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Portland Board of Education approves school reopening plan, universal masking

The Portland schools reopening plan calls for universal masking indoors and pool testing, among other COVID-19 mitigation efforts

PORTLAND, Maine — The Portland Board of Education has approved the reopening plan for the school district this fall, which calls for universal masking indoors for students and staff. 

The board spent hours discussing the plan proposed by Superintendent Xavier Botana. Ultimately just before 11:00 p.m., nearly five hours after the start of the meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve the plan. 

In additional to requiring masks, the district aims to take part in pool testing for grades K-6 which is offered to schools by the state.

Distancing will also be encouraged whenever possible for students and staff, including utilizing outdoor learning, and even outdoor lunch when possible.

When the plan was first introduced by Superintendent Botana at the Board of Education meeting two weeks ago, multiple parents were against the universal masking policy. 

However at the meeting on Tuesday, no parents spoke against masks, and some even urged the board to consider additional actions to ensure the safety of students.

"I think it's clear there's a lot of thought and work being put in," Beth Rabbitt, a parent with two children in Portland Public Schools said. "At the same time, there are meaningful deficiencies to address, around how to respond to the delta variant. How to ensure we're being as careful as possible as we're returning to school, particularly given the rise of pediatric cases and breakthrough cases," 

Rabbitt and other parents asked the board to consider options like cohorts for students, which was used last year, limiting access to school buildings to only students and school personnel and creating a more robust remote learning option. 

Right now the district is only offering a remote option to students with verified medical conditions that would prevent them from returning to in-person instruction due to potential for COVID-19 exposure.

There is also no vaccinate mandate for school staff. Botana said he is currently working to get vaccination status updates for district employees.