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Smokey Briggs


By Smokey Briggs

Tuesday, June 6, 2000

A Slim generation gap

I saw Slim out at the auction barn over the weekend. He was astride a dapple gray gelding who's manners didn't measure up to his good looks. He was still in the crow-hopping stage and I pulled up a fence post to enjoy the show.

After the finale Slim cooled him down and then stripped his rigging and tossed it over the fence rail with an ease that belied 60-plus years of experience.

"That," he said with a certain amount of disgust and a nod toward the gelding, "is what happens when you take good breeding and mix in damn poor training."

"What's his story?" I asked.

"Mama and daddy were both oak stout and hog smart. He could be. I sold him as a colt to a young lady who fancied herself a horsewoman. She'd read this book and that book, you know."

"She ruined him. Then brought him back and said he wasn't any good. She said I sold her a bad horse."

"Just like folks these days. Never even hazard a guess that the fault might lie with them," he said. "That her new ways of doing things might be at the heart of the problem, not the horse."

"I told her he was a good hoss, but he had certainly picked up some bad habits."

"She said that there must be a generational difference between what my generation calls a good horse and what her generation calls a good horse."

"I think she was saying I was senile."

"I sat there for a minute, looking at this girl who had ruined a good horse and was now blaming the horse and me instead of the one person who was at fault, and couldn't come up with one thing to say that wasn't poor manners. Finally I just pulled out my roll and counted off what I sold him for and led him away."

"As I've been riding some of those bad habits off him, I've been thinking about what she said _ about there being a generation gap between me and her. I think she's right, but I think it applies to more than horses."

"Generation gap?"

"Yeah. You hear about it on TV all the time. Folks my age just don't understand how the world works anymore and are standing in the way of social progress. Our president seems convinced of it. I guess he is right."

"Well things have changed since you were hatched Slim." I said, not knowing I was pulling the starter rope on the proverbial buzz saw.

"Tell me about it," he said. "I was born before television, penicillin, polio shots, frozen foods, Xerox, contact lenses, Frisbees and the Pill. We didn't have radar, credit cards, laser beams or ball point pens. Man hadn't invented pantyhose, dishwashers, clothes dryers, air conditioners, and he hadn't walked on the moon."

"Mrs. Slim and I got married first _ then we moved in together. Most families had a father and a mother and every kid I knew over the age of 12 had a rifle that his dad taught him how to use and respect."

"Until I was 25 I called every man older than me `sir.' After 25 I still called policemen and every man with a title `sir."

"At that time, closets were for clothes, not coming out of. Sundays were set aside for going to church, visiting neighbors, or working around the house."

"That was before gay-rights, women's'-rights, computer dating, dual careers, day-care centers, and group therapy."

"Back then most parents agreed that you taught your kids the difference between right and wrong first, then told them to think for themselves. Taking responsibility for your own actions was a given."

"When I was 18, serving your country was a privilege. Living here was more so, and some of my friends paid for that privilege with their lives in Korea. Draft dodgers were people who shut their windows at night."

"We didn't have FM radio, tape decks, CDs, electric typewriters, artificial hearts, word processors, yogurt, and guys didn't wear ear rings."

"We listened to the "big bands," Jack Benny, and the president's speeches on the radio. I don't ever recall a kid blowing his brains out listening to Tommy Dorsey."

"Fast food chains and instant coffee didn't exist."

"When I was growing up, "grass" was mowed, "coke" was drunk, "pot" was something mama cooked in, "hardware" was found in a hardware store, and "software" was not a word and it still shouldn't be."

"Apparently we were the last generation so dumb as to thing you needed a husband to have a baby."

Just as suddenly as he'd started, Slim quit talking and went back to contemplating the gray gelding.

I was silent for a while too. Slim isn't a man of many words, and such an outburst was almost embarrassing.

"Don't hold anything back, Slim," I finally said with a grin. "Tell me how you really feel."

