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Reactions vary with Port Arthur, Nederland, PNG school leaders following end of mask mandates

Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order this week barring government entities and schools from mandating masks after June 3 — a move that has brought mixed reactions from local education leaders.

In March, the Texas Education Agency left mask mandates up to individual school district.

Port Arthur ISD School Board President Brandon Bartie believes the governor’s decision was premature.

“I was kind of surprised,” Bartie said. “Me, personally, I think we are moving a little bit too fast. COVID is still out there. People are still getting sick from it. I haven’t heard of as many severe cases like we had when we started. Dealing with kids and our staff; I want to make sure we make the right decisions to protect our staff, students and faculty.”

PAISD superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie released a statement this week saying the district’s schools would continue to wear masks through June 4.

“Students, staff and visitors that choose to continue to wear a mask may do so,” Porterie said in the statement. “We will continue to implement our district’s COVID-19 guidelines, such as social distancing and temperature checks. We encourage our parents and students, ages 12 and older, to get vaccinated to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The Port Arthur Health Department has vaccines available and the Gulf Coast Health Center will provide vaccines to our secondary students and their parents next week.”

Nederland Superintendent Dr. Stuart Kieschnick said NISD will drop regulations beginning June 1.

“(Masks) won’t be mandatory, but anyone that wants to wear them, we will still allow that,” he said.

Kieschnick said he supported Abbott’s decision.

“Governor Abbott follows the data pretty good and he makes data-driven decision and I agree with it,” he said.

The NISD superintendent said administrators would talk to the children and parents before summer school begins and before school starts in the fall about being tolerant of other people’s decision to wear or not wear masks.

“Either way is fine with us, and we respect it either way,” he said. “Different people have different beliefs and we will honor their beliefs.”

NISD School Board President Micah Mosley said he is just excited to wrap up the school year.

“We have all of our ceremonies in place,” he said. “We have fun parties inside and outside to celebrate our kids’ success. We are excited to wrap up the school year with our current protocols and go into the next year under the new guidelines.”

Bartie said he believes parents should still encourage their children to wear masks and get vaccinated.

“I’m still putting on my mask 100 percent,” he said. “Everywhere I go, I am going to be putting on my mask. As a parent, I would want my son to wear his mask to school. If they come with a mask, I have no issue with that. If they don’t come with a mask, I have no issue with that.”

Port Neches-Groves ISD Deputy Superintendent Julie Gauthier said the district would continue the remainder of the school year with the current protocols.

“In reality, I’m sure it is pretty lax out there,” she said. “We have procedures in place, and it would be crazy to try and switch that up. We maybe see one COVID case a week. Most weeks, we see none. We are going to finish the year how we started and we have no plans for masks after the last day of school. Graduation will be mask optional and Project Graduation will be mask optional, as well as all of our summer activities.”

Mosley said teachers and administrators should be on the lookout in the coming months for students who aren’t tolerant of other’s choices regarding the wearing of masks.

“They need to be all eyes and ears to pick up on that type of stuff,” Mosley said. “Really, I feel like our students have been fine with the TEA original mask mandate. I haven’t heard negatives in that regard. I know we are always looking out for that kind of thing.”