LEWISTON, Maine — It's been a difficult school year for districts across Maine as they continue to adapt and navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewiston schools have faced staffing shortages, transportation issues, and multiple transitions.
Superintendent Jake Langlais said his staff has been working tirelessly since March 2020 to provide the best education possible. Langlais openly admits he is against remote learning, not because his teachers cannot teach lessons well using that method, but because it is a challenge.
"Home is not school. There are too many distractions. The routine is not teaching and learning," he said via a Zoom interview Wednesday.
Langlais went to the Lewiston School Committee with the idea of asking the Maine Department of Education to grant a waiver to drop the minimum number of school days this year. As of now, every school must be in session 175 days.
The committee voted unanimously this week to make the request. The district is asking the DOE to grant this waiver so it does not have to make up any days that have already been lost at the end of the year. As of now, two or three full-day cancellations must be made up according to Langlais.
Last year under Governor Janet Mills' emergency orders, schools did not have to make up any days that were lost, due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewiston schools took advantage and gave teachers three days without students to catch up on any work or to reset.
“I think people took a deep breath and said, 'Thank you. I just needed a day,'" Langlais said.
Giving teachers, students, and faculty that break is another reason why Langlais is pushing for this waiver. He hopes his district can end the school year on a set date, and then he and his staff can get to work on preparing for the next school year.
These waivers are not new, according to Steve Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Board Association and the Maine School Management Association.
“Typically, those [requests] were around storm-related issues," Bailey said Wednesday.
Bailey said that as of now, waivers will only be granted on a district-by-district basis if the DOE deems them necessary. School committees or school boards must vote to make the request.
“From there it’s acted upon by the [DOE] commissioner based on its merits," he added. “It’s not like it’s new for the pandemic. There had been a procedure in place."
The DOE has helped support schools with remote learning resources and professional development opportunities this year. These school day waiver requests must be submitted "on behalf of a school who, due to unforeseen disruptions or undue hardships, were unable to provide an obligatory day of instruction," according to a department spokesperson.
The DOE also set minimum requirements for any pandemic waiver to be accepted. Langlais said Lewiston schools have followed the guidelines.
According to the department, districts that are "following the CDC health and safety guidance for schools, and are implementing the required contact tracing and quarantine protocols of the Standard Operating Procedure, and the purpose of the waived days must include developing a plan for educational continuity to support kids during quarantines and/or other short term emergency school closure" meet the requirements.
Langlais said he did not know when a decision would be made but he hopes the request warrants a conversation with the DOE.