"I guess we did that too," he said.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Smokey Briggs is the editor and publisher of the Pecos Enterprise whose column appears on Tuesdays. He can be e-mailed at:

Our View

School district needs investigating

Recently the Pecos Enterprise published a series of four articles concerning a grade change at Pecos High School and the school district's decision not to rehire two teachers, Brenilda and Bruce Bauer.

The bare facts are as follows:

* The district changed the grade for one student in a class five months after the final grade was issued.

*To change the grade the district dropped the final exam score of 15.

*No other students' grades were changed although other students failed the course.

*Brenilda Bauer, the teacher involved along with her husband and fellow teacher Bruce, protested the grade change.

*During the process of protesting the grade, the district made allegations that the teacher's husband had violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by retaining student records with personally identifiable information.

* The district's attorney claims that the Bauer's were clearly in violation of FERPA.

* Attorneys for the Texas State Teacher's Association disagree with the district's attorney.

Given these facts, several issues need to be addressed.

First, if dropping the final exam for one student is the right thing to do, then the final exam grade should be dropped for all students in the class. Either the exam was fair or it was not.

Simple fairness demands equal treatment of all the students in that class.

Second, since the district has made no allegation that Brenilda Bauer is an incompetent teacher, we can only assume that her teaching and grading were adequate. In that case, the district's decision to change the grade she assigned simply because a student's parents protested demonstrates complete disregard for a teacher's integrity.

If this is the kind of support the district regularly gives its teachers, it is no wonder that Pecos has trouble attracting teachers.

Third, the district's timing in alleging the Bauers violated FERPA stinks. Whether true or not, the timing suggests retaliation on the part of the district.

Finally, the last word about this affair should not be had on the pages of the Enterprise.

The last word should be had by the people of Pecos.

Pecos should demand a thorough investigation from its school administration and school board members.

If the district's actions were correct, then the facts will bear this out. If not, the facts will speak just as loudly. Either way, the people of Pecos need to know the truth.

Representatives of the district have repeatedly said that they cannot discuss these matters because they involve students and personnel.

This excuse is not credible.

There are rules against divulging personally identifiable information about students. There are also rules against publicly discussing some aspects of personnel decisions.

However, these rules are not a handy shield for officials who do not want to justify their actions.

If the district's reasoning were correct, the district could committ any crime and justify its complete silence with the same excuse.

This is a "Catch 22" that defies good sense.

School district officials ought to be smart enough to justify this grade change and explain why other students weren't treated similarly without mentioning a student's name.

If they can't then they aren't smart enough to hold their jobs.

The same holds true with the allegations the district made against the Bauers.

No matter who is right or wrong, Pecos deserves a better explanation than it has received. If Pecos does not demand one, then Pecos has the schools it deserves.

Your school board meets this coming Thursday evening.

Your View

The Bauers respond...

To The Editor:
Regarding your article entitled "Teachers Claim Dismissal due to Grade-Change Fight" appearing on page one of your issue dated May 23, 2000, we wish to make a few observations.

The second semester grade of 61 in Spanish II given the student under discussion was posted in Mrs. Bauer's grade book at the end of May 1999. The grade book containing that grade was presented to and accepted by the Principal of Pecos High School at that time, and none of the grades contained in that grade book was questioned at the time of their presentation. Within a few days of the submission of this grade contained in the grade book, the parents of the failing student received this grade in the mail, and they, too, accepted it without question.

To receive a "preferred diploma" (usually required for admission to a Texas state college) at Pecos High School, a student must complete two years of a foreign language. Although the student failed her Spanish II course under Mrs. Bauer, and although her parents were aware of her failure, however, they did not make arrangements to pay the $75.00 fee for the child to take Spanish II over again during the subsequent summer session, nor did they arrange for their daughter to take Spanish II the following fall semester of the 1999-2000 school term. Apparently they must have thought that it would be much easier to simply have the grade changed the following October. To force this grade-change these people have submitted not one piece of evidence to support their false charge of discrimination against Mrs. Bauer, nor have they submitted one piece of evidence to support a forced grade-change. Apparently they simply feel that although it is perfectly all right for other students to have to repeat a course that they have failed, it is not acceptable for their daughter to repeat a course that she has failed. We fail to understand why this child should receive special treatment.

