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Port Arthur, Nederland & PNG ISD leaders talk new COVID rules, recommendations

Less than three weeks into the 2021-22 school year, local school districts are adjusting to the Texas Education Agency’s new guidelines aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19.

Last week, Port Arthur Independent School District, which started school Aug. 11, reimplemented a mask policy less than 24 hours after an executive order by Gov. Greg Abbott was temporarily overturned by the Texas Supreme Court.

Monday was the first day at PAISD for the mask mandate to be in effect. Superintendent Dr. Mark Porterie called it a positive first day of mandatory masking for staff, students and all others who entered the facilities.

He also offered thanks to the parents, guardians and staff for supporting the fast change.

“We know the concerns our parents have due to the rising number of positive COVID-19 cases in our area, and we want to make sure we are doing everything possible to mitigate the spread,” Porterie said. “The wearing of a mask is minimal when compared to the suffering we hear people go through when they have contracted the virus.”

The district will continue to clean and disinfect throughout the day, and is nearing completion of desk shields for all students and teachers.

A case tracker on PAISD’s website Monday afternoon showed four positive student cases.

Nederland Independent School District announced late Friday it would be adding protective shields to students’ desks.

The district continues to operate under the protocol that face coverings are optional for employees, students and visitors; but district leaders highly encourage face coverings.

The addition of desk shields to student desks began over the weekend and should be complete by mid-week.

Social distancing is being practiced on campuses when possible, and teachers will stop small-group instruction for the near future. Parents are asked to monitor their child for symptoms and keep them home when they are not feeling well, according to information from the district.

“We have had a successful eight days of school and are looking forward to many more,” NISD Superintendent Dr. Stuart Kieschnick said. “As mentioned to our school community, we are practicing social distancing when possible, desk shields have been installed, extra sanitizing measures are still in place and face coverings are highly encouraged.

“We are confident in our team and students that we are doing everything possible to create a healthy and safe environment.”

Port Neches-Groves ISD, which was the only regional district last year that offered only in-person learning, has implemented an online tracker to keep parents more informed about campus cases.

The PNGISD COVID tracker showed a total of 35 active cases on Monday afternoon.

Deputy Superintendent Julie Gauthier said that Monday, the first day of the first full week of classes, went well.

Gauthier said they have cases like they did last year and are handling those as they did in the previous school year by communicating with families and reminding people to stay at home if they are not feeling well.

She said the district had a COVID tracker last year but it wasn’t published. Instead, letters were sent home with students if there was a positive case. The information is also submitted to the local health department and TEA.

“Our teachers are doing a great job of working with students when they are absent and instruction continues to go on,” Gauthier said. “What’s most important is to provide instruction for our kids. We believe school is the safest place for them to be.”

According to the Texas Health and Human Services’ Texas Public Schools COVID Data, cumulative positive student cases come in at 4,729, while cumulative positive staff cases are 3,373.