Texas woman spots alligator with knife in its head at community lake

An alligator with a knife in its head was found in a Sugar Land neighborhood lake.

An alligator with a knife in its head was found in a Sugar Land neighborhood lake.

Photo: Courtesy

Sugar Land resident Erin Weaver, who lives at Orchard Lakes Estates, is used to seeing alligators at her neighborhood lake.

On Thursday, however, something unusual caught her eye: A gator with a large protruding item in its head.

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"I stopped and was watching it when it turned and swam towards me," Weaver told Chron.com.

On CHRON.COM: 11-foot alligator breaks into Florida home

"It came up to the edge of the water and sat there. It had what looked like a steak knife sticking out of its head, near its right eye."

Weaver said the gator, which she estimates was 6- to 7- feet-long, showed no aggression and she felt comfortable moving closer to the animal to asses the situation and take photos.

"Someone had to get up close to the gator in order to stab a knife through its thick skin," she said. "I don’t understand why someone would be so cruel."

Gator won’t go without a fight: 8-foot reptile caught near Cleveland throws-off wrangler

Weaver posted her photos to her community’s Facebook page for assistance. Hopefully, help is on the way.

A Texas Parks and Wildlife game warden is expected to evaluate the alligator on Friday, she said.

Marcy de Luna is a digital reporter. You can follow her on Twitter @MarcydeLuna and Facebook @MarcydeLuna. Read her stories on our breaking news site, Chron.com, and on our subscriber site, HoustonChronicle.com. | Marcy.deLuna@chron.com | Text CHRON to 77453 to receive breaking news alerts by text message

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Tornadoes touch down in Texas and beyond

Tornadoes touch down in Texas and beyond

A spate of tornadoes raked across the Southern Plains on Saturday, leaving damage and causing injuries, with parts of the region bracing for more severe thunderstorms and possible flooding.

The National Weather Service confirmed an EF-2 twister Saturday morning with winds up to 130 mph that destroyed at least two homes and left one person with minor injuries in southwestern Oklahoma.

A suspected tornado caused roof damage to "numerous" homes in northwestern Arkansas, a state official said, and severe winds downed trees and power lines across a highway, blocking all lanes.

Tornadoes touched down Friday in Kansas and rural Nebraska, tearing up trees and power lines, and damaging homes and farm buildings, according to the National Weather Service.

In Abilene, Texas, 150 miles west of Fort Worth, strong winds prompted the evacuation of a nursing home and left many homes and businesses damaged, according to the Abilene Reporter-News. A spokeswoman for the city said no deaths or serious injuries were reported.

The National Weather Service issued a tornado watch for the western half of Arkansas. Portions of North Texas also were under a tornado watch, and a flash-flood warning was issued in the Dallas area.

Forecasters warned of heavy rain, lightning, ping-pong-ball-sized hail and flooding as a line of storms moved west to east, covering an area from south of Killeen, Texas, to north of the Oklahoma state line.

In Oklahoma City, thunderstorms prevented workers from securing and removing glass from Devon Tower, which was damaged Wednesday when a scaffolding holding two window washers banged against the building, the Oklahoman reported. Officials said the rain and wind blew broken glass from the tower and compromised the integrity of other panes.

Fire officials in Comanche County, Okla., said that two people escaped from a home destroyed by a tornado without injury, and another person was taken to a hospital as a precaution.

Meanwhile, in Montana, snowmelt and rain have caused the Clark Fork River to rise, with officials issuing a flood warning.

Ray Nickless of the weather service said recent warm weather was melting mountain snowpack and rain was expected to add to the rising flows.

The flood warning includes the same Missoula neighborhood that flooded at this time last year and forced the evacuation of dozens of homes.

A promotional image.

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Roach lifts Texas past TCU 58-44 and into NIT championship

NEW YORK (AP) — Kerwin Roach II is the Texas guard’s name, the numerals not part of the running tally marker for his season suspensions.

Back on the roster, Roach stayed in the game and kept the Longhorns in the hunt to end the season in New York with a championship.

Roach turned a season marred by suspension into a can’t-miss performance in the first half to help Texas get comfortable at Madison Square Garden and beat TCU 58-44 on Tuesday night for a spot in the NIT championship.

"It was tough for our team when he went out," coach Shaka Smart said. "It was certainly tough for him. He was really, really down and disappointed in himself."

