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  • Brookshire Brothers pharmacies offer COVID-19 vaccine

    BrookshiresFILE PHOTO Brookshire Brothers logo

    Special to the News-Standard

    LUFKIN — As distribution of the highly anticipated COVID-19 vaccine begins at a rapid pace, Brookshire Brothers Pharmacy is proud to be one of the first retailers in the nation to offer the vaccine, as it becomes available.

    To maximize access to COVID-19 vaccines for all Americans, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recently announced a governmental partnership with large chain pharmacies and networks that represent independent pharmacies and regional chains — including those in retail and grocery chains — to further increase access to the vaccine across the country — particularly in traditionally underserved areas.

    Brookshire Brothers is honored to partner with HHS and the states of Texas and Louisiana in offering COVID-19 vaccine.

    The vaccine will be available in a phased approach, with the first doses being offered to healthcare workers and residents of long-term health care facilities, followed by essential workers and other high-risk individuals. It is expected to be available to the general public by spring or early summer of 2021 and will be administered at no cost to patients.

    At the Tuesday, Dec. 22, Trinity County Commissioners’ Court meeting, Emergency Management Coordinator Richard Steptoe said that the Brookshire’s in Trinity has secured 40 vaccinations, and the Brookshire’s in Groveton has secured 10.

    “Ensuring access and affordability of the COVID-19 vaccine for all Americans is a top priority for the Trump Administration,” said HHS Secretary Alex Azar. “We are leveraging the existing private sector infrastructure to get safe and effective vaccines supported by Operation Warp Speed into communities and into arms as quickly as possible with no out-of-pocket costs. The vast majority of Americans live within five miles of a pharmacy, and our new agreement with pharmacy partners across America is a critical step toward making sure all Americans have access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines when they are available.”

    Many pharmacists, such as the ones who work at Brookshire Brothers, are trained to provide immunizations and are already important immunizers in their communities. Pharmacists have been heralded for playing a vital role in the public health response to COVID-19 by counseling patients and expanding access to childhood vaccinations during the pandemic. By working with these partners, the federal government will rapidly expand access to COVID-19 vaccines.

    “This is consistent with our commitment to being a trusted resource for our communities. Pharmacists and their staff are some of the most accessible healthcare professionals in the nation, and we stand ready to help increase access and convenience for people to receive the COVID-19 vaccine, once it is approved and available to us,” said Laura Edmundson, Director of Clinical Pharmacy Programs at Brookshire Brothers.

    For more information, visit BrookshireBrothers.com/pharmacy.

  • Coldspring schools going back to on-site learning

                                   PHOTO BY JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Coldspring-Oakhurst High School is one of two COCISD campuses that will do away with distance learning on Monday. Lincoln Junior High is the other.

    By Jason Chlapek

    COLDSPRING — Coldspring-Oakhurst CISD trustees voted to remove distance learning from Coldspring-Oakhurst High School and Lincoln Junior High during a special meeting on Nov. 2.

    While students at the high school and junior high in COCISD will no longer have distance learning beginning Monday, students at Coldspring Intermediate and James Street Elementary schools will still have the option of participating in distance learning. Students at the high school or junior high with underlying health conditions will still be eligible for distance learning.

    “The board met and heard input from the community, parents and teachers,” COCISD Superintendent Dr. Leland Moore. “We ultimately decided to go back to face-to-face in the high school and junior high, but leave it up to the parents for the intermediate and elementary. After talking with the principals and campus representatives, the board felt like some campuses needed to go back to face-to-face, while others were doing fine. We did this to maximize the learning process.”

    Moore said combating Covid-19 is, “an everyday job.” But, he believes the district has a great person in charge of health services — department director Kristi Benestante.

    “There’s something happening with Covid every day. It’s a struggle and we are experiencing some positive cases, but we have a very thorough process. Kristi has a process that keeps the kids healthy and safe. We listen to her. We had several kids identified as positive and she runs down the close contacts.”

    During October’s monthly meeting, COCISD trustees approved the holiday and vacation schedule. According to Moore, “TASB suggests that employees who work 240 days get paid holidays and vacations.”

    COCISD meets again at 6:30 p.m. Monday.

  • Congressman diagnosed with COVID

    Kevin BradyFILE PHOTO Congressman Kevin Brady

    TCNS staff

    WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Conroe, has been diagnosed with the coronavirus.

    According the congressman’s Twitter account, Brady said on Jan. 5 that the Office of House Physician informed him that he tested positive for COVID-19 and is under quarantine.

    Brady said that as had been recommended, he received a first dose of the Pfizer vaccine on Dec. 18. He said he tested negative for the virus as recently as New Year’s Day.

    He began treatment on Jan. 6

    According to a statement from his office, Brady had been practicing all guidelines laid out by the Center for Disease Control and House physicians, including social distancing and wearing a mask, and received a test as soon as he was experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

    He also received the second dose of the vaccine last week.

    The Pfizer vaccine is authorized by the FDA as a two-dose regimen with a 21-day interval between shots. Per the FDA, the effectiveness of the vaccine after a single dose is inconclusive.

    Brady was confident in the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine and is incredibly proud of the historic success of Operation Warp Speed, according to the statement.

