Thank you for all you’re doing to support your students and staff!! The pressures on school and district leaders are immense under normal circumstances, and this is magnified to the extreme during a historic, prolonged, emergency situation. Your visionary and steadfast leadership is deeply appreciated, as we recognize that there are daunting obstacles to providing remote instruction and that the inequities are huge.
Because the provision of public education is a covenant between the schools and the communities they serve here in Maine, we’ve asked that you obtain school board approval for your plans for offering continuity of education. Each SAU must have a plan for providing for remote learning, and should be scalable in the event of a longer cessation of classroom instruction.
We are waiving the practice of obtaining DOE approval of these plans as a condition of the minimum school days waiver, and are only asking that you send us the minutes from the meetings where your plans are approved by the local school boards.
Frequently asked questions and recent updates:
Does each district have to separately request a waiver of the minimum number of school days?
We are planning to universally waive the minimum number of school days for all SAUs who receive local school board approval for continuity of education plans. The expectation is that 100% of SAUs are making every attempt to provide continuing educational services for all students. No separate application for the waiver is necessary; simply upload the minutes of the school board meeting where your plans are approved here.
(All who have previously emailed your school board approval minutes are all set!! We simply added this link for convenience and consistency).
If our SAU lacks resources, connectivity, etc., how can we offer remote learning?
We are hearing from many teachers and school leaders from less advantaged communities who are providing some really exciting educational experiences and opportunities for students and who have expressed a desire to share their approaches and plans with others. Daily office hours with our content specialists offer ongoing opportunities for educators to share their innovative approaches, challenges, and successes with one another. If you would like to connect with and learn from others, please reach out to our Chief Innovation Officer Page Nichols at firstname.lastname@example.org. who can help to find the right partnerships for guidance or resources.
Which school staff members are essential and should continue to be paid?
All school employees are considered to be “essential” under the Governor’s more recent Executive Order #19, and should be expected to complete all duties and tasks assigned to them. The Governor’s Executive Order #15 requires SAUs to continue to pay all school employees who held contracts prior to the COVID-related disruption, including hourly workers. Further guidance can be found here. Long term substitutes who held a contract that provided reasonable assurance of employment prior to this emergency situation would also qualify for ongoing payment and should be available to provide services as assigned. School employees will not qualify for unemployment under the recent expansion, and should not apply for these benefits. If they have received these benefits, they will be required to repay this to the Bureau of Unemployment Compensation.
How do we get answers to our questions?
We are deeply committed to providing resources, guidance and updated information to our colleagues in education, and will continue to do so through our webpage and emails. But as you are holding regional or organizational meetings, we welcome the opportunity to hear and respond to the questions and concerns of your group. Please reach out to our Director of Communications Kelli Deveaux at email@example.com, and she will coordinate to have a member of the Commissioner's Office join your meeting. We cannot answer the questions we don't hear, and we truly want to support your work, so please know this is a genuine request and offer. We are here to help!
Finally – some really good news! The CARES Act (Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security Act). The 3rd relief package will provide LEAs with a large amount of funding with significant flexibility in the use of these funds. This relief package passed unanimously in the Senate, and we expect a House vote and president signature sometime today. The turn-around time between now and when you’d likely receive the funding should be 8 weeks (30 days for us to update applications and 30 days for US ED to approve applications and send funding).
Thanks as always for all you do. Remember that our phenomenal team of specialists at DOE are here to assist you and your building leaders, educators, and staff!
Grateful for all you do to support your students, staff, and communities during this difficult time,
Dear Champions of Education,
We are hopeful that the Governor’s message yesterday afternoon will help our state to slow the progression of the coronavirus and ultimately allow us to avert some of the catastrophic situations we’re seeing in other regions. We’ve been receiving several questions about whether education and nutrition services provided by local schools are considered to be essential, and the answer is that they are essential. Certainly it is advisable to have as many staff members as possible working from home, but CDC guidance (Maine and national) continues to recognize the importance of continuing to provide essential services and continues to recommend careful hand washing, avoiding large groups, and generally keeping a 6’ bubble of space from others.
In response to many questions and concerns from the field, here are some clarifications:
MINIMUM NUMBER OF DAYS for the SCHOOL YEAR: The minimum number of school days will be waived for the 2019-2020 school year.
STATE ASSESSMENT SYSTEM AND ESSA ACCOUNTABILITY: Maine has applied for, and has received, waivers that eliminate state assessment requirements for this year.
CERTIFICATION: Extensions of up to 1 year will be provided for renewal applications that have been impacted by COVID-19 disruption.
PRE-SERVICE / EDUCATOR PREPARATION PROGRAMS: In lieu of certain coursework, practicum, and/or internship requirements, DOE will accept recommendations from educator preparation programs regarding the qualifications of pre-service educators who are currently in a educator preparation program/certification program that has been disrupted by COVID-19.
