• 48°

MARK PORTERIE — Educators need to be prioritized with COVID vaccinations

With all the turmoil 2021 has ushered in, there is a ray of hope in our battle against the devastating COVID-19 virus. Vaccines have been developed and are being administered in our area.

With the death rate from COVID-19 consistently climbing, I am encouraged as I see so many individuals tightening the stance on protecting ourselves by wearing a mask, practicing social distancing and seriously considering being vaccinated.

I commend the decision to first vaccinate our healthcare providers and first responders along with those with critical health conditions. These individuals are heroes in every aspect of the word; they have stepped up to serve and protect others.

They have given of themselves and sacrificed their lives in more ways than we will ever know. The attention to ensure their safety is critical to saving lives and getting rid of this terrible virus that has crippled our country.

I present you another group that should be hailed as heroes: Our educators, nurses, custodians, food service workers and transportation workers — the staff of the PAISD. These are the people who have addressed the educational needs of our students.

During the past 11 months, our educational system has seen flips and turns, pivots and transformations like never before. We have witnessed teachers move from in-person learning to virtual learning to both in-person and virtual at the same time.

There have been some amazing discoveries of how teachers have mastered the delivery of instruction to our children. Our district has continued to provide services through innovative problem-solving and a resolve to do what is best for our children.

Our Child Nutrition Department partnered with the Transportation Department in order to ensure that children who were learning from home still had the opportunity to eat two meals per day. Our custodians had to rethink and learn new ways, not only on how to clean, but how to clean and disinfect buildings while maintaining their own safety.

Our school leadership teams have had to think of ways to protect the staff and students. We have employed all efforts to prevent school closings due to the spread of COVID-19. Our federal and state leaders have encouraged schools to return to full capacity, but how do you return to full capacity if those who are working daily with our students cannot be protected.

Somewhere along the way, teachers and other school staff have been forgotten or ignored. Vaccination of school personnel should be a priority in Texas as it is in other states.

Our school personnel cannot control with whom over 8,000 students come into contact when students leave school. When students and staff return to schools each day, everyone is vulnerable to whatever is brought back into the buildings.

For this reason, I am asking everyone to support prioritizing vaccinations for ALL educational workers.

It is imperative to our nation that schools remain open and accessible to students. Our federal government has made a pledge that all schools will open within the next 100 days. The educational gaps that have occurred in our educational system over the last 11 months have been devastating.

In order to meet the needs of our children, we must interact closely with them. Virtual learning has not proven to be effective for the majority of our children. The needs of our children go far beyond instruction.

Our staff has done an excellent job of maintaining safety and providing the best instruction, however, we realize that but more must be done. In order for us to resume with education as it is meant to be, we have to ensure that our employees and staff are safe.

As our healthcare workers address the health needs of people all over the country, our educators address the educational needs of children all over the country. Our educators put their lives on the line because they care about the future of our students.

There is a generation hanging in the balance. The lack of education will not only lessen a child’s chances for a prosperous life, but will also affect the economic recovery of every citizen in this country.

Without children learning to read and comprehend what they are reading, being able to problem solve, and developing social skills, we will have a society of uneducated men and women, and the results of that will be detrimental to our entire culture and way of life in America.

The Governor has ordered our schools to reopen but has made no effort to prioritize school staff for the administration of vaccines. As we in Port Arthur rally on Facebook and other social media platforms about our athletic victories, we as a community need to rally for the protection of our educators.

If our schools are to remain open, employees need urgent protection from the virus.

Parents have gained a new respect for the job of education. The at-home virtual learning experience has opened many eyes to see what a difficult job it truly is. Let’s join together and keep our schools open and safe.

Our collective voices, joined with those across our state, will be hard to ignore. Please join the collective conversation, and let your voice be heard as we demand that all individuals in the K-12 school system be prioritized for vaccinations as other heroes of this pandemic.

Educators, teachers, bus drivers, child nutrition workers, custodians, paraprofessionals and other staff should be given this vital support. I am asking each citizen to call your state and local representatives, and voice your support for prioritizing educator vaccinations.

Education matters if we are going to maintain and move forward with a strong economically stable society. Educators in Texas have done their part in reopening and maintaining the educational system.

It is time for our state to respond with the care, concern and protection these heroes deserve.

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