    It also said that Brady is receiving outpatient treatment at Walter Reed Medical Center.

  • Congressman Kevin Brady looks to the next step in Washington

    Kevin BradyKevin Brady file photo - official portrait

    By Tony Farkas

    CONROEKevin Brady’s win in the election on Nov. 3 is like an energy drink — re-energizing the congressman to face the challenges ahead.

    “I’m really thrilled to be re-elected to Congressional District 8 of the Republic of Texas,” he said. “It’s an honor, always has been. However, despite the historic economic recovery after COVID, and a vaccine deployment arriving at a record pace, there’s still more work to be done.”

    Brady said his goal as Republican leader of the House Ways and Means Committee is to help defeat the coronavirus, create 10 million new jobs and create an economy even stronger than the one prior to the crash caused by the virus.

    “I’ve introduced legislation that would lock in the tax relief to benefit workers and businesses; to make America medically independent from China, and we hope to leapfrog America into the No. 1 innovation nation in the world and using our tax code to do that,” he said. “That will create millions of new tax-paying jobs, and spur manufacturing and research in America.”

    He also said he helped introduce new retirement legislation that will help more families, and more low-income workers, save for the future.

    On a separate matter, Brady said he was proud to report that the Democratic “blue wave” crashed and burned in Texas, despite record voter turnout during a COVID crisis.

    “I was proud that President Donald Trump won 230 of 254 counties in the state,” he said.
    “The Texas Republican delegation faced long odds this year, with six retirements and a total of 10 races targeted by national Democrats.”

    Brady said that despite Democrats predicting they would get the majority of the seats up for election, they got nothing, and it was especially embarrassing in the 23rd Congressional district, where a Texas Democrat promised a flip but did not deliver.

    Brady said he felt the Democrats failed to gain any ground in Texas is because conservative legislators reflect Texas values, and that there was no way to fund the crazy ideas that Democrats put for, such as defunding police.

    He also said that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision to stall any legislation designed to assist families dealing with the COVID crisis was a factor.

    “I’m proud that Republicans held the Texas House of representatives with no losses,” he said.

  • Court holds special session on flood infrastructure

    SJchildabuseawareness1EMILY KUBISCH-SABRSULA | SJNT The Courthouse lawn is festooned with Marvel and DC comic book characters and stars in honor of Child Abuse Awareness Month.

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT staff writer

    COLDSPRING — Residents of San Jacinto County can soon expect to see prescribed burns and surveyors with the U.S. Forest Service wrapping up their jobs around the Sam Houston National Forest, with improvements to come from them.

    During a special session on Wednesday, the court discussed plans to bid on CDBG-DR Harvey Round 1 projects, including on streets in the Waterwood subdivision and other roads in the county including Butch Arthur, Jeanette, Pelican, and Chipmunk roads.

    Improvements include plans to install culverts, clean neglected ditches and perform other means of flood mitigation, since several roads and bridges in the county historically flood via the San Jacinto river and several of its creeks.

    Pending the completion of the surveys and updates of county records, that information will be used to complete Harvey related projects as well as other potential areas of improvement including running new power lines and means to reduce speeding on the county’s curvier roads.

    Those still seeking to receive their first shot of the Covid-19 vaccine, either Pfizer or Moderna depending on availability, can reach out to the San Jacinto Office of Emergency Management at (936) 653-8714 for upcoming clinics.

    Those seeking a vaccine do not need to live in the county to receive one. This includes those participating in the ongoing Save Our Seniors Initiative, which aims to prioritizing getting the vaccine to those 75 years or older.

    The Enterprise Lease program continues to provide Chief Tim Keen with weekly check-ins but production cutback from pandemic-related problems have left the department without new vehicles, something that has been ongoing since late 2020.

  • COVID CRUSADER: Retired physician taking stand against virus

                                   JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Retired U.S. Army Col. And Dr. Ronald Tolls is an advocate for Covid safety.

    By Jason Chlapek

    LIVINGSTON — Ronald Tolls has held a few titles during his 80 years of life.

    Among those are U.S. Army Colonel and Doctor. Tolls has an unofficial title these days — Covid Crusader.

    Inspired by friends who relocated from Houston to Livingston during the initial outbreak of Covid-19, the retired doctor is taking it upon himself to help prevent the spread of the virus around the Livingston community. He believes it is easier to spread than other illnesses as well.

    “The first thing that happened is we had a couple that I vaguely knew from our church who were displaced from Houston. They’ve been with us ever since,” Tolls said. “I became aware of it acutely that Covid had spread and was highly communicable. People who were in nursing homes have a high fatality rate. I’ve since been following the CDC recommendations and I think they were off track for a while because they thought it was spread like a common cold or the Spanish Influenza. But in fact, it can be spread via aerosol, which is akin to the smoke that we smell around a bonfire. In other words, it’s far beyond the six feet.”

    Tolls has taken his mission to the Livingston Walmart. He believes the virus is more likely to be spread there as opposed to churches or schools.

