Part I: Physical Health and Safety

(updated 7/31/2020)

Framework for Returning to Classroom 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). Please note that the categorizations are just one piece of information to help inform the decisions of school and district leaders.

  • 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 in the Fall

  • 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 - Adults must maintain 6 feet of distance from others to the extent possible. Maintaining 3 feet of distance is acceptable between and among students when combined with the other measures outlined in this list of safety requirements.  6 feet of physical distancing is required for students while eating breakfast and lunch, as students will be unable to wear masks at that time.   A “medical isolation room” (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.Groups in any one area, room, or classroom must not exceed the Governor’s gathering size limits.
  • Masks/Face Coverings - Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear a mask/face covering. Students age five and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth. (Updated 7/31/20) 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 medical, behavioral, or other challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings. 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.
  • 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 upon entering and exiting a school bus.
  • Personal Protective Equipment - Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students  in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when a student requires physical assistance. These precautions must at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering. Classrooms and/or areas that have been used by an individual diagnosed with CaOVID-19 must be closed off until thorough cleaning and sanitization takes place. 
  • 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 will be initially posted on July 31, and updated every two weeks. 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.  

Data used in determining community transmission risk levels for schools: https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/infectious-disease/epi/airborne/coronavirus/data.shtml

County July 31, 2020
Androscoggin
GREEN
Aroostook
GREEN
Cumberland
GREEN
Franklin
GREEN
Hancock
GREEN
Kennebec
GREEN
Knox
GREEN
Lincoln
GREEN
Oxford
GREEN
Penobscot
GREEN
Piscataquis
GREEN
Sagadahoc
GREEN
Somerset
GREEN
Waldo
GREEN
Washington
GREEN
York
GREEN

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

The following health and safety measures are required for schools to open safely, according to Maine DHHS/CDC guidance. These requirements apply in all risk levels, including “Green” designation.

Symptom Screening Before Coming to School

  • 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 must 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

  • Adults must maintain 6’ of distance from others to the extent possible. Maintaining 3 ft distance is acceptable between and among students when combined with the other measures outlined in this list of safety requirements.
  • 6’ physical distancing is required for students while eating breakfast and lunch, as students will be unable to wear masks at that time. 
  • A “medical isolation room” 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 window or door.
  • Groups in any one area, room, or classroom must not exceed the Governor’s gathering size limits.

Masks/Face Coverings

  • Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear a mask/face covering.
  • Students age five and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth. (Updated 7/31/20)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 medical, behavioral, or other challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings. 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.

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 upon entering and exiting a school bus.

Personal Protective Equipment

Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when a student requires physical assistance. These precautions must at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering.

Classrooms and/or areas that have been used by an individual diagnosed with COVID-19 must be closed off until thorough cleaning and sanitization takes place.

Return to School after Illness

  • Sick staff members and students must use home isolation until they meet criteria for returning to school.

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

  • Consult with school health staff, nurses, and physicians.
  • Train custodial staff in enhanced cleaning and disinfecting protocols.
  • Train food services staff in new protocols.
  • Train all staff in teaching and reinforcing health and safety guidelines to students within their purview (classroom/cafeteria/office/gym/bus…)
  • Consider a virtual “open house” or pre-entry webinar for families to explain new protocols and rules; health and safety guidelines; drop-off and pick-up routines; limitations on building access by family and community members; recognizing COVID-19 symptoms.
  • Ensure all communications, signs and procedures are communicated through languages/visuals and modes that ensure the information is accessible for all students.
  • Offer kid-friendly videos to teach proper donning and doffing of face coverings, keeping 6’ apart, and other health and safety guidelines.
  • Establish plans for training staff and students about the unique needs of others and their abilities or possible struggles related to maintaining safety protocols.
  • Establish protocols for face coverings.
  • Communicate expectations of staff and students (or family members as needed) for conducting a daily self-check. Use the following suggested self-check checklist, which should be modified to ensure accessibility for all (as CDC determines additional symptoms, these should be added to the checklist):
    • Do you feel sick with any symptoms consistent with COVID-19? (such as new cough, shortness of breath, or other)
    • Have you been around anyone who is unwell?
    • Have you been in close contact with a person who has COVID-19?
    • Within the past 24 hours, have you had a fever (100.4 and above) or used any fever reducing medicine? 

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

Responding to a positive case of COVID-19

  • Work with school administrators, nurses, and other healthcare providers to identify an isolation room or area to separate anyone who exhibits COVID-19 like symptoms. School nurses and other healthcare providers should use Standard and Transmission-Based Precautions when caring for sick people. See: What Healthcare Personnel Should Know About Caring for Patients with Confirmed or Possible COVID-19 Infection.
  • Establish procedures for safely transporting anyone sick home or to a healthcare facility.
  • Notify health officials, staff, and families immediately of a positive case while maintaining confidentiality and other applicable federal and state privacy laws.
  • Close off areas used by a sick person and do not use before cleaning and disinfection.
  • Advise sick staff members and children not to return until they have met CDC criteria to discontinue home isolation.
  • Inform those who have had close contact to a person diagnosed with COVID-19 to stay home and self-monitor for symptoms and to follow CDC guidance if symptoms develop. If a person does not have symptoms, follow appropriate CDC guidance for home isolation.