Mark Goodner, TMCEC General Counsel and Director of Education, sat down with Ryan Turner, TMCEC Executive Director, to discuss the rest of the TMCEC’s Academic Year.
MG: Good afternoon, Ryan. Last week, you announced to all of our constituent groups that there will be no in-person training from TMCEC through at least July 31, 2021. Why is this the best course of action right now?
RT: Our top priority remains the safety of participants, faculty, and staff. CDC recommendations continue to discourage mass gatherings. Attending events and gatherings increases the risk of getting and spreading COVID-19. While Texas is seeing progress in its efforts to decrease the spread of COVID-19, vaccine distribution is bottlenecked, and probably will be until sometime this summer.
Current COVID-19-related limitations on in-person venues mean fewer people would have been able to attend. Furthermore, attendance would be limited to people who reside in the region. Many TMCEC events are intended to be statewide events. Under current circumstances, TMCEC can accommodate more people and accommodate them safely online.
MG: One of the things that guided our planning for this academic year was to plan Regional Seminar agendas that could work both online virtually as well as in-person. For instance, we chose not to have breakouts because not only is teaching virtually a new challenge for our faculty, but at the onset of this year, we knew that even if the opportunity arose for us to return in-person, it would likely be a very different experience. Fewer participants. More distance. Changes to meal service. And, related to the agenda, less moving around from seat to seat in different tracks. We have heard from constituents that they may have been waiting for an in-person seminar to fulfill their judicial education or clerk certification hours. It is clear now that there will not be any in-person Regional Seminars this year. What would you say those constituents who might be wary of a virtual training experience?
RT: Being wary of virtual training is understandable. Initially, most faculty and staff were also wary. However, after nearly a year of focusing exclusively on virtual training, two things are clear. First, TMCEC virtual events contain the same spirit our constituents have come to expect from attending in-person events. Second, seminar evaluations show that TMCEC virtual events either meet or exceed the expectations of constituents, including those who dislike the notion of virtual training.
While we are as eager as our constituents to resume in-person training, TMCEC is continuing to work hard to make the best of a challenging situation. Particularly considering the recent announcement, I hope no one will continue to wait for in-person training to resume.
MG: You mentioned in your announcement, that TMCEC has more ways than ever for court personnel to complete their training. With respect to Judicial Education, it’s important to remind judges that every judge must complete at least 16 hours of education each and every year (and new non-attorney judges must complete 32 hours in the first year). So, while our most traditional and common form of education (the in-person seminar) is missing from the options, in this year with the state of disaster and the related suspension of the Rules of Judicial Education, judges can fulfill their hours in ways that they typically cannot. For instance, a judge could complete all 16 hours via webinar this year (or until the state of disaster is lifted and 30 days thereafter), but in most years even seasoned judges must get at least 8 live and continuous hours. Is that what you mean by more ways than ever?
RT: Yes. Registration is now open for sixteen virtual events through the end of July. These events are mostly live broadcasts that allow constituents to complete their training over a period of a couple of days. Financial aid is available.
In addition to virtual seminars, TMCEC will also have 11 live webinar broadcasts. Webinars are a separate way to complete training hours. If a person does not want to attend a virtual seminar and complete their hours by attending one event, they have the option to earn those hours piecemeal. You can either watch a webinar live and participate with people around the state. Alternatively, you can watch webinars on demand, at your own pace. Each webinar is an hour long. Webinars are free.
MG: You are waiting to make the call regarding in-person training for our scheduled Legislative Updates in August, but what would you tell our constituents about next year? How is COVID-19 affecting the planning for the 2022 Academic Year?
RT: Like this academic year, we are actively planning for a return to in-person training. We are presently in the process of requesting proposals from hotels and venues across the state. We hope to have resumed in-person training by the time of the first regional seminar in October. However, we will continue to work to bring certainty in uncertain times. If we cannot have an event in-person, we will do our best to honor those dates and accommodate our constituents online.
MG: Thanks for chatting with me today!
RT: Thank you, Mark.
To read about all of the upcoming TMCEC programs, click on the Academic Schedule below: