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PAISD school year options include facemask mandate, remote learning

The Texas Education Agency released new guidelines Tuesday afternoon for public school districts moving forward in school-year planning.

After discussing virtual learning options, personal protective equipment and health screening, TEA decided not to require districts to enforce masks or do mandatory health screenings.

They will, however, provide all necessary PPE, including masks, hand sanitizer and thermometers, as needed.

Port Arthur ISD Superintendent Mark Porterie made the decision earlier this week that he will require all students and staff returning to campus in the fall to wear masks and pass a temperature check before entering the building.

His plans did not change.

“Since the onset of COVID-19, the Port Arthur Independent School District has been following the guidelines of the CDC and our local health officials,” he said. “We’ve always listened to the commissioner of education and our governor, as well.

“We’ve looked at the numbers and we see that currently the numbers are spiking. When we realized that we were going to return back to school in August, our first thought was what would be the protocols to come back to school and be as safe as we could possibly be, both staff and students?”

Porterie said one way that’s proven to flatten the curve is wearing masks.

“The CDC recommends it,” he said. “That’s why we will return with masks for both staff and students. We want to ensure that everyone is as safe as they can possibly be when they return to PAISD.”

Proper ways to social distance during the school year is still under discussion.

“Schools across America were not designed for 6 feet apart,” Porterie said. “We are still looking at ways in which we will be able to make students and staff safe in that way. We haven’t figured out how to do social distancing yet, but we are still in the planning stage.”

TEA officials also discussed remote learning options by putting the decision on how kids will learn in the hands of parents.

Parents can choose one of three options: traditional classroom learning, remote synchronous or remote asynchronous instruction.

Remote synchronous is a two-way, real-time virtual instruction between teachers and students when students are not on campus.

Remote asynchronous is an instruction style of learning that does not require having the instructor and student engaged at the same time and may include prerecorded video lessons, online tasks or paper assignments.

Porterie said PAISD will offer all options with an emphasis in face-to-face instruction and synchronous instruction.

“We want to hit the needs of every student in the district,” he said. “We will use every tool in the district in order to deliver a viable curriculum with fidelity.”

TEA will count students taking virtual classes in the attendance figures.

Porterie said classes will look very similar to a normal day of instruction.

“A teacher will open the lesson with students in front of him or her and students online that are listening and viewing from home,” he said. “Students will be interacting in the classroom and online throughout that lesson. Once that class has ended, then virtual students will login to another teacher’s lesson and that will go on throughout the day.”

Students who choose a virtual learning options will be required to provide their own technology and classroom necessities.

“On our supply list we have listed learning devices, whether that’s chrome books or computers,” Porterie said. “We’ve also listed hand sanitizer and masks. We are going to start out giving masks in the beginning of the year, but we want parents to purchase masks, too.

“Also, if they choose virtual learning, the parents are responsible for securing devices for children to login to their classes, as well as securing Internet for the home.”

At this time, PAISD has no plans to change from the traditional school year calendar.

The first day of school is scheduled for Aug. 18. The last day is May 26.

If schools are required to close for a COVID-19 closure, those days will be made up at the end of the school year.