Pecos School District lawyer Judy Brown contends that we have violated the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) by "releasing student records containing personally identifiable information." As is the case with the student's parents, however, Mrs. Brown fails to produce a single piece of evidence to support her charge. If Mrs. Brown has the courage of her convictions, then why hasn't she pressed charges against us? To whom have we released such information, and where and when and why? The only person to whom we have released such information is Donald W. Love himself, where was in his office, when was October 13, 1999, and why was because we were contesting a proposed grade change engineered by the administration over Mrs. Bauer's repeated and vehement objections. Such documents released to Mr. Love pertained to official school business conducted among professional public school officials, and as such can in no way be construed as a violation of FERPA. Such documents were presented to Mr. Love in confidence, and it was expected that he would use them with discretion. Instead, Donald Love has chosen to use them as a weapon against us _ hardly the professional behavior expected of a senior public school administrator.

Thanking you for your time and attention to this letter, Mr. Briggs, we remain.


To The Editor:
In the second installment of your series of articles pertaining to a Pecos High School student's forced grade-change and our subsequent dismissals connected therewith, we have noted that the debate centers upon what is meant by "representative work."

We wish to take this opportunity to point out that the responsibility for establishing a coherent "representative work" policy lies under the purview of both the Superintendent of schools and the Principal of the high school. Neither of these men has accepted the responsibility for failing to provide a representative work policy, with the result, for example, that whereas one Spanish teacher last year considered "representative work" to be only the final examinations taken by the students, another teacher considered it just the opposite: weekly tests and six-weeks test leading up to but not including the final examinations. This is, of course, an administrative matter _ not a teaching concern _ and so should be addressed by school administrators. That these two administrators have failed to perform the duties assigned to them is therefore beyond dispute, yet they have chosen to hold two teachers responsible for their collective dereliction of administrative duties.

Because of their own incompetence resulting in the failure to establish a coherent representative work policy, the only document that supported the grade given the student by Mrs. Bauer was her grade book itself, which was presented to the Principal at the end of May 1999. Although this document and its contents were accepted without question in May 1999, however, for some reason it was not considered acceptable four months later, when a pair of disgruntled parents sought to question it after failing to provide proof that their child did not deserve the grade she had received. When Donald W. Love can make a public statement that "We don't have any documentation showing the semester exam grades. All we've got is the grade book," in reality he is criticizing not the teacher but himself, as he is responsible for school policy _ not the teacher. Nevertheless, by using such words against a certified public school teacher, he is showing not only his contempt for the teacher in particular but his contempt for the teaching profession in general. It is a well-understood fact among certified public school teachers that their professional reputation depends of the veracity of their grade book. Thus far these two public school administrators have failed to show cause for doubting any of Mrs. Bauer's grades. The only doubt existing to date is the doubt concerning their own professional competence as school administrators to establish a meaningful representative work policy. This dispute would never have arisen if either of them had been properly discharging the responsibilities of his office.

Neither of these two school administrators has yet explained why he chose to accept unsubstantiated charges of discrimination against one of his teachers and then arbitrarily decided to take the word of a student and her parents over that of the teacher to justify a forced grade-change. From the foregoing it is evident that discrimination is being practiced not against the student but against the teacher.

Neither of these two school administrators has explained why he chose to force this grade-change when he knew by doing so that it would be prejudicial to the best interests of the other 875 students of Pecos High School. From the foregoing it is evident that discrimination is being practiced not against the student herself but against her 875 classmates.

Neither of these two school administrators has yet proven any allegation against either of us, yet they have succeeded in ruining our professional careers by denying us the right to work in our chosen profession. We have been judged to by guilty of some crime, yet no evidence has been submitted. Such prejudgment is also known as prejudice, which goes hand-in-hand with discrimination, of which we have been the victims because of our insistence that all students be treated fairly.

If there can be no violation of a school representative work policy because no comprehensive representative work policy in fact exists, then our discharge can be based on nothing more than personal malice on the part of the school administration for Mrs. Bauer's filing of a Grievance that protested an unwarranted grade-change. As your series on this subject unfolds, we feel confident that interpretation of events will prove justified.