    “In our church, we have social distancing,” Tolls said. “But at Walmart, it has all fallen on the wayside. About a month ago, I did a tally at Walmart and I found that 50% of employees were wearing their masks improperly. I’m a staunch believer that the No. 1 spread of Covid is not in our churches or in the open marketplace. It’s in shops. Walmart is the principal retailer in town. A third of the people that come in are not even wearing masks. I am eager to raise awareness and what I’m proposing is that, with all respect to Walmart because next to (Livingston ISD) they’re our No. 1 employer in town, we get a systemized program at Walmart. They’re examples to the rest of our community. They can beat their chest and say ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re not killing you by selling cigarettes as much as we’re trying to save you from Covid.’ Cigarettes will shorten your lifespan by 10 years and those very same people have the audacity to go out and have a team on Relay For Life.”

    During Tolls’ time at the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, University of London, he learned about a man named Sir John Snow. During the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854, Snow figured out a way to slow down the spread of the disease.

    “In the social area of London (in 1854), there were 500 fatalities in 10 days,” Tolls said. “Somebody asked John Snow what they should do about it. He said to take the handle off of the Broadstreet Pump. He had a box of pins and a map of that region. Essentially, in 1854, John Snow was a couple of generations ahead of his time. I will never be able to prove things like he did. I will never be able to prove with pins like he did. What I would like to do is promote a program at Walmart and other businesses will follow suit. I would like to see them do it in good face. I want our Walmart to be an example to the community.”

    Tolls retired from practicing medicine three years ago. In addition to Walmart, he is interested in talking to other high-traffic businesses in Livingston.

    “I think there’s something people need to know about and I think they need to know how to stop the spread of Covid,” Tolls said. “It’s killed 200,000 Americans. It behooves us to do something about it. I’d be quite willing to talk to other stores as well.”

    He’s staying on the crusade.

  • Covid forces cities to cancel Veterans Day ceremonies

    Onalaska FlagJASON CHLAPEK I PCE A pair of volunteers post flags along US Highway 190 in Onalaska to honor Veterans on Veterans Day, which was celebrated on Wednesday throughout the nation.

    By Jason Chlapek

    ONALASKA - A pair of Veterans Day ceremonies were canceled or postponed because of Covid-19.

    The Polk County Garden Club’s annual tribute to Veterans on the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker has been postponed until Memorial Day 2021, and Onalaska’s annual Veterans Day program was canceled. Onalaska Mayor Chip Choate chimed in on his city’s decision to cancel its annual ceremony.

    “We did not have a Veterans Day ceremony this year because of Covid,” Choate said. “Most of the Veterans in this area are senior citizens and they are the most vulnerable to this virus. We wanted to be very cautious and try to avoid any congregation, so we’re going to plan to have it next year. We have plans for Veterans Day 2021.”

    Onalaska still did something to honor Veterans, however. The city placed American flags along both sides of US Highway 190.

    “We put out the American flags three times a year — Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day,” Choate said. “We put the flags out a little early this year to let everyone have the opportunity to see the patriotism in our community.”

    Choate hopes the virus will run its course and not be a threat by Veterans Day next year. He also reminisced about previous Veterans Day ceremonies.

    “In the past, we invited Veterans throughout the community, played patriotic music and had speakers such as State Rep. James White, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy and Commissioner Rodney Vincent,” Choate said. “We also displayed flags and played the songs of each of the five branches of the service. We also do a muster. This is where we call out the names of Veterans from our area who passed away in the past year. When we call their names, we invite relatives or friends to call out, ‘Here,’ when their Veteran’s name is called.”

    At the Blue Star Marker, Livingston VFW Post 8568 teamed up with Livingston High School Junior ROTC cadets to present the flags. The Onalaska High School JROTC did something similar at the Onalaska Veterans Day ceremony.

     

  • Groveton continues mask policy

    Groveton ISD logoFILE PHOTO Groveton ISD logo

    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — the Groveton ISD School Board intends to leave well enough alone by keeping masking requirements in place through the end of the school year.

    At the board’s regular meeting on March 22, the board took no action regarding Gov. Greg Abbott’s order removing any restrictions connected with the coronavirus pandemic.

    Superintendent Don Hamilton said the state gave schools an option regarding masks only, making it a school board decision.

    “(A handout from the state) shows that as boards consider their mask policies, one thing to be aware of is the risk for litigation and grievances for COVID-19-related claims,” Hamilton said. “This is a hot topic — half the people want to do away with it, half the people want to keep it.”

    Hamilton said he spoke with School Nurse Virginia Redden, who pointed out the district was nine weeks away from school being out, and that the students and teachers have done too well to change.

    Board President Mark Folds said he could go either way, but since the district has been doing so well, he did not see a reason to change, and the board could take up the matter at a later date.

    In other business, the board:

    • •approved the purchase of a new school bus from Longhorn Bus Sales;
    • •approved changes to school policy based on recommendations from the Texas Association of School Boards;
    • •approved the school calendar for the 2021-22 school year;
    • •approved keeping the District of Innovation description, and appointed a planning committee; and
    • •discussed contracts for teachers.
  • Groveton rocked by mayor’s death

    mayorCOURTESY PHOTO Mayor Richards of Groveton

     
    By Tony Farkas

    GROVETON — Mayor Byron Richards of Groveton passed away on Monday from complications due to COVID-19.

