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Texas 7th Grader Says Assignment Questioned Whether God Is Real

Maggie Chen

Five stories that have North Texas talking: God makes for a controversial school assignment; gentrification in Dallas; ‘Bums vs. Billionaires’ at a Plano school; and more.

A suburban Houston junior high school student has complained about an assignment that she says questioned students' religious beliefs. Katy school district officials called the writing assignment a mistake and that it wouldn't be used again.

The assignment asked students to say whether something was factual, a commonplace assertion or an opinion. One of the statements on the worksheet said: "There is a God."

The district says it was intended to encourage critical thinking skills, not question any student's religious beliefs.

But 12-year-old Jordan Wooley says students were told that God is a myth. She spoke to the district's board of trustees during its monthly meeting Monday evening. "I didn't' feel like it was fair for my faith and my religion to have anything to do with what I'm learning about in school,” said Jordan, a student at West Memorial Junior High.

The Houston Chroniclereports the district interviewed several students:"The school's investigation, however, found that the seventh-grader was neither forced to deny God nor threatened with a lower or a failing grade if she did not, [Superintendent Alton] Frailey said Wednesday. The district also maintained that the teacher used the phrase 'commonplace assertion' rather than 'myth.' He maintained that the assignment was not graded."

Learn more about the district’s response. [Associated Press/Houston Chronicle]

  • Mary Lee Dodd Greene, a longtime KERA staffer who was also a North Texas civil rights and education champion, has died. She died Wednesday after a brief battle with cancer. She was 83. Greene helped expand the reach of “Sesame Street” in Texas. KERA’s Lauren Silverman reports: “Mary Greene always seemed to be on a mission – a mission for equality, for education, for children. She was committed to giving – from mornings on the farm as a child, to afternoons in front of the TV with Elmo and Cookie Monster, to late nights on the streets of South Dallas. … Mary believed deeply in the power of childhood education, and was frustrated by the inequality of access to good schools and programs. … ‘Mary Greene’s life was a life of service, and she gave to communities and organizations throughout the country, but the big gift of Mary Greene was the gift of friendship,’ Janeil Engelstad says.”

  • The Dallas Observer explores the “ups and downs” of gentrification in Dallas. “Head any direction out of downtown — east down Ross Avenue or into Deep Ellum, south into the Cedars and Oak Cliff, west into Trinity Groves and the Design District — and you’ll encounter thousands of new apartments and townhouses, either already built or on the drawing board,” Eric Nicholson writes. ... “Building townhouses or revitalizing a neighborhood near Dallas’ core is a far messier process than building a subdivision on an expanse of Collin County farmland.” [Dallas Observer]

  • A “Bums vs. Billionaires” dress-up day at Plano East High School has generated controversy. WFAA-TV reports some students dressed in tattered clothes and carried signs begging for money or food. It was a homecoming week theme day. A Plano Independent School District statement says the Student Senate set last Thursday's theme for students to dress up or down. School officials thought students would either wear formal attire or lounge-at-home clothing. Some students had signs saying "Will Work For Food" or "Let's Do Lunch, U-Buy." Another student held a cup and a sign saying "Spare Change?" One critic, Maggie Harvey, says she's had homeless friends. Harvey is leading a campaign encouraging parents and students to let the district know that the theme is offensive. [Associated Press/WFAA-TV]

  • Gas costs less than $2 per gallon at the pump, and Texans are rejoicing. KERA’s Christopher Connelly reports Texans are spending their gas savings elsewhere: “Economist Derrill Watson from Tarleton State University says when you multiply that freer spending by all the drivers in Texas, it makes a difference. ‘There isn’t just one particular sector that’s booming because of this. Rather, the money goes a little bit to health care, a little bit to better technology, and a little bit to some tourism,’ Watson says. ‘And so a lot of places are seeing some small gains, and they add up to a big gain.’”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Photo: Maggie Chen/

Eric Aasen is KERA’s managing editor. He helps lead the station's news department, including radio and digital reporters, producers and newscasters. He also oversees, the station’s news website, and manages the station's digital news projects. He reports and writes stories for the website and contributes pieces to KERA radio. He's discussed breaking news live on various public radio programs, including The Takeaway, Here & Now and Texas Standard, as well as radio and TV programs in New Zealand and the United Kingdom.