August 1, 2020
Dear Parents, Guardians, Students and Staff,
We understand that families, students and our staff are anxious to know what the opening of school plan is. Please know that our goal is a full return to in-person learning—though the pandemic has altered life’s routines in many ways, we have a strong catalyst and great opportunity to refine and improve. We will help students access their education in new ways and provide quality learning experiences regardless of this situation we are in. Our planning, discussions, and recommendations going forward are all driven by what is safest for all people who will be in our buildings, what is possible, and what is sustainable this school year.
As you may be aware, the Maine Department of Education released the health risk levels by county: RED (high risk of COVID-19 spread ), YELLOW (elevated risk of COVID-19 spread), and GREEN (relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread). While the designation of green in all 16 counties reflects a positive status for our state, the Maine Department of Education also requires schools to meet very specific criteria before in-person learning can occur. Though Kennebec County and Somerset County are designated green, the MDOE further states, that schools in “green” counties may need to use a hybrid instructional model if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements, as identified in the Maine DOE Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction’s six requirements for protecting health and safety.
We continue to assess school readiness to implement the Maine CDC’s guidance for schools. These are also requirements for schools in Maine to return to in-person instruction. Face masks will be required by all people, including staff and students. Additionally, we must ensure that we prepare our classrooms to meet physical distancing requirements. Students must be three feet apart, and adults must have 6 feet of distance between themselves and any other person. We have been removing all non-essential furniture and materials to maximize our classroom spaces, and have ordered plexiglass barriers, and individual desks to help us meet these distancing requirements. The physical distancing requirements also extend to our use of school buses. Though our capacity to transport students to school, and to access in-person learning is reduced, we are working hard to bring as many children back into our school buildings as possible, while meeting and maintaining these safety guidelines.
Our District has been planning for three scenarios: a full return to in-person learning, continued remote learning, and a hybrid model that will provide students with some access to in-person. Thank you to those who completed our July survey. Your responses have been helpful to our team’s planning. We will likely use a phase-in model, meaning initially we will bring students to the buildings in smaller groups at first to ensure that they are prepared for the new routines that will support the health and safety of all. This may be considered an orientation time—opportunity to show students how to be in an environment that will appear different than it did when they left in March, and follow procedures that are wholly new to all. However, it is our goal to have every student, who is able to, attend school in person. In order to do so within our maximum capacity, we need to hear from all families about the choice to return (or continue with remote) and the need for transportation (our bus capacity is especially reduced by the distancing requirement). You will be receiving a survey through our system—please complete this brief survey by August 7.
On Wednesday, August 5, our team will review a proposed initial opening plan, and on August 6, the Board will consider information about the capacity of each school building, and the capacity of the District to transport students to our schools, options for return to classroom instruction, and the recommendations of our team.
We continue our work to determine procedures for the safe reopening of schools. We will provide you with as much information as possible, as soon as it is available. Principals will be communicating with families about school opening, a schedule of events, resources for families to learn more about what changes have taken place in the buildings, and new safety procedures that are necessary to prevent the transmission of illness.
We thank you for your patience and look forward to providing you with additional information next week.
Stay safe and be well.
MSAD 49 Superintendent of Schools