DR. MARK PORTERIE — Now is the time to be your brother’s keeper

Published 12:04 am Saturday, August 1, 2020

We have all heard the adage of “You are your brother’s keeper.” This has roots in religion but has transcended to be common attitudes of ways to live harmonious lives.

Whether someone else’s well-being is your problem is a question too many answer negatively. We may have never had to put this principle into practice as much as we must do so now. As our community has continued to be ravaged by the coronavirus, more people that we each know have become infected with this potentially deadly disease.

I have seen the public’s attitude vacillate between, it’s no big deal to shear panic. We must find a balance that protects each of us to the best of our ability, while trying to prevent the total stall of our society.

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We are not ready to return to normal. This is a time that we must find a new way to live. We must all commit to creating a community view of “I am my brother’s keeper and I will protect him as I would want him to protect me.”

We must take personal responsibility to do what we must to protect each other, even if it creates discomfort or inconvenience for us, individually. We cannot live our lives as if it doesn’t matter what risks we take, when our individual actions and decisions can cause death to those we come in contact with.

A simple greeting can cause one person to lose taste and spend a few days home, while it may cause another many weeks in an ICU fighting for their life on a ventilator.

We understand the change in lifestyle we are being asked to make has been difficult for the entire world. However, other countries have been successful in flattening the curve through taking major steps to protect individuals and not wavering.

I am not going to reference our country, state or county. But I will reference our city, Port Arthur. We are no strangers to facing challenges. I cannot help but recall how three years ago we faced what we thought was the biggest challenge our city would ever face – Hurricane Harvey.

We all have experienced and benefited from the joint efforts of so many different people from so many different places with the common goal of assisting us in our time of need. COVID-19 is no less of a challenge, I believe we can rise and come out better in the end.

I am asking the citizens of this community to join me in working towards a common goal of protecting each other. I have heard individuals state that wearing a mask takes away their freedom of choice.

Choosing to help people continue to breathe is the best example of freedom of choice. I have stated time and again that it doesn’t matter what others are doing, we must follow our own minds and do what is best for our own community.

In life, we do not always have the luxury of doing what we want to do; we sometimes must do what we need to do. When we were children most of our parents insisted that we eat our vegetables. They didn’t care if we liked the way it tasted. They were concerned with the benefits to our health that eating vegetables brings.

I, initially, was uncomfortable wearing a mask, but as the Superintendent of Schools for Port Arthur, I have to be a model of what I expect from others. Now, wearing a mask doesn’t bother me as much and I appreciate it when others wear a mask around me. I want others to be as responsible for me as they are for themselves.

The Port Arthur Independent School District is preparing to greet students in ways that we would have never thought possible. As educators, we prefer to have face-to-face contact with our students as a tool that enables us to do our jobs better.

Face-to-face contact allows us to look into a child’s eyes to see if he understands what is being taught. We can look at little faces and see if they are hungry or if something is troubling them. However, we will adapt and learn new ways to meet the needs of our children.

This school year, educators will utilize various ways of communicating with students through the use of technology. In keeping with taking precautions to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus remote instruction for the time period of Aug. 18 – Sept. 11 is a choice that has been given to parents for their children, with a possibility of extending that time period.

As we begin instruction whether virtually or in-person, we will take personal responsibility to protect students and our co-workers with whom we come into contact. We will rise to the challenge and we will be better able to meet the learning challenges of students after COVID-19 is just a memory.

We are in full support of all students eventually returning to the classroom once the curve has been flattened. In order for parents and staff to again become comfortable with daily social interaction, we must follow the recommendations of our health authorities.

In order for our students to be able to return to school we need the assistance of all our parents and students in taking personal responsibility to reduce non-essential social interactions, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and washing hands.

We know that the wearing of masks will help to flatten the curve. Therefore, we are recommending to parents that in preparing students for their return to school, students would wear their masks during virtual instruction.

This will help students, especially those who are youngest, become accustomed to wearing the mask or shield. We recommend that parents remind children to wash their hands throughout the day and stress the importance of social distancing.

We understand children gravitate to one another, but in order to flatten the curve a safe distance must be kept in order to protect the health of everyone. Practice of these recommendations will assist in the positive transition from home to school.

The PAISD will monitor the occurrences of COVID-19 cases in our area and will then decide if extending virtual learning by another four weeks is warranted.

Let’s take time to reflect on flattening the curve and do everything we can to be successful in meeting that common goal. We are a community and that means we are our brother’s keeper. Let’s help our brothers and our sisters continue to breathe.

Dr. Mark Porterie is Superintendent of Schools for the Port Arthur Independent School District. He can be reached at mporterie@paisd.org.