"But, I told him, you’re going to get to play again."

He’s got one more game left, and the Longhorns (20-16) will play Lipscomb for the title on Thursday night at the Garden.

Roach served two suspensions this season and was pained as he had to watch senior night festivities from the bench. Roach was reinstated for the Big 12 Tournament and led Texas to its fourth straight win in the NIT. He scored 13 of his 22 points in the first half to spark the Longhorns to a 15-point lead, and they held on against pesky TCU (23-14). Texas can win its first NIT title since 1978.

TCU had swept the season series against Texas and failed to go 3-0 against its in-state and Big 12 rival. Texas still has won 18 of the last 25 games against the Horned Frogs.

TCU coach Jamie Dixon insisted his team (with a 7-11 mark in the Big 12) was snubbed by the NCAA Tournament selection committee and used it as a motivating force for the program. Fueled by the snub, the Horned Frogs stormed past Sam Houston State, Nebraska and Creighton to get to New York.

Dixon has led a traditionally downtrodden program in TCU into a mid-pack Big 12 winner, one reason why speculation has swirled that UCLA has targeted him as a candidate for its vacancy.

"I have a great job. I’m very lucky where I’m at," Dixon said, dismissing UCLA questions.

Alex Robinson, who led TCU with 12 points, said Dixon made postseason play possible in Fort Worth, Texas.

"I remember before he got here, we were a really separated bunch," he said. "He made sure we came together and played together."

The Horned Frogs won the NIT in 2017 and made the NCAA Tournament last season for the first time in 20 years. The push for back-to-back tourney bids fell just short, and so did a second-half run that whittled the lead to five.

Roach dunked off a beautiful backdoor cut and Dylan Osetkowski scored a baseline layup off a pick-and-roll to give Texas breathing room and end the threat. Roach had averaged 15.7 points in the NIT, Osetkowski had 15.3 points and the duo delivered again in the semifinal. Osetkowski, who had 13 points and nine rebounds, connected on a late 3 that made it a 14-point lead and left only a few hundred burnt orange cheering faithful in the house.

Smart has only said that Roach violated university policy for the stretch-run suspension of his leading scorer (14.8 points). Roach had also been suspended for the season opener and the 2016 season opener. Against TCU, Roach hit his only 3 and made 6 of 8 shots overall in the first half for 13 points and a 31-17 lead.

The Longhorns went 1-4 in his absence over his most recent suspension ended before the Big 12 Tournament.

Three career suspensions, and one more chance to cut down the nets.

"He’s a guy that’s got a level of athleticism that allows him to get by his man and put the other team in a bit of a bind," Smart said.


Texas returns to MSG in November — along with Duke, Georgetown and California — to play in the Empire Classic.


It’s a Thursday night matchup against Lipscomb in the NIT championship. Garrison Mathews swished his ninth 3-pointer of the game in front of an exuberant Lipscomb bench for the lead with 1:10 left in the game to send the Bisons past Wichita State 71-64 . Mathews finished with 34 points.


More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/MarchMadness and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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Finding A Good Apartment In Richardson

A good apartment in Richardson shouldn’t be too difficult for you to find. You just have to know how to look for a place that is well taken care of and that doesn’t cost too much. There are plenty of options out there so take your time and finding what works should happen for you.

You’re going to want to find out what the price is going to be to rent a place before you decide to live there. Then you have to think about the money you can make in a month and whether you can afford the rent or not. You don’t want to end up living in a place that has a higher price than what you can afford because you can end up getting evicted. If you can’t afford your rent, then it’s a waste of your time so always look into what you really can afford to pay.

You don’t just have to pay the rent when you live in some apartments. If they don’t include the utilities, then you’re going to have to pay for them yourself. Before you move into a place, it can help to call the office there and ask them what it costs on average to live in their apartments. You don’t want to find out after you rent a place that you can afford the rent but you can’t afford the utilities. Having a problem paying utilities can lead to a problem like you having to deal with the electricity company turning off your electricity for non payment.

When you’re going to live somewhere, you’re going to have to pay more than just the first month in rent to move in. You generally also have to pay a security deposit if you want to live somewhere and you may have to also pay the last month’s rent. This is why you’re going to want to ask what all you’re going to have to pay from a background check to the last month in rent. When you know all of what you have to pay, you can then decide if you can move in.