    Funeral services are pending.

    Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Bennett said that Richards died last night, but he was not aware of it until he received a call at about 6:30 a.m. Tuesday from a fellow City Council member.

    “This is a shocking development,” Bennett said. “It’s hard for me to believe that he’s gone. We were aware he had possibly contracted the virus, and he had taken himself and his wife to CHI St. Luke’s Hospital in Lufkin.”

    Bennett also said that Richards contacted him Monday afternoon.

    “He told me over the phone that he wasn’t going to make it,” Bennett said. “It was a hard phone call to get. I’m still shook by it.

    “He thanked the secretaries for the job they’ve done for the city, and thanked the Council for backing him 100 percent,” Bennett said. “He said that I would do a good job for the city.”

    County Judge Doug Page, who also serves as the county’s Emergency Management director, called the news shocking.

    He said that Richards found out he had contracted the virus on New Year’s Eve.

    “As long as we’ve been dealing with the coronavirus, it’s the quickest I’ve heard of it taking someone down,” Page said. “It’s hitting close to home, and we will react appropriately at the county level.”

    Bennett said Richards’ wife, Sandi, also had contracted the disease, but has improved and been taken home.

    Bennett described Richards as a very humble man who was extremely passionate about Groveton.

    “The projects with the downtown renovations and changes with the water well, Richards was adamant about getting that done for the betterment of the community,” Bennett said.

    Bennett said the city plans to carry out all current projects.

    “We shouldn’t lose any continuity in those. I have a good idea of what to do,” he said. “It was always a dream for the council to bring about change the city, and the mayor was the perfect face for that.”

    Bennett said he will assume mayoral duties.

    Page said the county will continue to follow all state edicts regarding COVID-19.

    He also said there will be a free coronavirus testing from 8 a.m.- 4 p.m. Thursday at the Volunteer Fire Department in Trinity.

  • Houston County named to ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative

    NEWS Vaccine 031721FILE PHOTO

    By Chris Edwards

    CROCKETT – Governor Greg Abbott announced today that Houston County is one of four East Texas counties added to the statewide “Save Our Seniors” initiative.

    The initiative was announced on March 1 by Abbott to ensure that more senior citizens are vaccinated throughout the state. Houston County senior citizens can receive their free shot at the Crockett Civic Center Thursday, March 18 and Friday, March 19.

    The vaccines, which will be administered by a military team, will be available from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each of the two days. According to the Houston County Office of Emergency Management and Fire Marshal, the availability in the county of the vaccine as part of the initiative is the most recent plan to protect the county’s citizens. Five hundred doses of the Moderna vaccine will be available at the vaccination center.

    Anyone who is age 50 or older, along with members of the same household (21 and older) and/or caregivers is eligible for the vaccines on these dates. The availability has also been opened to employees of the education field.

    Other counties in the region that were added to this wave of the initiative are Trinity, Shelby and Hopkins. This is the third week, thus far, and there were previously 26 and 34 counties participating, respectively, each of the other two weeks. This week, in total, there are 28 Texas counties named to the initiative by the Texas Division of Emergency (TDEM), the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Texas Military Department (TMD.)

    “The continued expansion of our ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative is protecting elderly Texans from COVID-19 and ramping up our vaccination efforts across the state,” Abbott said.

    For those who have questions regarding the vaccine or might need to schedule a home visit for a home-bound individual, they can call 936-544-7175, and registration is also available on-site. The Civic Center is located at 1100 Edmiston Drive in Crockett.

  • Interview with Covid survivors (VIDEO)


    covid interviewCALEB FORTENBERRY | PCPC Livingston Volunteer Fire Chief, Corky Cochran and Livingston Junior High Coach, John Taylor speak on their experience of surviving Covid-19 in the exclusive East Texas News interview.

     

     

  • Interviews with WWII veterans

    coogler3FILE PHOTO | COURTESY OF POLK COUNTY MEMORIAL MUSEUM J.D. Coogler

    By Brian Besch

    LIVINGSTON - One of the treasures of the Polk County Memorial Museum are recordings that some of the staff have begun compiling. With Veteran’s Day so near and many of the usual events canceled from Covid-19, some of the museum’s more timely are interviews with World War II veterans.

    In conversations with Polk County Historical Commission co-chair Joyce Johnston and others, a few of the Polk County heroes speak of their role in one of the world’s most well-known events.

    Jimmy Parker was on one of the 16 planes from the Doolittle Raid, the American air strike that was retaliation for the attack on Pearl Harbor.

    “General (James) Doolittle came in and said, ‘We’re going on a mission. We’re going to bomb one of our enemies in war and deliver these aircrafts to one of our allies.’” Parker says in the interview.

    “We were supposed to go in the afternoon. Doolittle was going to light up the city and we were going to go in and bomb where the lights were.”

    J.D. Coogler spoke of his service overseas in Italy as an engineer and top turret gunner.

    Coogler spent around nine or 10 months flying missions in Italy, where once he landed, said he knew he “was in the combat area then.”

    The veteran also told of facilities and supplies at the camp, friends in his camp who were shot down in action, as well as some of his missions.

    Some of his stories included having to help land a plane after an engine going out and dropping bombs over Czechoslovakia.

    Avery Merdolf Walker told of his time graduating Livingston High School in 1941, going on to letter in football, basketball and track at Sam Houston State. He would also play a year for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

    Walker was drafted after Pearl Harbor was attacked and he was placed in the Army combat engineers.

    “We mostly did work; we didn’t do much fighting,” Walker said in the recording. “We did all kinds of road work and construction work, and on the island of Guam, we built a big runway that the B-29s took off from that dropped the atomic bombs that ended the war.”

    These interviews and many others can be found on the museum’s website at http://www.polkcountymemorialmuseum.com/oral-history/ 

     

  • Judge Blanchette fights COVID

    Blanchette 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette swearing in Warren ISD board members in November, 2020.

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE – Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette found himself among the 13 million Americans who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus this year.

    Blanchette received a positive result from a COVID-19 test administered on Friday, Nov. 28. He said he had begun feeling ill the day before Thanksgiving, and by Friday was very sick. He is currently staying confined at home. His wife, Leeza, had also fallen ill with the virus and is recuperating.

    An update from the Tyler County Emergency Management Facebook page noted Blanchette’s announcement and that he appreciates the prayers and support from the public in his recovery.

    As the pandemic has experienced a nationwide surge in the past month, the likelihood of infection has increased, and anyone is fair game for the virus.

    Several other elected officials in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus. According to a recent story from KJAS out of Jasper, the Jasper ISD School Board President Mark Durand and the county’s Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Raymond Hopson were both diagnosed with the virus last week.

    Hopson was elected to fill the seat held by Judge Jimmy Miller who died from coronavirus complications during the summer.

    In Tyler County, the total number of confirmed cases has surpassed 300, and at press time is at 320. This number represents the total number of positive cases in the county since reporting began in late March with the first confirmed case.

    Two recent deaths were also reported as COVID-related. Last week, Ruby Moore, of Warren, died from complications, and the week prior, Ethel McGough’s passing was linked to the virus.

    Those two deaths brings the COVID death count to nine in the county.

    In other COVID news, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe recently addressed the methodology for reporting the county’s number of cases and added reportage for the number of quick tests administered. Jobe said those cases are not listed by public health as active, but they are tracked, investigated and logged in the system as “probables.”

    In addressing questions about the seeming lapse in reporting cases, Jobe said “The public health numbers and my numbers don’t always match,” which he attributed to a timing issue.

    Additionally, the numbers from public health sources use the test date as the starting date for active cases, and then county 10 days and remove from active if they do not receive the result, Jobe said. Those cases are posted to the recovered category. “Several counties where we have residents go test are slow to get results to our public health group,” he said.

  • KISD trustees make mask wearing optional

    KISD supt img page wz0estCOURTESY PHOTO KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey

    By Alton Porter

    Like students, faculty members and staffers in other independent school districts across the state, those in Kennard now can choose whether or not to wear face coverings to school.

    Members of the Kennard Independent School District Board of Trustees approved a “mask or no mask requirement,” giving students and district personnel the options at a regular board meeting Monday, March 15.

    The trustees took the action in response to an executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott March 2 and which took effect March 10, lifting his former statewide mask mandate and a change in health guidelines by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), according to KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

    “Our board approved the no mask requirement. However, it is optional. If a student or staff member wants to continue to wear their mask, they may do so. It is optional at this time.”

    Before Abbott issued the recent executive order, “TEA required us all to wear masks, based on the governor’s orders,” including his mask mandate executive order issued during the week of June 29 last year), Lindsey said.

    “And since he changed, TEA had changed their health guidelines. And it said that the only thing that the schools could do—the board had the local authority to change the mask requirement. We still have to continue to follow TEA’s public health guidance. But the only thing that we could change was the mask requirement. The school board had the authority to make that decision.”

    Among other actions taken at the meeting, the trustees approved a “missed school day waiver” to account for days missed by school employees during last month’s severe winter storms.

    “Due to the winter freeze in February, we had to ask TEA for waivers, due to not having electricity and those types of things,” the KISD superintendent said. “And we asked for waivers from Feb. 16-19 because that Monday (Feb. 15, when the first of the two storms created electrical power outage and water service loss problems), we were already out for a holiday.”

    The waiver eliminates the requirement that the staffers make up for those missed days, Lindsey said, adding, they will be paid as usual for those days.

    In other business, the KISD trustees voted to approve the district’s school calendar for the 2021-2022 school year and approved an Instructional Materials Recommendation Proclamation for 2021.

    A copy of the calendar is posted on the district’s website and Facebook page.

    About the instructional materials recommendation proclamation, Lindsey said, “This year is time to adopt new materials for pre-k, and we recommended to adopt Frog Street (one of several pre-kindergarten curriculums provided by an approved vendor included on a list provided by TEA),” and the recommendation was approved.

    “TEA provides a list of approved vendors for us to look at that they feel are appropriate and aligned with text,” Lindsey said. “And then, it’s up to the district to evaluate those on the list to make the best recommendation for their district.

    “It’s the curriculum that our teachers will use that are based on the pre-k guidelines. We currently use the program, but now it’s time to adopt our instructional coach. And our teachers did and evaluation process of three vendors and found that Frog Street they felt would be the best to meet the needs of our kids.”

