7/31/2020 Letter to School Families

Dear RSU #34 Schools’ Families,

We continue to make progress in our plans regarding the return to school this fall. Governor Mills today released updated guidance to assist school communities in making their decisions about how to resume instruction this fall in the face of COVID-19.  This guidance includes the Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk by color as well as updated requirements for schools to reopen decision on whether or not to bring students back into the classroom will be guided by the three tiered system for each of Maine’s sixteen counties. The Health Advisory System categorizations are defined as follows:

·         RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.

·         YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider hybrid instructional models as a way to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.

·         GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.

RSU #34, in Penobscot County, like the rest of the State of Maine today have a GREEN categorization. While that brings us one step closer to a return to “in-person” school, we still have six key safety requirements that must be addressed: Screening for symptoms, maintaining physical distancing, face masks for all students and staff, hand hygiene, wearing personal protective equipment indoors, and staying home if you're sick.

Our local Collaborative Planning Team comprised of parents, teachers, staff, and administrators have been hard at work thinking through the different possible scenarios, ordering PPE, and cleaning and preparing our buildings. We have had a chance to reflect on the months of remote learning, as well beginning to analyze the response we are receiving to our parent/guardian survey. If you have not completed this survey, please go to our website, www.RSU34.org and do so today.  All of this has helped us to think more clearly about this fall, and while we worked hard to do a good job last spring, we will improve and do an even better job of helping your students to learn and grow in any model. We stand ready to support all our students whatever their needs while implementing best practice to protect the health of our students, their families, and our staff.

We have had success in our planning to address the six key safety requirements but continue to wrestle with some issues, especially physical distancing on school buses and in our classrooms.  Until recommendations in this area are revised, it is likely that most students will be learning in-person two days per week and learning remotely three days per week.  We urge families to continue making care plans for students.

We are working hard to prioritize more days of in-person instruction for our youngest learners and for Special Needs learners.  This means that we are shifting students and staff amongst our three elementary schools to maximize our use of space as we must do 3-6-foot distancing in our classrooms.  Families of affected students will be contacted within the next two weeks.  We know this will create some disruption for young students, and inconvenience for families.  We also know that the younger learners we can bring in five days per week, the better we can serve them and their families.

Following the Maine CDC / Department of Education guidance, all adults and all students will wear face masks/coverings at school, including bus transportation.  Each school is developing age-appropriate ways for students to take occasional mask breaks throughout the day when we can do so safely, such as outside with adequate distancing.  We will provide masks as needed but encourage families to find masks their child is comfortable with and practice wearing them for longer periods of time at home.

The biggest factor influencing how much schools across Maine can be open in person is the spread of COVID-19.  You have likely seen that many places in the United States have such spread that they are no longer considering in-person instruction for the fall of 2020.  Our communities – right now – are in a much better place.  Please help us teach kids in-person as much as possible throughout 2020-2021 by following the “slow the spread” recommendations from the Maine CDC (e.g., social distancing, wearing face masks to slow transmission, and frequent hand washing). 

We remain dedicated to establishing a safe, effective model to begin the 2020-2021 school year and are hopeful that by the time we make the turn for spring and the last quarter of the year we will see things returning to normal. Until then we will continue to be patient and move with appropriate caution keeping safety, social/emotional wellness, and learning in mind.

David A. Walker

Superintendent of Schools