Breaking News
More () »

Mills releases guidance for reopening schools

Framework updated with health and safety precautions that all schools must follow if they decide to return to in-classroom instruction this fall.

AUGUSTA, Maine — On Friday Gov. Janet Mills announced a series of steps her administration is taking to assist and support school systems across Maine as they consider whether and how to return to in-classroom instruction this fall.

Mills says the actions aim to provide essential support to promote a safe return for children, teachers, and school staff.

The Maine Department of Education, in close partnership with the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC), has updated its “Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction” to include health and safety precautions that all schools must follow if they decide to return to in-classroom instruction to ensure the safety and well-being of students and staff. 

The Governor also announced that these science-based protocols, which follow national best practices and include the use of face coverings and physical distancing, will be financially supported by up to $165 million in Federal CARES Act funding that she has authorized to be distributed to school systems across Maine.

RELATED: Schools, parents prepare as Dept. of Education has yet to release final plans for reopening

Mills said the Administration will provide school superintendents and school boards with public health guidance in the form of a three-tiered health advisory system to assist them in making decisions about whether and how to bring students back to the classroom. This new tiered system, developed by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and the Maine CDC, will take into account public health metrics on a county by county basis and translate them into three, regularly updated color-based categorizations.

“Like many parents and teachers, I am concerned about the children who are being left behind and the inequities that have been exacerbated by this pandemic. For the sake of Maine children, their futures, and the livelihoods of Maine families, returning to classroom instruction when it is safe to do so must be our shared goal,” Mills said. 

Mills discussed the updated guidance in a briefing on Friday. Watch here: 

“But that goal cannot be achieved at the expense of peoples’ health and safety, regardless of what the Trump Administration says," Mills said. "I want students, parents, teachers, and school staff to feel safe and confident in returning to school. That is why my Administration will provide public health guidance and financial support to assist local officials as they determine what is best for their communities, their students, and their staff. The actions we are taking today are a step in that direction.”

The Framework was updated to include a series of health and safety precautions that all schools must follow to protect the safety and well-being of staff, students, and their families if they decide to return to in-classroom instruction. These protocols were developed by public health experts and include:

  1. Symptom screenings before coming to schools
  2. Physical distancing within school facilities
  3. Wearing face coverings
  4. Practicing proper hand hygiene
  5. Wearing personal protective equipment when in close proximity to students
  6. Remaining isolated at home if sick until meeting criteria to return to school

Updated Framework for Return to Classroom Instruction:

The Administration says these recommendations are intended to be advisory in nature and pertain only to the unique circumstances of schools. Given the large and varied nature of counties in Maine, School Administrative Units (SAUs) within a county or spread across multiple counties may adopt a reopening policy that differs from this county-based categorization of COVID-19 risk. Maine DHHS and Maine CDC will not review SAU-specific plans.

The health advisory system will be posted on the Department of Education website beginning July 31 and updated on a biweekly basis, which allows for sufficient time to capture trends.

“School leaders have been tasked with developing multiple plans for instruction, implementing new protocols, and making extraordinarily difficult decisions in order to provide for both the education and safety of our students and ensure the health and well-being of the entire school community,” Pender Makin, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, said. “The importance of our public education system has never been more evident, as we work to keep our people, our economy and our future healthy, and I am honored to work alongside my dedicated colleagues in education.”

RELATED: Real-time Maine coronavirus updates: Friday, July 17

RELATED: Return plan for Maine schools still unclear, but families' mental preparation should start now

Before You Leave, Check This Out