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Superintendent outlines Port Arthur ISD mask requirement for all students, staff & visitors

Beginning Monday, all staff, students and any individual who visits any Port Arthur Independent School District facility are required to wear a mask.

Dr. Mark L. Porterie, superintendent of schools, made the announcement public Friday morning in a release to community members and media outlets.

“We are, yet again, faced with issues of life and death as more and more individuals get sick and hospitals are filled to capacity,” Porterie said. “As I watch the news each day, I see a resurgence of the pandemic we thought we had left behind last spring. Our schools have reopened for in person instruction. Our hospitals are overcrowded and, unfortunately, 40 percent of our staff have chosen not to be vaccinated at this time. Our students and our staff deserve the best chance the district can give for success. My action to require mandatory masking is a far cry from mandatory vaccines, but some may regard it as just as bad. I cannot stand by and not do anything.

“Each week the district will work with local health agencies to assess the situation and decide whether the mandatory masking protocol should be lifted. I will recommend to the Board at its next scheduled meeting to amend the student and staff dress codes. The amended dress code will require that students and staff while on district facilities and during on/off campus activities to wear a mask as a part of the required attire. Individual accommodations will be addressed for both staff and students.”

Porterie said administrators have “strongly encouraged” staff and students to wear masks and continue to practice sanitizing and hand washing.

Most parents and staff have done a great job being supportive in wearing masks in order to combat and mitigate the spread of the virus in local schools, he said.

“With the return of our students, social distancing has not always been possible,” he said. “Wearing a mask is the most practical way to protect ourselves, especially when not everyone is vaccinated. We have seen numbers in our area skyrocket over the past several weeks. Our employees and students are entitled to the most protection we can give. The district will continue daily screening of students and staff, as well as stringent sanitization efforts. Our custodians will continue aggressive cleaning and disinfecting protocols.”

During the 2020-21 school year, the school district pivoted to virtual learning in order to get a handle on what it was facing.

“However, the consequences of virtual learning caused learning gaps that will take time to close,” Porterie said. “The Texas Education Agency has mandated 30 hours of tutoring, in addition to the regular schedule, for every student who did not master the STAAR/EOC test last year. For example, if a child did not master English in third grade, the district has to create an individualized education plan that requires 30 hours of tutoring. If that child was not successful in English, Math and Science then the district is faced with having to create a plan that involves 90 tutorial hours.

“There is no way a child can remain at home and accomplish what is expected of him/her. It is imperative for our community of children to be in school, face-to-face and remain as safe as possible.”