Get to know what’s going on in the apartments that you’re thinking of living in. The best way to do this is to find reviews on what is out there before you live anywhere to get an idea of what a place is like. If all you find are people complaining about the apartments, then you know not to rent there even if the place is set at a price that is good. You’re best off finding a place that has a solid reputation even if it costs a little more so you don’t always have a lot to worry about.

When you want to find an apartment in Richardson, just use this guide. There are a lot of great apartments out there that you can live in. But, there are also some that are not so nice so you have to do some research on what’s out there.

How I Was Able To Find Amazing Luxury Apartments In Richardson TX

I have been looking for high quality luxury apartments in Richardson TX for quite a long time now. I moved to Richardson a few years ago and thanks to a couple of new promotions at my job, I was fortunate enough to be able to upgrade to a luxury apartment. However, I knew that there were lots of apartments in Richardson that were not worth the amount of rent that was being asked. Thankfully, by following a few strategies I was able to find a luxury apartment in the area that was well worth the money.

Whenever I looked at luxury apartments in Richardson TX one of the main things I looked at first was whether the luxury apartment was pet friendly. The way I see it, an apartment canâ??t really consider itself luxurious if it doesnâ??t allow pets. After all, it is a common trait of low quality and cheap apartments that they have pet restrictions as they canâ??t trust their tenants to be responsible with their pets. The exact opposite should be the case with a luxury apartment.
â?¨Luxury apartments must have pet friendly capabilities in my view. I believe that the luxury of being able to own a pet in your great Richardson apartment is something that is integral to a great apartment in the area. Hence, when I was looking through the wide range of new and interesting apartments being developed, I made sure that I only considered the apartments that allowed pets. After all, apart from everything else stated, I have a pet dog and particularly need this feature.

When it comes to value for money, one of the most important tactics I used was I compared how much rent was being asked for each square meter of apartment. Looking at how much is being charged for each square meter is a very practical and easy way to compare how much the apartment owner is looking to really charge you. At the end of the day, youâ??re renting a certain amount of space to use, and because of this, you want to get the most space for the smallest amount of rental money possible.

Of course, looking at amount charged by square foot is not a perfect metric by any means. For example, a certain luxury apartment may be able to get away with charging more per square meter by having great views and being close to central areas. However, looking at how much is being charged is a great way to have a baseline comparison between different luxury apartments in Richardson TX. After you have compared this metric, then you can look at other aspects such as the view and location to see whether the amount being charged is justified.

Thus, after a month or two of searching, I was able to find the perfect luxury apartment for my situation. I was really glad that I used the tactics outlined in this article as by looking at how much was being charged per square meter and whether or not the apartment was pet friendly I could quickly see which apartments were right for me.

Transgender Texas Wrestler Wins Girls’ State High School Title

CYPRESS, Texas — For the second year in a row, a transgender wrestler has won the Texas girls’ Class 6A 110-pound division.

Mack Beggs, an 18-year-old senior from Euless Trinity High School near Dallas, entered the tournament in Cypress outside of Houston with an undefeated record. He beat Chelsea Sanchez — who he beat for the title in 2017– in the final match Saturday.

Video posted online showed a mix of cheers and boos from the crowd following Beggs’ win.

Beggs is in the process of transitioning from female to male and taking a low-dose of testosterone. It was his steroid therapy treatments while wrestling girls that stirred a fierce debate about competitive fairness and transgender rights last season.

WATCH: in a dramatic finish, transgender wrestler Mack Beggs rolls out of a possible pinfall to avoid defeat and win state. Met with boos from the crowd. @wfaapic.twitter.com/72xRpzsQGN

— Matt Howerton (@HowertonNews) February 24, 2018

Beggs had asked to wrestle in the boys’ division, but state law requires athletes to compete in the league that matches the gender on their birth certificate.

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Prolonged investigations of doctors in Texas leave patients in the dark

Patient monitor (KXAN File Photo)

AUSTIN (KXAN) – It took nearly 27 years, but Caitlin Duvall finally had it all figured out. After traveling the world, studying the culinary trade at one of France’s premier schools, Duvall had found her career target: healthcare administration.

Duvall was headed off to Texas State University for her master’s degree. “She was very proud, very excited of her accomplishments, had a big party planned,” Duvall’s mother, Laura Duvall, told KXAN. “The doors were just opening for that kid.”