    In another action, the trustees approved contracting with the Axley & Rode, LLP, certified public accounting firm, to serve as the district’s auditor for the 2021-2022 school and fiscal year.

    During reports by Principal Oscar Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Robin Stowe, it was noted that “we gave benchmarks last week,” said Lindsey. “And we just had a summary of our data to look at where we need to do some intervention prior to giving STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness).”

    Lindsey said Encarnacion and Stowe were to meet with teachers Thursday or Friday, March 18 or 19, “to go over that data and make individual student plans” for administering the test. She said the district is required by TEA to administer the test this school year, adding, “we have chosen this year to go all online 100% for testing.” Most of the test will be administered to students in late May, she said.

    Students in grades three through eight, will be given the tests, Lindsey said. “And then, you have your Algebra I, Biology, US History, English I and English II” high school classes that will be administered tests.

    During the meeting, student participants in this year’s Kennard High School one-act play cast and staff were recognized for their success in advancing to bi-district competition, which took place Monday, March 22.

    “We also recognized our basketball all-district students,” Lindsey said, adding, “and our coach, Cory Carden, was named district coach of the year. So, we were very proud of him.”

    After reconvening the open, public part of the meeting, following a closed, executive session, the trustees approved annual contracts for Principal Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Stowe; the resignation of former school nurse Diann Deckard; and routine requests for personnel employment, teacher contract renewal and proposed renewal, renewals for professional employees in non-certified positions and approval of at-will employees for 2021-2022, Lindsey said.

  • Nursing home makes event out of COVID vaccinations

    011421 vaccine 1COURTESY PHOTO Claudia Brown, a resident of Trinity Rehabilitation Center, helps “Tackle COVID” by receiving the first of two vaccines.

    By Tony Farkas

    TRINITY — Mary Poppins did it with song and sugar; Trinity Rehabilitation Center did it with football and cupcakes.

    Folks at the senior citizen center on Thursday rolled out a COVID-19 immunization plan with the theme of Tackle COVID, according to center CEO and Owner Darcy Whatley.

    “We had our vaccines today for staff and patients,” she said. “CVS Pharmacy, through the federal Operation Warp Speed, and they administered the vaccine to the employees and all the residents.”

    011421 vaccine 3COURTESY PHOTO April Ross-Lester, activity director for Trinity Rehabilitation and Healthcare Center, signs the field showing she has helped “Tackle COVID” by being immunized.

    The promotion was to get the employees behind receiving the vaccine, and those that did were able to sign a commemorative football field.

    The promotion was part of educating both the staff and the residents to the need for the vaccine, and listed all the benefits of being treated, so that they would volunteer. Whatley said that pretty much all residents signed up.

    Additionally, Dr. James Crawford, one of the facility’s medical directors, talked with the staff about the importance of the vaccine, which helped convince employees.

    In 21 days, the second required vaccine will be administered, possibly to a baseball theme, Whatley said.

  • OEM, health officials host Covid vaccine clinic

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE A patient rolls up her sleeve prior to receiving the Covid-19 vaccine Tuesday morning.

    JUST A LITTLE PINCH

    By Jason Chlapek

    When it comes to combating illness such as viruses, influenza or a pandemic as Covid-19, most health officials would say that it’s better to be proactive than reactive.

    On Tuesday, the Polk County Office of Emergency Management teamed up with Dr. Raymond Luna, CHI St. Luke’s Health Memorial Hospital, Brookshire Brothers, Angelina County & Cities Health District, Texas Department of State Health Services and various volunteers to administer the first round of Covid vaccines for area residents. The vaccine clinic took place at the Polk County Commerce Center in Livingston, where 200 proactive residents received their first dose of the two-dose vaccine.

    “The vaccine was administered to front-line workers, who are in Phase 1A of the Texas Vaccination Plan, and Phase 1B, who are persons over the age of 65 or 16 and older with at least one chronic medical condition,” Polk County OEM Coordinator Courtney Comstock said. “We have been directing people to go to the Brookshire Brothers website to get on the vaccine list. That’s where these persons were pulled from (Tuesday).”

    The OEM is implementing its health district’s mass vaccination plan to vaccinate residents in larger numbers. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have already been vaccinated by federal pharmacy partners.

    To date, more than 1,600 Polk County residents have received their first dose of the vaccine, with 49 of those being fully vaccinated and other residents in the process to receive the second dose. The OEM has reached out to the state to request larger future vaccine allocations.

    “All area COVID-19 provider partners are coordinating together to plan for future vaccination clinics,” Comstock said. “We’ll continue to coordinate with our Covid vaccine partners to schedule future clinics like this and we’ll schedule appointments with residents who have signed up on the Brookshire Brothers website. We have requested that the state expedite the approval of additional providers of the vaccine. The state health department has released instructions on how persons can register to receive the vaccine. If they’re able to travel to a nearby county. We’re asking the community to be aware that other providers will be added to the Polk County list.”

    Although the Brookshire Brothers waitlist has been temporarily suspended due to vaccine shortages, partner agencies are working together to find solutions that incorporate those on the current list, and residents are encouraged to check back often as the county anticipates the waitlist will reopen when additional vaccine is allocated.