PEPG: DOE will not hold SAUs accountable for compliance with state statute/regulations regarding professional growth / supervision & evaluation systems. Enforcement of locally developed and/or adopted policies, programs, and systems remain at the discretion of local SAUs.
IDEA/SPECIAL EDUCATION SERVICES: We recognize that it is reasonable for schools and districts to be at different places when it comes to providing continuity of education for all students. It has only been a few days, and we’re hearing that some districts were up and running with a full program on “day one” and that others are still working hard to get the necessary materials, plans, logistics, and systems in place. We have also heard that (in Maine and across the nation) some school leaders are hesitant to offer any services until they are able to support full IEP accommodations.
We urge you to provide the best programming you can for all students and to offer as many accommodations as possible to facilitate universal access. FAPE under more “traditional” circumstances likely looks different from FAPE under a state and national emergency that has temporarily redefined what public education looks like. IEPs were based on a set of basic circumstances one would expect in a traditional school setting, and education for all students is very different right now. Fear of putting forth anything short of perfection at this time will immobilize you and your teams of educators when you most need to be proactive and innovative.
Please check out our most updated guidance and resource page for Special Education: https://www.maine.gov/doe/learning/specialed/covid19 As always, our specialists at DOE will be glad to answer your questions and to assist you as you move ahead with offering educational programming to all of the students in your care. Nobody should be feeling alone in this, so please connect as often as needed.
SCHOOL BUS DELIVERIES of MEALS and ACADEMIC MATERIALS: Just when you think there couldn’t be another rule or statute to trip over as we find our way through all of this… guess what? Turns out that the flashing lights on buses must only be used when school-aged passengers are on board. Please ask your transportation team to just pull over and use a regular blinker when making deliveries.
CDC NOTIFICATIONS to SUPERINTENDENTS and SCHOOL NURSES WHEN POSITIVE COVID CASE IS IDENTIFIED: Due to the current workload involved in investigating and monitoring positive cases of COVID-19, the multiple means of testing, and the prevalence of community transmission in some areas of the state, it is possible that both families of students and/or staff members will have notified schools before Maine CDC staff does. It is also likely that they (the student or staff) will know the preliminary result before the Maine CDC does. Because of this, Maine CDC can no longer guarantee that the superintendent and school nurse will be notified of a positive COVID-19 case. The Maine CDC and Maine DOE will do their best to communicate as we are able with school staff as quickly as possible. If you learn of a positive case in your school community (staff or student), please contact Emily Poland, our Nurse Consultant at DOE at firstname.lastname@example.org. She is working with CDC to provide a model letter for school leaders to use as they notify others of a positive case.
We hope these clarifications are helpful, and we will keep you updated as the situation progresses. Please don’t hesitate to reach out to the specialists at DOE for support and/or guidance regarding these updates or any other concerns and questions.
Thank you for all you do,
Dear Champions of Education,
As both the COVID-19 situation and our State’s response to it continue to evolve, we know that you’re hoping for more answers. Here are some very basic and general things to keep in mind as you focus on what is most important – leading.
- LD 2167 (the omnibus emergency bill passed last week) included additional flexibility with respect to the required number of school days: “the Governor, in consultation with the Commissioner of Education, may implement for elementary and secondary schools a plan to: (1) Waive the compulsory attendance requirements of Title 20-A, chapter 211 and any rules regarding compulsory attendance, including the minimum number of school days, or allow the compulsory attendance requirements to be met through nontraditional learning systems, including but not limited to remote access;” Therefore, we will waive the minimum number of required school days and attendance requirements for this school year.
- We have submitted a waiver for ESSA assessments and accountability system at US ED and are confident this will be granted.
- DOE will not be holding districts accountable for compliance with state statutes and regulations that are impossible to implement as a result of the COVID-19 disruptions. We encourage you to focus on those regulations that involve health and safety at this time.
- We urge you to make plans for providing educational services for all of your students, including those with and without disabilities.
- As for your many other questions: it would be irresponsible for us to get out in front of issues that are subject to ongoing change due to this unprecedented challenge – we recognize that all districts and all schools are likely at different places in terms of resources, readiness, and capacity. We also have great faith in your professionalism, dedication and commitment to doing what is best for your students.
We are attempting to obtain wireless internet-enabled tablet devices that could be used by teachers and students who do not have internet access. The equity gap between those who are able to remain connected and those who are not has become increasingly impactful. Please let us know if there are other resources or supports that would be helpful to you during this time.
Guidance for Governor's Executive Order Regarding Employees in Maine’s Public Schools
Where can I read the Executive Order? The Executive Order is here.