Duvall’s family had a huge 27th birthday party planned for her, but, first, she had a few finishing touches she wanted to take care of.

Duvall and her mother scoured the internet, looking for the right plastic surgeon to do what Laura Duvall called “minor body sculpting.” The pair settled on Dr. Lawrence Broder, an Austin-area cosmetic surgeon who owns and operates five Beleza Medspa’s across Central Texas.

In July 2017, Duvall went into Broder’s Cedar Park surgery center to have fat removed from her abdomen and then used to reshape one of her breasts. “She’s young, healthy, 26 years old, picture of health. So, why not,” said her mother. “She wants to do it, it’s her money. It was her birthday gift and her graduation gift she said to herself.”

Caitlin Duvall. (Courtesy: Duvall Family)

She was in and out of the surgery room in a few hours. Duvall and her mother were sent home that afternoon with a prescription and instructions from the doctor’s office on how to care for the wounds.

Duvall never made it to her 27th birthday party. She died four days after the surgery, just one week shy of her birthday.

An autopsy report that took four months to complete provided the family some answers as to how she died. The medical examiner wrote in the report that Duvall died “as a result of complications of a cosmetic surgical procedure.” The doctor determined Duvall “developed a toxic shock like-syndrome for which she was hospitalized. Despite aggressive therapy, she died 4 days after the procedure.”

The autopsy report does not indicate how the infection happened or where it could have come from.

“You think, why is she gone? If she is dead, why? And, there’s no good answer,” Laura Duvall said.

At the time of Duvall’s procedure, Broder was under investigation by the Texas Medical Board (TMB) for a separate case from 2016. The Duvalls were not aware of the investigation until KXAN notified them.

The Board’s findings claim Broder committed multiple violations of the Texas Medical Practice Act. The TMB report was published on its website one month after Duvall’s death. It was a case the TMB spent 17 months investigating, but the public had no way to know an investigation was underway.

Liposuction Gone Wrong

Around March of 2016, a doctor who was fired by Broder filed a complaint with the TMB accusing him of violating multiple sections of the state’s Medical Practice Act. The complaint, among other allegations, centered on a liposuction procedure Broder performed in January 2016 on a woman the TMB complaint detailed as “Patient One.” The woman’s identity is protected in the state’s investigation documentation.

“It was not a normal case,” said former Beleza Medspa aesthetician Ryan Harlan, who was helping in the operating room during the liposuction according to the Medical Board’s report. Investigators determined Broder failed to “maintain an adequate medical record,” didn’t “safeguard against potential complications,” and used workers “not qualified” in the operating room.

Harlan said she was one of the employees who did not have the qualifications to assist during the procedure.

KXAN interviewed Dr. Lawrence Broder in 2009 (KXAN File Photo)

The patient told investigators it felt like surgical instruments were “rubbing against her bones” during the procedure.

“She was definitely in pain, in my opinion, was in more pain than any other patient that I’ve seen,” Harlan told KXAN investigator Jody Barr. “She lost consciousness. She turned blue, was unresponsive. The patient is awake during the whole procedure, so nobody should be losing consciousness.”

For the pain, Broder gave the patient multiple Ativan—commonly known as Lorazepam pills—and an “unspecified amount of hydrocodone,” according to the report.

“More medication. That was his response, just give her some more medication,” Harlan recalled.

The investigation shows Broder terminated the procedure and gave the woman more medication “to revive her.”

That patient survived. Harlan said she quit the day after that liposuction.

Along with the January 2016 liposuction allegations, the TMB also accused Broder of intimidating a witness in the investigation, intimidating the doctor who filed the original tip against him, deceptive advertising and failing to properly treat a nurse he accidentally stuck with a used needle during a surgery in May 2015.

KXAN asked Broder for an interview, but he had his attorney decline. Broder also would not answer questions when KXAN’s reporter approached him in person at his office. Broder’s attorney did provide a copy of his answer to the medical board’s complaint.

Broder, through his attorney, denied all allegations against him relating to the complaint, responding, “The Board’s complaint contains numerous misstatements, assuming facts not in evidence, erroneous conclusions, and taking as truth the comments of former employees and business partners of Respondent [Broder] who were terminated and actively involved in civil lawsuits against Respondent [Broder].”

