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UPDATE: School districts in Port Arthur, Mid-County react to governor’s mask update

Local school districts are on a wait-and-see mode in response to Gov. Greg Abbot’s announcement to lift the mask mandate and open the state to 100 percent capacity next week.

Nederland Independent School District Superintendent Stuart Kieschnick said the governor’s announcement was a total surprise.

“We will await guidance from TEA (Texas Education Agency) on what this means for schools,” Kiescnick said.

A statement issued from NISD on social media stated the district is aware of the governor’s announcement and will seek further guidance from the TEA.

“As always, the safety and health our faculty, students and staff remain our number one priority. Further information will be shared in the coming days,” the statement read.

The Texas Education Agency stressed to Port Arthur Newsmedia on Tuesday afternoon that Gov. Abbott’s executive order takes effect March 10, and “updated public health guidance from TEA will be coming this week.”

Port Neches-Groves Independent School District Superintendent Mike Gonzales said the district is aware of the announcement and will consider all of the information received.

A statement issued from the district on social media stated the district will “continue to follow the public health guidance of the TEA commissioner as we review and determine the best practices of our district”

A call to Port Arthur Independent School District was not immediately returned.

However, the PAISD issued a statement saying “Port Arthur ISD is aware of Governor Abbott’s mask removal mandate, effective Wednesday, March 10th. As of now, we will continue to follow our established COVID-19 protocols to ensure the safety and security of our students, staff and families. We will await further guidance from the Texas Education Agency and county health officials on how to move forward for the remainder of the school year. We will share updates with our families as we receive them.”

Sabine Pass Independent School District announced it would continue to move forward under recommendations of the Texas Education Agency, saying “Our primary goal is the safety of our Sharks.”

Bob Hope School is continuing with the use of face masks, with officials noting they will be in a conference call with the TEA Commissioner on Thursday in an effort to get more direction.

The governor made his announcement Tuesday to lift the mask mandate and incase capacity of all businesses and facilities in the state to 100 percent.

“With the medical advancements of vaccines and antibody therapeutic drugs, Texas now has the tools to protect Texans from the virus,” Abbott said. “We must now do more to restore livelihoods and normalcy for Texans by opening Texas 100 percent. Make no mistake, COVID-19 has not disappeared, but it is clear from the recoveries, vaccinations, reduced hospitalizations, and safe practices that Texans are using that state mandates are no longer needed.

“Today’s announcement does not abandon safe practices that Texans have mastered over the past year. Instead, it is a reminder that each person has a role to play in their own personal safety and the safety of others. With this executive order, we are ensuring that all businesses and families in Texas have the freedom to determine their own destiny.”

The order goes into effect on March 10.

According to The Texas Tribune, teachers have been among the most vocal advocates for more safety protocols. Teachers were not explicitly prioritized for vaccine access in Texas, angering many teachers groups and local education leaders.

“Lifting the mask mandate at a time when most educators still don’t have access to a COVID-19 vaccine and are anxious about being in close proximity to large numbers of students and fellow staff only adds stress to the already crushing pressure placed on our school employees during the pandemic,” said Shannon Holmes, executive director of the Association of Texas Professional Educators to The Texas Tribune. “This ill-advised move is likely only to prompt educators to resign or retire.”