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Welcome back: PNG returns to class, stresses normalcy

PORT NECHES — Students and staff in the Port Neches-Groves Independent School District returned to school Tuesday after the TPC chemical plant explosion pummeled surrounding homes and campuses last week.

Students of various Port Neches-Groves campuses returned after Thanksgiving break by only missing one regularly scheduled school day on Monday.

An outstanding district-wide response, cooperation with parents and around-the-clock work by maintenance personnel and contractors are just a few of things that Assistant Superintendent Julie Gauthier attributes to the timely turnaround.

“Our maintenance department and contractors from Signature Group did a phenomenal job over the last week,” she said. “They wanted us to get back into school as quick as possible. We can’t say enough about what they do for our district.”

The school district ran their own assessments to determine the safety of air quality, structure and restoration on all campuses inside and out before making the decision to open, Gauthier said.

“We had Signature Group contracting, our own engineering and air quality firms to clean all our campuses,” she said. “We checked structures and made sure everything was in tip top shape and ready for our kids. We even cleaned all playgrounds, buses and everything you can think of three to four times.”

Gauthier said Port Neches city officials have gone above and beyond to make sure students are safe, including the Port Neches Police Department, which continues to maintain traffic changes.

The intersection of Merriman and Magnolia is operating as a four-way stop and 366 and Sara Jane Road remains closed to through traffic. Car riders are encouraged to take Twin City Highway and those riding the bus may experience a slight delay.

With the events of the last several days, Port Neches Elementary Principal Kimberly Carter made sure to greet students with a warm welcome.

“We all met on the front steps at the school house (Tuesday) morning with our welcome back signs and embraced them with hugs, love and smiles,” Carter said.

According to Carter, the gesture was well received and students were ecstatic to be back to a normal routine.

“The kids were all smiles,” she said. “I didn’t have one frown or one tear.”

Although PNE received minimal damage, Carter said it’s about making students feel mentally safe as well as physically.

“The main message we wanted to share with them is that they are safe in this building,” she said. “We just want them to know they are going to be taken care of, to feel a sense of normalcy and be in a space where they can learn.”

Gauthier said the biggest challenge has been making families feel comfortable with the return.

“It is the parents’ right to hold students back, but we want them to know this is a secure environment,” she said. “We really just have their best interests at heart.”

Members of the school district encourage anyone with additional questions or concerns to contact the administration building directly or their respective campus. Counselors are also available at each campus for student needs.

For more information, continue to follow Port Neches-Groves Independent School District on social media or at pngisd.org.