Students across Texas returned to campuses last week as schools and universities scrambled to put into place new lesson plans that best accommodate a pandemic.


For many school districts, this meant greatly expanding the technological resources of their students to support a mix of in-person and online education. For example, Goose Creek Consolidated Independent School District east of Houston announced plans to buy 16,000 iPads for almost $3.1 million. The Texas Education Agency’s statewide initiative, Operation Connectivity, will pay half the cost.


Gov. Greg Abbott also announced the TEA had obtained more than 1 million personal devices and internet WiFi hotspots as part of the initiative. The effort is financed by a previously announced $200 million allocation of Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act funding to the TEA and matched by school districts.


It will ensure that students attending a Texas public school will have both a device and connection to the internet throughout the school year and beyond, Abbott said.


In other tech-related news last week, Apple became the first U.S. company to be valued at $2 trillion.


Raise your hand for public schools


The Texas Association of School Boards endorsed via Twitter a column urging people to keep supporting public schools despite the pandemic.


In the column, Michelle Smith, vice president of policy and advocacy for Raise Your Hand Texas, wrote, "Enrolling your student in your public school ensures they still have access to the best-prepared teachers, access to the best resources and systems designed to help meet the needs of all students, and, whenever we can all get back to a more normal in-school experience, access to all the other things we miss — sports, arts, academic, extracurricular, and other offerings only provided by our public schools."


Mean Green welcoming team


Meanwhile, college students across Texas moved into residence halls with new social distancing protocols in place.Amanda Lee, a resident assistant at the University of North Texas, encouraged Mean Green students and their families arriving at the dorms in Denton. Her advice:"I would say that, even though this year is going to be pretty different, I would still say to put yourself out there."


Calorie-free desserts


Big Tex will be lonelier but perhaps slimmer this year as the State Fair of Texas plans for a virtual event instead of a midway packed with people and deep-fried Twinkies.


Fair organizers are still trying to generate some virtual fun, announcing decidedly different arts, crafts and cooking contests. The four virtual arts and crafts contests are for face masks, sidewalk chalk art, nail art and a decorated mantel or shelf. The three cooking contests are for cake decorating, cookie decorating and mini butter sculpture.


Because the cooking contest can’t be tasted this year, entries will be judged on their appearance. Participants may enter their photo submissions for the virtual contests at Creative.BigTex.com. Online submissions will open Sept. 21 and run through Oct. 4. Winners will be announced Oct. 9.


From antiques to Amazon


Forney, proclaimed by the Legislature as the antique capital of Texas, is getting a thoroughly modern makeover.Officials announced Amazon would build in 2021 a 1 million square-foot fulfillment center in the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex suburb, bringing 500 jobs to the city of 26,000.


Amazon also is planning in Forney a 200,000-square-foot delivery station, which is anticipated to open later this year."Bringing a transcendent company such as Amazon to Forney is a huge step for our community," Forney Mayor Mary Penn said.


That’ll Be The Day


Texas music is a cure for what ails most anything.With this prescription in mind, the Texas Music Office encourages people to drive the Texas Music Trail through the Panhandle Plains region. You can download or stream the music office’s Spotify playlist.


The first stop is the Buddy Holly Center in Lubbock. The center is celebrating the rock pioneers’s 84th birthday from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Sept. 7.Other stops include the Woody Guthrie Folk Music Center in Pampa, the Jimmy Dean Museum in Plainview and the Cadillac Ranch in Amarillo.


Pop singer Rihanna paid a surprise visit  last week, stopping by the Cadillac Ranch to spray-paint an obscenity about President Trump on one of the 10 vehicles buried nose-down in the unusual public art installation.


No one independently confirmed seeing the international singing sensation in Amarillo, but she posted the photos to her Instagram page, which has 98.1 million followers.


Her message did not "shine bright like a diamond" with the president’s supporters. Ronny Jackson, the former White House physician who is running for Congress in the 13th District, tweeted in response that he had fixed her "art" by spray-painting over her message.


The Cook Partisan Voting Index identifies the 13th as the most Republican district in the country, delivering 80 percent of its vote to Trump in 2016. Jackson took note of this fact, tweeting: "Next time you’re in Texas, don’t forget, THIS IS TRUMP COUNTRY!"


Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.