To whom does this Executive Order apply? School administrative units (SAUs) including charter schools, CTE programs, Education in the Unorganized Territory (EUT), magnet schools, and Child Developmental Services (CDS).
Are school employees expected to work? Yes. This order is based on our collective expectation that both salaried and hourly employees are available and continuing to work and to provide urgently needed services for schools and the students they serve.
What are the implications for staff members paid by federal funds? Please see the guidance we posted on March 18, 2020. It can be found here.
Does the work need to be performed onsite in order to be paid? No. Administrators may work with staff to determine some tasks that can be done remotely (putting packets together for kids, helping teachers in what they are doing, outreach, etc.). This may vary in each setting, depending on needs and resources. Work onsite should follow updated guidance for hygiene. Check DOE website.
What if an otherwise healthy staff member has been asked to self-quarantine or is in a shared living situation with someone who has been asked to self-quarantine or is sick? They could be given tasks to be completed at home when possible and appropriate, and would continue to be paid.
What if a staff member is able and available to work, but there is no work (or limited work) for them to do? Staff members should remain on call and ready to work as opportunities and needs arise. Work offered should be something the staff member is able to perform, and staff and supervisors should have a conversation about any limitations and any support that might be needed. This is likely to be a long-term situation, and schools are likely to require different tasks to be completed at different times. These staff members should continue to receive pay, based on most recent schedule prior to the COVID-19 related emergency and individual contracts.
Where is this money coming from? State, federal, and local resources have been appropriated and allocated to cover staffing costs for the full 2019-2020 school year.
Dear Champions of Education,
We continue to be in awe of the selfless work that Maine administrators, educators, and staff members are doing on behalf of students in all areas of our state. Today, we’ve been working with Sen. King’s office, service providers, and potential funders to explore options for providing tablet devices, equipped with wireless internet hubs to the estimated 36,000 students in grades 3-12 who do not have access to internet and/or a device that would facilitate distance learning during the COVID-19 emergency. If/when we are able to secure these resources, we will be in touch with details, professional development, and support around device management.
Our Department of Education’s COVID webpage has been featured in the NYT and is now being used by several states. The Continuity of Learning page: https://www.maine.gov/doe/continuityoflearning has many online resources for educators – and the DOE Team is offering “Office Hours” (free, live, online consultant services for all content areas – and including SEL/Mental Health) … Join hundreds of educators and school leaders for these interactive sessions!! https://www.maine.gov/doe/covid-19/contentmeetings
We know it is a huge challenge for districts to base short, interim, and long term plans on uncertain guidance from CDC (and from DOE), and we are doing everything we can to predict accurately what will happen here in Maine. For now, we can still only say that the national CDC recommends that classroom-based instruction (groups of 10 or more people in one indoor space) be avoided for a possible 8-20 week duration once there is “community transmission”. We also know that it could be come safe to resume classes earlier than that. We are hearing that, for now, many districts are opting to be out until after April vacation.
It remains safe for people to work in school buildings (as long as everyone adheres to the 10-person in one space and handwashing recommendations, and Maine CDC published guidance around the safety of providing child nutrition services today (please see the post below…)
Paying Hourly Employees:
In other news, Governor Mills signed an Executive Order about an hour ago, requiring SAU’s to continue to pay employees. Here is the link to that document
Maine Schools are Shining Examples of Resilience…
Finally, today’s Maine Calling show featured calls from superintendents, educators, parents, and even a student, describing their experience with remote learning. The inspirational stories about people pitching in, creating innovative solutions, and supporting one another highlighted the fact that our students are in capable hands. https://www.mainepublic.org/post/coronavirus-schools-how-are-maine-teachers-students-families-adapting-no-classroom-learning
Thank you for everything you do. Please take good care of yourselves and be very kind to one another … We are all in this together.
Many Maine children depend on the food they receive during the school day. At this time, U. S. CDC guidance estimates school closures may last between 8 and 20 weeks, once community transmission is happening. This makes it even more important for schools to try and continue, to the best of their abilities, to provide consistent food services. The U.S. CDC has asked schools to ensure continuity of meal programs for students. The U.S. CDC is not aware of any reports at this time of human illnesses that suggest COVID-19 can be transmitted by food or food packaging. However, it is always important to follow good hygiene practices (i.e., wash hands and surfaces often, separate raw meat from other foods, cook to the right temperature, and refrigerate foods promptly) when handling or preparing foods.
We are encouraging schools to continue their food service programs during this time. Practicing normal sanitation procedures for food service will help to keep all staff as safe and healthy as possible. Use the following information to assist you in your work:
- Follow the three W’s: WASH HANDS, WASH HANDS, WASH HANDS.
- While hand sanitizers can be helpful they are NOT as effective as washing your hands. When hand washing be sure to use warm water. Dry hands using disposable paper towels.
