Fall 2021 SChool Opening

Fall 2021 Return to School

August 21, 2021

Dear Staff, Students, and Families, 

I hope you are well and enjoying these August summer days. I am sure the opening of school is on your minds—it is certainly foremost in our thoughts here at school as we prepare to welcome students and staff back. Our goal is to return our students to fulltime in person instruction for the entire school year, with our highest priority being the health and safety of all.  Last Thursday evening the Board approved our plan for opening schools that includes a few fundamental changes from last year.  We are looking forward to our students’ return and will do all that we can to ensure that each student is successful. 

Our decisions regarding what we’ll require of all people returning to our buildings are guided by the MDOE, the US CDC, the Maine Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended mitigation strategies for school re-opening. Additionally, the Maine CDC’s Division of Disease Surveillance SOP (Standard Operating Procedure) directs protocol involving all students and staff to reduce spread of illness and prevent broad outbreak. 
Pooled testing and vaccinations are among the highly recommended strategies to quarantine-proof our schools, Maine Department of Education Commissioner Makin states. So is universal masking, in our schools and on our buses. While children under 12 are not eligible to receive the vaccine, that may change this fall. We will continue to work with our local pharmacy to offer vaccination clinics on site as families and staff opt to access.  

Considering the goal to return as many students to full time learning, as many days as possible this school year, I am not only concerned about the spread of illness, but the great disruption to learning caused by quarantining students from school, potentially 10 days for each exposure, and the closure of individual school buildings due to outbreak status.  This happened with some frequency last year despite hybrid cohorting, affecting hundreds of students and staff. Universal masking will not only reduce the spread of illness but will also reduce the number of students needing to quarantine.  Masking is inconvenient and uncomfortable—it is also temporary, but necessary right now.  We will revisit the masking requirement mid-October and gage the health environment in our schools and communities.

We will do all we can to limit the spread of illness, the number of those needing to quarantine from school, and schools reaching outbreak status, as these factors are great disruptions to a student’s education.  We intend to continue to implement many of the COVID mitigation strategies as possible—we will offer pooled testing, social distancing as much as practicable, and additional lunch mods. We will encourage frequent hand washing, ensure ongoing touch point sanitizing, and limit visitor access to buildings while in session.  Principals will share building-specific procedures we have established to support the safe operation of our schools. 

The most important change from last year is that all students will return to classrooms five days a week.  We will no longer offer remote learning as students are far more successful when they attend school in person—this is how our schools are staffed to best meet student needs. Students will not be required to wear masks outside.  We will encourage outside learning and dining as much as possible, with mask breaks when inside. Some of the restrictions on specials and elective programs, like band and chorus, are reduced.  Co-curricular programs are operating, and students are able to fully participate in these school activities. 

Our priority is to provide not only the safest but least interrupted environment for students’ access to in person learning. I know that our students are looking forward to joining their friends and peers at school.  Our incredible staff is working hard to make the return to school a celebration and in many ways, a victory for our MSAD 49 community. We all care about our children’s success—each and every student.  

May this school year be productive, positive, and healthy for all.

Roberta Hersom
Superintendent of Schools