    Luna, a longtime family medicine practitioner, could easily be nicknamed, “Dr. Emergency.” Since coming to Livingston in 1985 to join Dr. Jerry Wood’s practice, the bicycle-riding physician and Livingston city council alderman has worked with multiple emergency situations.

    “I volunteered to be a county medical officer a long time ago,” Luna said. “I’ve worked closely with the OEM and the health department during tornadoes, hurricanes, Zika virus and anything that involves emergency or medical aspect to it.”

    For additional information on the vaccine, people are encouraged to contact the Angelina County & Cities Health District hotline at 936-630-8500.

  • Remembering Groveton Mayor Byron Richards

    011421 obit richardsCOURTESY PHOTO Byron Allen Richards

    June 12, 1941 - Jan. 5, 2021

    Byron Allen Richards died and went to his eternal home to be with his Lord and Savior, Jesus, on Jan. 5, 2021, in Lufkin, at the age of 79 years. He was born in Houston on June 12, 1941, to Ransom Allen Richards and Marjorie Nell Singletary Richards.

    Byron was a loving husband, father, brother and grandfather. He worked and retired from banking after more than 40 years of service, ending his career at First Bank of Groveton when he retired in 2006. Afterwards, he was appointed as Mayor of Groveton, where he served for 10 years until his death. He loved Groveton and the surrounding communities. During his term as Mayor, he oversaw multiple projects for the city, including improvements to the community water and sewer system, positioning the City of Groveton for long-term viability. He was most proud of the project he worked on for more than six years — restoring downtown Groveton. He worked diligently in applying for numerous grants to fund the renovation. Under his leadership, the city has been able to invest more than $50 million into its infrastructure. He loved to help people and recently answered the call to become a volunteer chaplain. Byron served as the assistant chaplain of CHI St. Luke’s Health Care for two years and enjoyed visiting with patients twice a week every week. He never missed a day. Byron was a past member of Lion’s Club and was voted citizen of the year during 2019-2020. He also enjoyed motorcycles, especially Harley Davidsons. He liked going on motorcycle trips and when he wasn’t tinkering with that then his other “pride and joy” was his classic Ford truck.

    Byron is preceded in death by his parents, Ransom Richards and Marjorie Richards; and his brother, Gary Neil Richards. His survivors include his loving wife of 38 years, Sandra Richards; of Groveton; his sons, Gregory A. Richards and wife, Kimberly Richards, of Kerrville, and Ty Wenglar, and wife, Cathy, of Austin; daughters, Gina Diane Hollis and husband, Ron Hollis, of Austin, and Tia McLaughlin and husband, Grant McLaughlin, of Lovelady; his grandchildren, Macy, Alex, Emily, Mikinna, Micheala, Jonah, Brook Elizabeth, Jaxson, John Paul, Zohe Marie, Vivian, Reagan, and Liam; and a host of other relatives and friends.

    Celebration of life services will begin at 10 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 16, at Pennington Baptist Church in Pennington, with the Rev. Bud Magee officiating and the Rev. Drew Scott assisting. The family understands that friends may not want to attend the celebration of life due to concerns over the spread of COVID. Friends are welcome to send their fondest memories, stories or prayers by emailing them to Bryon's son, Greg, at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

    In lieu of flowers, the family invites friends to purchase a commemorative paver for the Groveton downtown sidewalk. Please contact City Secretary Donna Dial for details.

    Please share your memories with the family and sign our online guestbook by visiting www.grovetonfuneralhome.com

  • Save Our Seniors initiative starts in San Jacinto County

    031121 SOS 2EMILY KUBISCH-SABRSULA | SJNT Sergeant Rachelle Thomas and her team of medics and administrators teamed up with the San Jacinto County’s Office of Emergency Management to keep the clinic running smoothly, with 105 doses administered in the first day.

    By Emily Kubisch-Sabrsula
    SJNT Staff Writer

    COLDSPRING — Last week, San Jacinto County was the first of 26 counties in Texas to implement the Save Our Seniors vaccination program, meant to get the first round of the vaccine into the arms of the county’s older citizens.

    Volunteers, who have already been working to assist with distribution at the Brookshire Brothers, along with Army medics, worked side by side to administer the allotted 200 vaccines, with 105 doses of the Moderna vaccine being used in the first day at the Coldspring Emergency Shelter.

    Medics also drove around the county to give the first dose to those who are homebound, with officials in the Operations and Emergency Management office calling residents in the county to make sure they were aware of the free program.

    The initiative was originally intended for those 75 and older with an appointment, but volunteers moved to contact those 65 and older on the second day as to not waste any of the vaccines, which must be kept refrigerated.

    Among those assisting the San Jacinto County OEM office in distribution was Sgt. Rashelle Thomas and her team of certified medics and administrators, who are based out of Lufkin and will continue moving around East Texas to assist in distribution, including in Shelby and Panola county.

    “The volunteers and the town are awesome, and we just enjoy all the people we’ve gotten to work with,” she said.

    The county, which has been holding vaccination clinics through several outlets prior to last week’s event, claims luck had a small part to do with why the county was chosen as the first to pilot the program, which was put together in less than a week.

