Part I: Physical Health and Safety

Framework title updated 8/24/20
Framework content updated 6/9/21
County Risk Levels last updated 6/04/21
County Risk Levels next update will be done as needed through summer

Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person InstructionDetermining when it is safe to return to in-person instruction

 

Decisions about opening schools this fall will be based on a number of factors including the following: 

1.) Maine Counties’ Risk of COVID-19 Spread for Schools

To inform local school administrative unit (SAU) decisions about whether and how to bring students back into the classroom, Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) have developed a system to categorize counties. This categorization is based on a holistic assessment of quantitative and qualitative information. It includes, but is not limited to, recent data on case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19).

  • Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.
  • Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider hybrid instructional models as a way to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.
  • Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements. 

The following are required by all schools regardless of their county's red, yellow, or green designation:

6 Requirements for Safely Opening Schools

  • Symptom Screening at Home Before Coming to School (for all Staff and Students) – Students (parents/caregivers) and staff members must conduct self-checks for symptoms prior to boarding buses or entering school buildings each day. Schools should provide information to families in their primary language to support them in conducting this check. Any person showing symptoms must report their symptoms and not be present at school. Schools must provide clear and accessible directions to parents/caregivers and students for reporting symptoms and absences.

    Physical Distancing and Facilities - Starting in May 2021, all schools have another risk mitigation strategy provided by the State at no cost: routine pooled COVID-19 PCR testing of unvaccinated students and staff. This will allow early identification and isolation of asymptomatic COVID-19 cases, making in-classroom education safer. As such, Maine is updating its six requirements to change the three-foot distancing requirement in schools to a recommendation, provided that the school is participating in the State’s pooled testing program. Participation is defined as having at least 30% of school staff and students participating in the program (see the School Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) for details.)  This program is available now, and will continue to be continue to available through the 2021-2022 school year. Although the Maine CDC continues to recommend a minimum three-foot distancing between and among all students, schools that are participating in the testing program may shift away from this as a requirement after achieving the minimum 30% participation.  The requirement for six-feet distance when unmasked and eating or drinking continues to apply, unless a school is participating in pooled testing. (Updated 6/09/21).

    A “medical isolation space” (separate from the nurse’s office) must be designated for students/staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms during the school day. Adequate ventilation is required for classrooms, with schools having flexibility in implementation such as using properly working ventilation systems or outdoor air exchange using fans in open windows or doors.

    Masks/Face Coverings – Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear a mask/face covering when indoors. Students age five and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth when indoors. (Updated 4/28/21) Masks are recommended for children ages two to four, when developmentally appropriate. (Updated 7/31/20). Masks/face coverings must be worn by all students on the bus. Face shields may be an alternative for those students with documented medical or behavioral challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings (Updated 8/12/20). The same applies to staff with medical or other health reasons for being unable to wear face coverings. Face shields worn in place of a face covering must extend below the chin and back to the ears. Face masks/coverings must be worn during voluntary indoor school sports (Updated 4/28/21). Nothing in this framework’s mask/face covering requirements should be interpreted as preventing a school from making accommodations on an individualized basis as required by state or federal disabilities laws. (Updated 9/15/20).

    Hand Hygiene –All students and staff in a school must receive training in proper hand hygiene. All students and staff must wash hands or use sanitizing gel upon entering the school, before and after eating, before and after donning or removing a face mask, after using the restroom, before and after use of playgrounds and shared equipment, and before and after riding school transportation (9/4/2020).

    Personal Protective Equipment – Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting symptomatic students in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when students require physical assistance. These precautions must at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering. (Updated 4/28/21)

    Return to School after Illness – Sick staff members and students must use home isolation until they meet criteria for returning to school.

The initial three-tiered health advisory system was posted on July 31, and will be updated at 12:00 pm Friday, on an every two weeks cycle. These recommendations are advisory. Given the large and varied nature of counties in Maine, SAUs within a county 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.  

This categorization system is solely for the purpose of informing decisions regarding pre-K to adult public education. It is calibrated to the related actions for schools. For example, the categorization of a county as yellow for hybrid learning in schools may not necessitate the closure of other establishments, such as restaurants and hair salons, and it is targeted to provide guidance for unique circumstances of schools.  

The qualitative and quantitative considerations and data used by the CDC in determining community transmission risk levels for schools can be located here: 

How County Risk Levels for Maine Schools are Determined

CDC COVID-19 Maine Data

 
County June 4, 2021 May 21, 2021 May 7, 2021 April 23, 2021
Androscoggin
GREEN
GREEN
YELLOW
YELLOW
Aroostook
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Cumberland
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Franklin
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN**
Hancock
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Kennebec
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
YELLOW
Knox
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Lincoln
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Oxford
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
YELLOW
Penobscot
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Piscataquis
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Sagadahoc
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Somerset
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
YELLOW
Waldo
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
Washington
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
York
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN
GREEN**

**Counties with asterisks are being monitored closely. 

The Maine Department of Health and Human Services and Center for Disease Control and Prevention will update the color-coded health advisory for in-person learning over the course of the summer, as needed.

 

2.) School capacity for implementing the following health and safety requirements

Additional Considerations and Recommendations

Public health experts convened by DHHS have developed a comprehensive guidance document with requirements and additional considerations and recommendations that can be found, here.

Preparing prior to returning to school

  • Engage your Collaborative Planning Team (CPT) in reviewing/updating the Infectious Disease Annex of your Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)
  • Assess school readiness to implement the six required health and safety measures and additional recommendations.
  • Consider equity: access to healthcare and supplies, school resources
  • Develop a communication plan that ensures equitable accessibility of messaging/language (translated resources found here)
  • Develop a plan for reevaluating and reinforcing strategies, once utilized

Preparing the facilities

  • Communicate and consult with business managers, as well as facilities, grounds, and maintenance teams.
  • Identify and procure necessary equipment, materials, supplies for supporting the health and safety guidelines.
  • Thoroughly clean buildings and classrooms.
  • Remove any furniture, toys, rugs, and other items that cannot be easily cleaned each day.
  • Disinfect high-touch areas (door knobs, desk tops, faucets, etc).
  • Mark 6’ standing spaces on the floor near doors, bathrooms, sinks or other places where students may congregate and/or line up.
  • Mark one-way directions if possible; mark hallways to keep traffic flow to the right side where one-way passage is not possible.
  • Post signs to remind students to keep hands to themselves; fun examples of 6’ distance; face coverings; hand washing protocols; etc
  • Plan vehicle traffic flow, drop-off, and pick-up logistics and place signage as needed.
  • Install plexiglass shields for high traffic staff.
  • If needed, set up additional hand washing or sanitizing stations outside school entrances and at convenient locations outside classrooms and common areas.
  • Develop a communication plan to raise awareness among staff, families, and students regarding any new procedures and expectations.

Educating staff, families, and students PRIOR to reentry

If the answer is yes to any of the questions, stay home.

Responding to a positive case of COVID-19