PHOTO GALLERY — Port Arthur students return to school; Superintendent pleads for mask use

Published 12:34 am Thursday, August 12, 2021

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Sharay Edwards and her son Jase Davis walked calmly to the doors of Sam Houston Elementary School prepared for the first day of the new school year.

Or so they thought.

While in line to enter, physical education teacher Mark Gassen chatted with the prekindergarten student about sports and everything seemed just fine — until it was time for the tot to enter the school.

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Tears were shed as the mother comforted her son and the son finally turned toward the teacher, seemingly seeking assurance.

Schools across the Port Arthur Independent School District opened their doors Wednesday for the 2021-22 school year as mostly-masked students filed inside.

While not a mandate, PAISD Superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie suggested for students to wear a mask. In a recorded video released Tuesday, Porterie first welcomed parents and students back and told of how rooms are being cleaned and desks have shields.

Then he addressed the issue of masks.

“But there’s one more thing I’m going to ask of you. On (Wednesday), when the students return, parents, we need you, we’re asking and begging of you to support children wearing masks,” Porterie said on the video. “Yes, our governor has mandated that we cannot enforce the mask but you know and I know as we look at the numbers that are rising across the United States, we need to do everything we can do in order to keep our staff and our students safe.”

Children 11 and under are currently not able to take the vaccine while students 12 and older have the opportunity.

Porterie asked that those who can take the vaccine, and if not, to come to school with masks. Masks will be available and will be offered to students.

“Parents, one child, one child that contracts the coronavirus is too many. If it’s yours; if it’s mine. One child is too many. If that child dies it’s too many. We do not want any child to get sick or worse, so we want you, we need your support in order to mitigate the spread of this virus,” he said.

“It’s a piece of cloth. It has nothing to do with your political views, your religious views. It’s about human life.”

Statistics released from Port Arthur Health Department show an increase in COVID-19 cases in children, teens and young adults.