Friday, August 7, 2020

Bill Diamond: What will school look like this fall?

By Senator Bill Diamond

What happened to our education system this spring was unprecedented. Almost overnight, in-classroom instruction ended, students were sent home, and they, their parents and their teachers had to adapt to a new normal of remote learning over the internet. School administrators took decisive action to ensure students would continue to get the food and support they needed to thrive. It was a heroic effort by all, which was necessary to slow the spread of COVID-19 in our community. All involved deserve our praise and gratitude.

This is part of the reason why Maine leads the nation with our effective COVID-19 response: We are diligent, we look out for our neighbors, and when times get tough, we step up. But we are not out of the woods yet. Major outbreaks of COVID-19 persist across the country, and as summer wanes, many activities will move indoors, increasing the risk of COVID-19 transmission.

Unfortunately, this means the prospect of schools returning to in-classroom instruction this fall brings up a lot of concerns. It should be said that in classroom instruction is beneficial to students. With remote learning, students’ experiences can vary significantly based on their home environment, socialization is difficult, and lesson plans may not always translate. Remote learning may also increase the risk of child abuse or neglect, as it adds to stresses and pressures at home, and gives children less contact with mandated reporters who may be able to intervene.

Still, it is inescapable that in-classroom instruction presents a risk of COVID-19 transmission. Research indicates that while children who are infected with COVID-19 are less likely to experience the most severe effects of the disease, they are capable of transmitting to other children and to adults they come in contact with. That is a risk that we should take very seriously.

To that end, the Maine Department of Education has put together a color-coded health advisory system to determine the relative safety of returning to school. Red means there is a high transmission risk, and classes should be done all remotely. Yellow means there is some risk, and classes should be a mix of remote and in person. Green means the risk is low and classes may be done in person. As of Friday, the Department of Education has put the entire state in the green category, but circumstances could change.

These designations are done by county, which limits their usefulness, as there is a lot of geographic diversity within our counties. For example, Lake Region Schools and Portland Schools are technically in the same county, but the Maine CDC data show that there are significantly more cases in Portland than there are in Casco, Standish, Raymond, Baldwin and Windham. That difference matters.

Still, we should take some comfort in the extraordinary work being done by our school staff to prepare for a potential reopening. In the Windham-Raymond School DistrictBonny Eagle SchoolsLake Region School District, and the Sacopee Valley School District staff have been working closely with families, teachers and communities to plan and prepare for the eventual return of in-classroom learning. They are planning for symptom screening, physical distancing inside the schools, hand hygiene, and protocols to follow after a student has tested positive. They have also been working to acquire personal protective equipment. They, and our communities, will face many difficult choices in the coming weeks and months, and I appreciate that everyone continues to step up in this moment and make sure every child can get the education they deserve.

If you have questions or concerns about what reopening schools will mean for our community, I want to hear from you. You can send me an email at or call my office at 207-287-1515.<


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