of children's books

In an email exchange verified by KVUE, Long points out that some parents were misled with LISD's year-long process.

"I was surprised, along with many of our shared constituents, to find out that those books were re-purposed to the main school library and were not actually removed completely," Long said in an email sent to LISD Superintendent Bruce Gearing.

RELATED: State reps. respond to Williamson County decision to withhold CARES Act funding over library books

For RRISD, the County is set to grant about $4,950,625 in CARES Act funding on the condition the district follows its own policies regarding timeliness reviewing books if a complaint is made against reading material available to students. According to RRISD's website, the instructional material review process could take up to 30 days at most, pending appeals by the person who filed the complaint.

RRISD provided library book complaint procedures in an email statement:

"Within 5 working days, the teacher that assigned the resource or the librarian that has the book in the library would schedule time to listen to the parent's concern. At this time, it would be explained that parents always have a right to choose what their child reads. The objectives and selection criteria in Board Policy EF (Local) should be shared with the parent/guardian. Librarians explain the Library Bill of Rights and Freedom to Read. An alternative assignment can be made if this was assigned in class or returned to the library if it was self-selected for independent reading. If the teacher or librarian is unfamiliar with the text, this would be the time the resource would be reviewed by the teacher or librarian so it could be determined if there is indeed a better placement for the book. (For example, sometimes when the book is reexamined we decide to send it from the elementary to middle school or from middle school to high school, etc.) If the parent is not satisfied with an alternative book assignment or the explanation of policy and how parents can choose for their child but not for other students in the library, the parent may then want to move to Step Two in the informal process.

"Step Two of the informal process happens five (5) days after the complainant indicates their dissatisfaction with the results of Step One. Step Two involves meeting with the principal and the principal listens to the parent's concerns and works to resolve them. This is when the parent could also be referred to someone with additional information such as the Director of Library Services or the Director of Curriculum.

"After this informal meeting in Step Two, if the issue is not resolved, the parent can then choose to file a formal challenge. A formal challenge can ONLY be started when all of the informal steps are followed and completed. See EF (Exhibit E) for details. If the parent chooses to file a Level 1 reconsideration, he/she must read the book in its entirety."

In a separate statement, RRISD was happy with the outcome.

"We are very glad that Williamson County Commissioners approved the additional CARES Act funding that will directly benefit Round Rock ISD students. This funding is specifically designated to help school districts navigate the added expenses brought on by the pandemic and is a much-needed and much-appreciated resource as we continue to navigate through these challenging times," RRISD said in a statement.

RELATED: Leander ISD meets with Williamson County Commissioners over book review process

LISD, even with more specific stipulations than RRISD, echoed the statement.

"We appreciate the opportunity for continued dialogue with Williamson County officials regarding federal CARES funding for our students and classrooms," LISD said on its website. "The $3.7 million for Leander ISD would allow our district to reallocate and have additional resources to support student learning as we continue to navigate the pandemic. The federal legislation was intended to support communities during the global health crisis, which is how we would use the funding for the benefit of children. We have spent 16 months working with our community and Board to refine a process and policy for reviewing instructional materials. The last 16 months have taught us that decisions regarding instructional resources and children are not uniform for all families. This is why we have rallied around the choice and voice of our community and families. We will continue to do so, aligning with the vision, local control, and governance of our independently elected Board of Trustees."

The statement is similar to another email exchange between Gearing and Long that surfaced on social media on Monday. KVUE confirmed the authenticity of the email exchange on Monday.

More than 40 people spoke at Tuesday's meeting on the agenda item to provide CARES Act funding to RRISD and LISD. Some urged the commissioners to continue withholding the funding. One man thanked the commissioners for their decision last week.

"Thank you for the courage that you showed last week and trying to hold our school districts to account specifically Leander Independent School District and Round Rock Independent School District, both of which have made national headlines because of their filthy pornography that they've been putting in the school classrooms where students can pick up that, that filth and be contaminated by it," he said.

However, many others, including teachers, encouraged commissioners to grant the funding to both districts.

The funding needed to be spent by the end of 2021, but does not need to be paid out until Sept. 30, 2022.

Four other districts received money from this round of the CARES Act funding during the Dec. 14 Commissioners Court meeting: Georgetown, Hutto, Liberty Hill and Taylor ISDs.


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