- Wear single use, disposable gloves when serving meals from any location, whether on site at your school or from a mobile unit. Remove and dispose of gloves after delivering meals to each mobile location.
- If distributing meals, be sure to take hand sanitizer with you to use as needed.
- If the school cafeteria will be open to distribute meals, follow normal sanitation practices.
- Environmental Cleaning & Disinfecting Guidance
- USDA Guidance on Food Service during COVID-19
Coolers will be required since “offer vs serve” is no longer an option and the cold items, especially milk, must be kept cool. A suggestion is to place the coolers in the freezer or cooler overnight to help them maintain temperatures. Only take out of the coolers the meals needed for distribution. When returning from delivering meals be sure to clean and sanitize the coolers used.
Supplies such as hand sanitizer, disinfectant wipes, and masks are in short supply nation-wide. Our state does have a supply for emergencies such as this, but even that supply is expected to run low. The highest priority for fulfilling requests from this supply is for the healthcare setting such as hospitals, long term care facilities, emergency medical provider and other similar agencies. Since schools are no longer full of children, they are not even on the tiered system of distribution. Because of this, we request that you refrain from completing any “Resource Requests” at this time. Washing your hands with soap and water is the best prevention. And surfaces can be wiped down with other cleaning solutions rather than disposable wipes.
We understand that many schools are still open and have staff in them preparing distance learning for students. The halting of classroom-based instruction is to increase social distancing, which is difficult to do in hallways, classrooms and cafeterias filled with children. The school building itself is not unsafe, and adults can occupy this space if they follow the basics. While staff are in your buildings, please enforce the general social distancing rules:
- Stop handshaking – use other noncontact methods of greeting
- Maintain distance of 6 feet when in the same room with others
- Avoid congregating in spaces with 10 or more people
Practice good hygiene:
- Clean hands at the door and schedule regular hand washing reminders by email
- Create habits and reminders to avoid touching their faces and cover coughs and sneezes
- Disinfect surfaces like doorknobs, tables, desks, and handrails regularly
- Increase ventilation by opening windows or adjusting air conditioning
The best thing that Maine people can do to protect their health is to practice social distancing and take the same preventive measures that avoid catching a cold: Wash your hands often for 20 seconds. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay home if you are sick. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and lower respiratory distress. Call ahead to a health care professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness.
Dear Champions of Education,
Maine DOE will provide daily updates to guidance until the COVID-19 situation stabilizes.
Declaration of a state of civil emergency – and recommendations for schools:
As you know, Governor Mills provided a recommendation on Sunday evening, 3/15/2020 that Maine schools cease classroom-based instruction as soon as practicable and for the duration of our state of civil emergency (which is for 30 days, but could be re-established for as many times as the situation warrants). The recommendation is specific to classroom-based instruction because of guidance that was updated yesterday to recommend groups of no more than 25 people in enclosed, indoor areas.
For how long should schools remain closed for classroom instruction?
CDC guidance is linked at the top of our DOE COVID-19 webpage, and we will continue to update the guidance as it continues to evolve. At this time, CDC guidance provides an estimate of between 8 and 20 weeks as a timeframe for school closures once community transmission is happening. It could become safe to resume classroom instruction earlier, and we will keep you posted on that.
Should schools be closed entirely and off limits to everyone?
At this time there’s no unilateral recommendation that schools be closed and off-limits to staff, as many school settings offer sufficient space where staff and educators can safely carry on with critical functions including preparation of meals for child nutrition services via delivery or approved meal sites, providing ongoing communications to families and the community, planning and preparing materials for remote learning, and – in some cases – utilizing classrooms to broadcast live or recorded lessons for students at home. In some states, schools that have closed to students are being used as a setting for very small-group child care for the children of healthcare and emergency workers and for the children of disadvantaged families whose jobs do not include leave time for childcare. For some districts, it may not be feasible to allow staff or other programs to utilize the school buildings.
Pay for hourly staff?
Even with expansion of unemployment insurance, benefits are likely to become scarce over time. Therefore, we recommend that school districts continue to pay hourly staff (and there are many tasks that they could be performing (preparing meals, transporting food or educational materials, continuing to provide updated communication with the community, preparing student packets, assisting with online instruction … etc) Salaries that were already included in school budgets should not create a significant additional/unplanned hardship, so we hope that school districts will continue to pay hourly workers.
Assessments and ESSA accountability
DOE intends to pursue targeted 1-year waivers for the 95% participation requirement in assessment and for accountability measures like chronic absenteeism that would be impacted by the coronavirus. (We also intend to maximize this unprecedented opportunity to design an improved assessment system – stay tuned for opportunities to assist us with this!
Serving students with disabilities:
Please see the guidance on our COVID webpage: https://www.maine.gov/doe/covid-19