Earlier this month, Broder’s attorney told KXAN his client filed with the State Office of Administrative Hearings (SOAH) to have two of the allegations in the TMB’s published complaint against him dismissed. In the SOAH motion, Broder’s attorney asserted, “the board lacks evidence to demonstrate a violation of the Medical Practice Act” and asked the judge to dismiss allegations Broder used deceptive advertising and failed to properly treat his nurse following a 2015 needle stick.

KXAN has confirmed through sources the TMB is now investigating a second complaint against Broder. When KXAN asked for a comment regarding the new complaint, Broder’s attorney responded, “Due to patient confidentiality, regulations and laws – doctor Broder is unable to comment at this time.”

Meanwhile, under Texas law, Broder is permitted to continue to practice.

Timeline of TMB Investigations

KXAN analyzed five years of Texas Medical Board complaints and agency budget records to figure out how long other doctor misconduct investigations take to become public. It’s not a quick process.

State law provides protection for doctors when complaints are filed, only publishing a complaint once the TMB investigates and finds a claim of doctor misconduct has merit. This prevents a doctor’s reputation from being tarnished by baseless accusations.

TMB records show that since 2010, the agency has received more than 51,000 complaints against doctors, physician assistants, and acupuncturists. Only a quarter of those turned into a formal investigation. Meanwhile, doctors under a formal investigation can continue treating patients and performing surgeries without monitoring or oversight by the State, and leaving the public in the dark.

TMB records show it takes an average of 296.5 days from the time the agency receives the original complaint to investigate it, negotiate a settlement with the doctor, then close the case.

Average # of Days to Close a Complaint at TMB 2012 325 2013 315 2014 272 2015 248 2016 250 Source: Texas Medical Board

If the TMB is unable to negotiate a settlement with the doctor, the case then goes before the State Office of Administrative Hearings for a review and determination, which can extend the process up to another year.

“If we find that this person cannot keep on practicing—for whatever reason—and we find that as part of our investigation, we’re going to act on it immediately,” TMB President Dr. Sherif Zaafran told KXAN.

“Remember, there’s two things we’re balancing out here: there’s the protection of our public, but also we’ve got to make sure we’re going through due process with our licensees,” Zaafran said.

But, procedural hurdles in gathering evidence and doctor records can drag these investigations out, Zaafran explained. “It’s not a perfect process, but that’s what we’re kind of limited to be able to do.”

Zaafran said the average length of investigation takes his agency between 180 and 195 days. When a doctor disputes the TMB findings the length of time to resolve the case takes significantly longer.

Just last year, Texas lawmakers completed a two-year top-to-bottom review of the Texas Medical Board. The legislature’s Sunset Review Commission was trying to ultimately determine whether the TMB should continue to exist. It’s a process all state agencies go through every decade.

The Commission’s report shows a list of six items listed as “Issues” the Commission was looking to correct within the TMB, none of which appear to have dealt with investigation timelines.

Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, was tasked with authoring and filing the TMB’s Sunset Review legislation by the end of the 2017 legislative session.

Burkett would not agree to an interview with us after multiple attempts, so KXAN questioned Burkett’s Chief of Staff, John McCord, at the Texas State Capitol.

When asked if the lawmaker was aware of the TMB’s investigation timeline, McCord responded, “I think that the state has a great review of state agencies, but like I said, I think someone who is on Sunset is the most appropriate to address those issues.”

KXAN also approached Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Houston, who is a practicing anesthesiologist, and holds a seat on the Public Health Committee with Burkett. When we presented Oliverson the results of our TMB investigation analysis, the doctor was surprised to learn the average time it takes the TMB to close a doctor misconduct case is 296 days.

“If it really, truly is that long, that does seem kind of long to me and that’s something, maybe, we should look into,” said Oliverson.

Oliverson thinks doctors deserve a fair shake during investigations, but said the public needs to be protected, as well. “Maybe it is optimal, I don’t know. But, it’s certainly a question worth asking and it’s worth investigating,” Oliverson said.

Oliverson said he plans to bring the TMB timelines before his committee to find out whether those times can be reduced. As of this report, Oliverson has not detailed a timeline for that to happen.

Caitlin Duvall’s family hopes those efforts get answers for Texans.

“We know that nothing we do here that’s going to bring Caitlin back,” Tim McBride, Duvall’s step-father said. “The only reason we do this is for other people. That’s why we’re talking to you. If it helps somebody else, then it’s been worth it.”