Thanking you once again for your time, Mr. Briggs, we remain.


To The Editor:

Appearing in the May 25 and May 26 editions of the Enterprise were the last two installments of a four-part series of articles relating to the forced grade-change of a Pecos High School student and our dismissals that resulted from our opposing this arbitrary action.

Although neither of us is a practicing attorney, we do retain a sufficient understanding of the law to firmly believe that we must be considered innocent until proven guilty. Two rather serious charges have been brought against us, one by a schoolgirl's parents and the other by the administrators of this school district.

A charge of discrimination directed at one of her former students has been brought against Mrs. Bauer by the girl's parents, who have thereby managed to have the child's failing grade changed to a passing grade. Although no one piece of documentary evidence has been produced by these accusers to prove this allegation, the grade has been changed by administrators of this school district and approved by the trustees of the school board of this school district.

Likewise, a charge of violating the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act has been brought against both of us by the superintendent of this school district that has resulted in our discharge as certified public school teachers. Although not one piece of documentary evidence has been presented by the school district administrators nor by the lawyer they have hired to work against us to prove this allegation, we have both been discharged, and the non-renewal of our teaching contracts has been approved by the trustees of the school board of this school district.

Throughout these proceedings as reported in the four articles appearing in your newspaper, when school department heads, school administrators, and school board members have been questioned, we have read again and again "no comment", "refused to comment", "could not comment", "could not be contacted", plus such other evasive phrases as "I'm not going to discuss personnel or students," "-unwritten policy around here-", " We will now go off the record," and "The only comment I can make would be to refer you to the attorney that represents the school district." In other words, not one of these school district representatives is willing to take responsibility for the forced grade-change that resulted in the termination of our employment contracts. And the Austin attorney to whom these school district leaders constantly defer has likewise failed to produce any proof that would justify either the forced grade-change or our dismissals.

Without a single piece of documentary evidence to support their action, these school district administrators and school board members have by favoring one student, violated the rights of all other high school students to equal treatment according to law. Without a single piece of documentary evidence to support their action, these school district administrators and school board members have worked together to unjustly deny us employment in this school district.

In view of the foregoing, Mr. Briggs, if you were a certified public school teacher, would you wish to be employed under these conditions by the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah Independent School District? We think not. And we totally agree.


Bauer's students speak

To the Editor:
We as member of Mrs. Bauer's Spanish classes feel that Mrs. Brenilda Bauer and her husband should remain teachers at Pecos High School.

"I feel that Mr. Rodriguez does not need to be administering this school if he cannot handle the matters in an equal way," said a pupil. The question now is can he handle all of the students' parents who will come and complain about our grades? "I think that if you change one student's grade, you should change all of the failing students' grades," said another pupil. All races have passed the class, so it's not a racial matter; it's a matter of a student studying and dedicating his time to learning a different language.

Why do we need a school board if a lawyer in Austin is going to be in control? The school board members need to handle their own tasks. Superintendent Don Love and Principal Danny Rodriguez do not need to occupy positions of responsibility in our district if they cannot handle the positions to which they have been appointed.

Respectfully yours,
Mrs. Bauer's Spanish students:

City, county officials unite

To The Editor:
On June 1, 2000, the Texas Jail Commission agreed to allow Reeves County to remain open. Representatives from Reeves County who were in attendance were Attorney Bill Weinacht who took off for two days from his busy schedule and prepared and presented our case to the Jail Commission Board of Directors. Also present at the meeting were Commissioners Herman Tarin, Felipe Arrendondo and Gilbert Rayos. Representatives from the City of Pecos were City Mayor Ray Ortega, Chief of Police Clay McKinney and Health Inspector Armando Gil. It is because of the effort of all individuals working together that we can make a difference. Not only with the Jail problem but any problem that arises in our community being the City of Pecos or Reeves County. By working together we can accomplish and overcome whatever comes before us. I would also like to thank the community for showing us their support for Reeves County.


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