Friday, August 14, 2020

Mark Bryant: Masking up as we return to school

By Representative Mark Bryant

As we settle more comfortably into August and look ahead to September, the question of what school will look like in the fall is on the forefront of most parents’ minds. All of Maine has been designated “green” for returning to in-person instruction. That means all communities, Windham included, have the option to return to school if we can meet the health and safety guidelines established by the Maine CDC and other public health experts.

While all counties are currently in the green classification, county classifications will be reassessed every two weeks. As we know, even the virus' effect on communities in Cumberland County has varied, so districts will not be bound to their county classification. Each district is working with their Collaborative Planning Teams (CPTs) to develop at least three separate models -- fully in-person, hybrid or fullt remote -- in order to initially implement the model each district deems appropriate based on current health data. 

Just last week RSU 14 Superintendent Christopher Howell recommended a hybrid model for initially returning to school. This is scheduled to receive a vote from the RSU 14 board on Aug. 19 and is not yet the final guidance. However, it is useful to look at this proposal as we think about the logistics required for returning to school. The proposed hybrid model would group students alphabetically with last names from A to K having in-person classes in school on Mondays and Wednesdays and those with last names from L to Z attending in-person classes in school on Tuesdays and Thursdays. On the days when students are not in school, there will be check-in online with their teachers.

Aside from employing this mixed approach, other safety measures must also be taken while students and teachers are in the building. Part of this means that kids will be properly physically distanced and that students and teachers will be required to wear a mask at all times per Executive Order 6. I have already heard from several parents and concerned members of the community regarding this mask requirement. I understand the fears and concerns expressed. My fifth grandchild was born just a few months ago. My other four are between the ages of three and twelve. I know how difficult it is to get them to sit still, let alone wear a mask. However, these are the steps that are necessary in order to continue to safely reopen our economy and return to some semblance of normalcy.

I am not an educator or a child development specialist or a medical practitioner, but I know that experts in those fields have been involved in the decision-making process as we seek to navigate how best to reopen our schools and daycare facilities. Every day we are learning more about this virus, about how it spreads, who it impacts and what long term consequences of having contracted the virus entail. What we have learned is that wearing a mask is one of the most valuable tools we have in combating the spread of COVID-19. I know it feels uncomfortable to watch your child wear a mask. It’s not something we are used to seeing and that can cause fear. But right now, masks are one of our best ways to manage the spread of this virus, and the more we slow the spread, the more lives we save, the sooner we will be able to shift back to normal and the sooner we will get our economy back on track.

COVID-19 will not disappear. It will linger and embed itself in our society the same way the common cold, flu and chickenpox have. But this time the effects are deadlier, and recoveries often leave lasting damage. We must collectively acknowledge that we will have to keep up our focus and remain committed to some admittedly inconvenient practices until vaccines and therapies are developed and widely distributed. That means social distancing, wearing masks and washing our hands regularly.

Rep. Bryant is serving in the Maine House of Representatives, representing part of Windham in House District 24. He is a member of the Joint Standing Committee on Transportation and the Joint 

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