“She was wanting to get into Austin politics, I guess this is her attempt,” Laura Duvall said.

The Texas Medical Board will undergo another review by the legislature in 2019, something that wasn’t supposed to ordinarily happen again until 2029. Legislation authored by Rep. Burkett to continue the agency for the next 10 years did not pass in the 2017 session. In the special session that followed, lawmakers did pass a bill continuing operation of the Medical Board for the next two years.

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State of emergency: An examination of freestanding ERs in Texas

Since the Legislature passed a 2009 law allowing freestanding emergency rooms to operate in Texas, the industry has taken off statewide.

The facilities aim to add convenience by allowing patients to be seen faster than in full-service hospitals’ ERs — where overcrowding has been an issue — and by making emergency care more accessible in areas without a hospital nearby.

But health economists say the business model grew too fast, and questions have been raised about whether Texans were fully aware that the centers are not always a lower-cost option.

The big boom

Freestanding emergency rooms cropped up in Texas faster than weeds on a prairie. The initial cost of a two-year license for a freestanding facility is $14,820, which means the state has generated at least $3.1 million in revenue from the openings since 2009. But that number doesn’t include fees for facilities that have renewed their licenses, withdrawn applications or submitted paperwork to change ownership.

“Freestanding emergency departments can earn a steady stream of revenues in Texas if they can serve a well-insured patient population. But policymakers should consider options for encouraging their more efficient use and notify patients that the rates are comparable to hospital ERs.”

Vivian Ho, Baker Institute Chair in Health Economics at Rice University

Scaling back

The state began to issue licenses to freestanding ERs in 2010. In 2016, the number that had let their licenses terminate spiked, and not just because facilities went out of business. Fifty-one of the 58 licenses that ended in 2016 were because the facilities became owned and operated by a hospital, and hospitals do not need a separate license.

“Since 2010, we’ve seen tremendous growth in the number of freestanding emergency medical care facilities in Texas. At HHSC, we work to protect patient safety by ensuring these facilities meet health and safety code standards. To assure greater consumer awareness, by law these facilities are required to post information about their fees at entrances, in patient rooms, at checkout stations and on their websites.”
David Kostroun, Regulatory Services Division of Health and Human Services Commission

Claims check

As facilites proliferated, the number of Texans using them soared. Insurance claims from freestanding ERs that were filed by policyholders of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Texas — the state’s largest health insurer — jumped 236 percent between 2012 and 2015. That outpaced the rate of claims the insurer received from both traditional hospital emergency departments and urgent care centers.

“Last year the Legislature added rules that require freestanding facilities to provide written confirmation to patients about a facility’s insurance network status. But the fact remains that stopping to ask doctors about insurance is not top of mind for patients seeking care in emergency situations, no matter which type of emergency department they rush into.”
Sabriya Rice, staff writer, The Dallas Morning News

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Road crew uncovers tunnel near Mexico border in Texas

EL PASO, Texas — The U.S. Border Patrol says a road construction crew has uncovered an abandoned tunnel in Texas, just north of the border with Mexico.

Agent Oscar Cervantes says the tunnel was discovered Thursday near downtown El Paso. It is about 25 yards (23 meters) long. Cervantes said Friday that there’s no indication the tunnel goes into Mexico.

The Border Patrol said in a statement that the Texas Department of Transportation reached out after a cave-in during construction of a road. The mishap led to the discovery of the tunnel that originates north of the international border. Authorities don’t know the purpose of the tunnel.

Border Patrol confined-space resource teams are examining the area to determine the extent of the tunnel, apparently reinforced with wooden beams.

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

This Thursday, Jan . 25, 2018, photo, provided by the U.S. Border Patrol shows a makeshift tunnel discovered during construction of a roadway near downtown El Paso, Texas, just north of the border with Mexico. Authorities are working to determine the origin and purpose of the tunnel. (U.S. Border Patrol via AP) (Associated Press)

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State, not schools, denied kids special ed services, Texas administrators say


Kids were denied special ed services because of state’s "dereliction of duty," not schools,’ Texas administrators say.

Texas educators are pushing back against Gov. Greg Abbott’s assertion that children were denied special education services because of schools’ "dereliction of duty."

Last week, federal authorities found that schools across the state broke the law by intentionally delaying or denying students such programs in order to stay under perceived enrollment caps and avoid state scrutiny.

