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CASSANDRA JENKINS — Nederland ISD teachers express concerns with returning to school

The Nederland Independent School District is the last local district scheduled to return to class on Aug. 31. All seven campuses are offering students the option to start virtual or in-person, but for some educators these decisions are not enough.

School Board President Micah Mosley read three public comments at this week’s virtual board meeting indicating that NISD educators are less than enthused about returning to school this month.

The first email came from James Black, a social studies teacher at Nederland High School. The topic, “Concerns regarding the resumption of face-to-face teaching at Nederland ISD.”

The letter started with a preface.

“I love being a teacher and interacting with my students in a classroom setting,” Black’s letter read. “I take my job very seriously and endeavor to provide my students with the best education possible. As a teacher I feel it is my responsibility to keep the best interests of my students at the forefront of my thoughts.”

Black said he didn’t understand how the board could consider resuming school as early as Aug. 17. The letter was written before the district’s announcement to suspend school for an additional two weeks.

Continuing, Black’s letter referenced Port Arthur ISD and Beaumont ISD’s decisions to start school exclusively online.

“Given that the numbers of confirmed cases and the rate of infection have increased dramatically since we closed schools last March, why would we push to reopen now in a much worse scenario?

“It has long been a common understanding among parents and educators that during cold and flu season, that these diseases will rapidly spread through the student body and faculty, and in turn be brought home to families and teachers. COVID-19 is far more contagious.”

Black said it would be extremely naïve to believe all students will adhere to facemask and social distancing guidelines.

“At a time when large gatherings are being discouraged in all other aspects of our society, churches, professional sports, bars, political rallies, weddings, beaches, just to name a few, why would we ignore these guidelines when it comes to public schools?

“Why then are we rushing to put students and faculty in harms way? What evidence is there that schools will somehow miraculously escape the dire consequences of other large gatherings?”

Black said he’s spoken with others faculty members who’ve expressed health concerns with returning to school.

He finished with a direct line to the school board — “Our lives are literally in your hands.”

Following Black’s letter, fellow NHS teacher Roxanne Gray also asked the board to reconsider face-to-face instruction.

“Many of our district employees, faculty and staff are extremely distressed about this decision,” she wrote. “We feel dismayed, confused and disappointed. You are all aware that a significant number of your faculty and staff are battling medical issues…

“Some teachers I’ve corresponded with have actually considered retiring early or changing professions. Others are currently budgeting their lives to live without income for awhile because they are afraid to go back to the classroom to teach students face-to face. These are very real, logical concerns.”

The last email came from yet another NHS teacher. Vicki Black voiced the concerned thoughts of many students, teachers and parents

“The truth is, in fact, many people, both students and teachers, are aware of and deeply concerned about the health risk we are currently facing if we return to in-class instruction,” she wrote. “The school board members and administrators are responsible for everyone and that includes the older teachers, the teachers who have underlying health conditions, the students and family members with who they reside. Returning to in class-instruction would compromise the health of all these people.”

The Board of Trustees did not immediately respond to the letters during the meeting except to say thank you for the feedback.

Cassandra Jenkins is a news reporter for Port Arthur Newsmedia. She can be reached at cassie.jenkins@panews.com.