    “The first day was a little hectic, but we’ve had a steady flow of participants and it’s gone smooth,” SJ County Judge Fritz Faulkner, equipped with a mask, said. “This has really been a blessing.”

    Other factors, as stated on the governor’s website, include vaccination rates among seniors and total vaccine allocations over the past three months.

    Participants will need to return approximately three weeks after the first shot, as indicated on their form. Those who have received the vaccine are encouraged to continue wearing masks in public and practicing social distancing, as indicated on the CDC website.

    While the vaccine has been proven effective in reducing symptoms, specifically those that lead to hospitalization, it’s ability to reduce spread is still being monitored.

  • Smallwood updates Rotarians on SPCA

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE SPCA of Polk County communications lead Jessica Smallwood speaks at Rotary Club of Livingston last month.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Covid-19 slowed a lot of things down in 2020.

    SPCA continued to work as usual. The animal shelter took in 2,000 dogs and cats in 2020.

    SPCA of Polk County communications lead Jessica Smallwood gave members of the Rotary Club of Livingston a rundown on what her shelter has done and what it is doing during a Rotary Club meeting last month. She also gave Rotarians a glimpse into what’s different between her shelter and shelters in other counties.

    “We are a nonprofit, no-kill animal shelter,” Smallwood said. “We primarily serve Polk County, but we are also one of the few shelters that takes animals from outside the county. We get a lot animals brought in from San Jacinto and Montgomery counties, and even some from Lufkin. That is one of the things that makes us unique. Most other animal shelters refuse animals from outside their own county.”

    In 2020 alone, SPCA of Polk County took in 1,579 dogs and 420 cats. Of those animals, approximately 69 percent of them were adopted – 1,159 dogs, 219 cats.

    The months with the highest number of intakes were April for dogs (183) and June for cats (79). The months with the highest number of adoptions were May for dogs (222) and February for cats (58).

    “We have a good number of transport rescues that we do work with,” Smallwood said. “Just this past year, we took in more than 1,300 animals from Polk County and surrounding counties. We were able to place or transport 80 percent of them.”

    Smallwood said that her shelter has a “revolving door” of animals. She also said that things can be unpredictable at times.

    “We might have a great day of adoptions and get seven animals into a new home, then just as we’re about to close for the day, we get a call that someone has picked up a litter of puppies in a trash can,” Smallwood said. “Things like that happen all the time. About a week after Christmas, we took in no less than seven full litters of puppies, which contained 8-13 per litter.”

    Smallwood pointed out that in December 2020, 79 out of 126 dogs brought in were strays (homeless, abandoned, etc.). She also said that although SPCA gets plenty of calls about stray animals being found, the shelter gets more calls from people looking to volunteer.

    One of the biggest programs that SPCA offers is the TNR (trap, neuter, release) or "Fix A Feral" program. This program works with local veterinarians and the public to help curb the feral cat population through spaying and neutering.

    Some of the participating veterinarians do vaccinate against rabies and feline leukemia as funding allows, but none for FIV/FIP (testing and vaccinating for that in particular is more expensive than the TNR program can currently afford). The average cost to spay/neuter these feral cats is $60 per cat.

    “It is breeding season here year-round,” Smallwood said. “We also offer low-income spay and neuter programs as well as a mobile clinic.”

    Both the SPCA and its TNR program operate entirely on donations, and neither receives any funding from local or federal government. Smallwood also pointed out that SPCA wants to be involved in the community.

    “We have a number of community event ideas such as a Holiday Pet Photo Day,” she said. “We want to expand outreach in the community.”

  • Spurger ISD ends in-person instruction for a week

    Morgan WrightCALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Spurger ISD Superintendant Morgan Wright speaks at a monthly board meeting in September 2020.

    By Chris Edwards

    SPURGER – A spike in COVID-19 numbers resulted in a closure for in-person learning at Spurger ISD this week.

    The district’s superintendent Morgan Wright said that administrators and faculty have been actively monitoring the numbers of positive cases, and there has been a steady increase in those numbers among both SISD staff and students as well as in the community.

    “After a few days of discussion we believe it is in the best interest of the students, staff and our Spurger community that we exercise a five-day remote option the week of Nov. 30 - Dec. 4.,” Wright stated in a letter he released on Friday, Nov. 27.

    Wright said that going solely remote for a week will help control the exposure numbers. “Our desire to be remote for a week is that it will prevent the district from having a major outbreak,” he said.

    Spurger began the school year in an entirely remote mode for its first four weeks of the current school year. Wright said the move allowed faculty to focus on how to operate with asynchronous learning, as well as the ability to troubleshoot for both parents and teachers.

    Up until last week, Wright said, the district’s numbers have been fairly low. “The potential for increased exposure has become evident in the growing numbers being reported. We want to do our part to protect everyone that is a part of Spurger ISD,” he said.

    The district will resume in-person instruction on Monday, Dec. 7. For any parents or guardians who need a Verizon Hotspot or a Wi-Fi device for connection, the district has some available. Andrea Wilson is the point of contact for the district’s technology, and can be contacted at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. to schedule a time to pick up a device.