Abbott then ordered the state’s education commissioner to have a draft correction plan finished by this week, adding that the "dereliction of duty on the part of many school districts to serve our students, and the failure of TEA to hold districts accountable, are worthy of criticism."

But the Texas School Alliance, Texas Council of Administrators for Special Education and the Texas Association of School Administrators say they were only doing what state officials and the Texas Education Agency pressured them to do: reign in enrollment because of rising costs.
State policy continuously put educators in the precarious spot of doing what was right for kids or taking a hit on accountability measurements that can lead to strict scrutiny, said Alief Superintendent H.D. Chambers.

"Fingers keep being pointed as to who’s to blame for this, and the governor says school districts were being derelict in their duty," said Chambers, president elect of the Texas School Alliance that represents the state’s largest districts. "We were not derelict in our duties. We were doing what we were told to do. For the agency to claim that they never were trying to enforce some kind of hard cap is just not true."

Chambers said that during his time as a Houston-area school administrator, he’s been in various conversations in which districts were trying to do what was right for students, only to have state officials pressure them to keep special education enrollment down. Schools often tried to find ways to help kids even when it meant the schools were in conflict with the state, he said.

The Texas Council of Administrators of Special Education issued a statement saying Abbott’s comment was "offensive and inaccurate." The group points to significant budget cuts for schools amid overall soaring student enrollment increases and stepped-up accountability standards.
"It is not a dereliction of duty to follow a directive from your state regulatory agency, while at the same time trying to meet the needs of all students," according to the group’s statement.

Representatives from Abbott’s office did not return messages seeking comment.

The various educator groups point to a 2004 interim House report as being the likely genesis of the special education cap.

TEA officials have long insisted that an accountability measurement that required monitoring of special education enrollment was never intended to limit the number of children who could receive services, but rather was put in place to help districts be aware of potential issues. Districts across the state had previously been in trouble for unnecessarily placing kids — particularly minority students — in special education classes.

TEA officials on Tuesday declined to comment on the Texas School Alliance’s statements saying, "The Texas Education has been consistent with its position regarding this indicator. Our agency’s focus now is meeting the governor’s directive to draft a corrective action plan to address the issues identified in the monitoring report."

The U.S. Department of Education began investigating the state’s special education program after the Houston Chronicle reported that thousands of students had been denied services because of a perceived 8.5 percent cap on special education enrollment.

In 2004, 11.6 percent of Texas students were in special education. That dropped to 8.6 percent by 2016.

Many have speculated as to how the so-called cap began, while TEA has insisted there wasn’t one.
The alliance and others point to a 2004 interim House report that looked at various special education issues including cost containment. It noted the state was reviewing how the state’s school finance system encouraged "overidentification" of students because districts receive more state funds to educate such children.

The report pointed to other states that used caps on either the number of students who could be identified as eligible for services or on the amount of state money available. The alliance’s statement says that TEA eventually adopted its policy because of this discussion.

But Kent Grusendorf, a former Republican lawmaker from Arlington who was chairman of the House’s Public Education committee at that time, said at no point did he or other lawmakers create legislation that made TEA create any form of a quota.

"We never passed a bill that I know of that did that," he said. "The House committee couldn’t direct TEA to do anything. All we could do was pass legislation."

Grusendorf said that now, some 14 years later, the only specific discussions about special education enrollment that he remembers was when a 29-member select committee was trying to find solutions to ongoing school finance litigation.

One witness had talked in depth about students being misidentified as needing special education, he said. The 2004 interim report also noted that for decades, there had been concerns about minority students being identified for such programs in disproportionate numbers.

"It was a double-sided coin because we had to take care of kids that needed it, but if you misidentified a kid, that meant holding a kid back," he said. "And there was a financial incentive to misidentify kids because that meant more money for districts."

Chambers, however, noted that the extra funding schools get for such students doesn’t come close to covering the cost for services to help them.

Under federal law, schools must provide qualifying students with special education accommodations or services without a limit on the number of students who can receive such support.

The state has already scrapped the accountability measurement based solely on special education enrollment.

And various districts have reviewed their own programs to see what the stumbling blocks are for families to get services. In Dallas, for example, officials found language to be a key barrier and are working to help Spanish-speaking families have better access.

Disability rights advocates say that Texas’ plan moving forward must include a system for identifying kids who should have received help but were denied.

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