Revise Maine DOE Safety Requirements for Schools #openmaineschools

Revise Maine DOE Safety Requirements for Schools #openmaineschools

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Shikha Vasaiwala started this petition to Governor Janet Mills and

We, the undersigned, represent families in Maine with school-aged children and grandchildren, and the concerned citizens of the state of Maine who support the reopening of Maine schools to full-time in-person instruction as soon as possible and no later than September 2021.

When outlining recently revised Indicators for School Decision-making, the CDC states, “K-12 schools should be the last settings to close after all other mitigation measures in the community have been employed, and the first to reopen when they can do so safely. This implies that schools should be prioritized for reopening and remaining open for in-person instruction over nonessential businesses and activities.” 

Furthermore, the CDC states, “Decisions should be guided by information on school-specific factors such as mitigation strategies implemented, local needs, stakeholder input, the number of cases among students, teachers, and staff, and school experience with safely reopening. A decision to remain open should involve considerations for further strengthening mitigation strategies and continuing to monitor case incidence and test positivity to reassess decisions.”

Yet, one year after schools were shut down across the state of Maine for full-time in-person instruction, nonessential businesses and activities across the state have benefited from loosening restrictions while many Maine schools remain operating in the same hybrid structures they adopted at the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year. 

According to the The Community Profile Report (CPR) generated by the Data Strategy and Execution Workgroup in the Joint Coordination Cell, under the White House COVID-19 Team, the state of Maine is outperforming almost all 50 states in every single category, indicating that the state and its citizens have been effective in curbing the spread of COVID-19 over the past twelve months. 

Effective immediately: The U. S. Department of Human and Health Services (HHS) will be giving away $650 million in grants to schools to help with testing efforts of their students and faculty. 

We believe the time has come for Maine to support President’s Biden’s goal of reopening schools for full-time, in-person instruction. The Maine DOE must revise the second of its six existing requirements for safely reopening schools, which currently states: 

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. 

As more information becomes available, the Maine DOE has revised its third requirement multiple times. There is now enough data available to demonstrate Maine’s effective curbing of the spread of COVID-19 to support a crucial revision of the second requirement to the following: 

Physical Distancing and Facilities - Maintaining 3 feet of distance is acceptable between and among students and staff when combined with the other measures outlined in this list of safety requirements. 6 feet of physical distancing is recommended 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.

Online instruction cannot replace classroom experiences. Even the best classes via virtual platforms cannot develop social skills and grow friendships. Even the most resilient of teachers cannot continue to be expected to operate under the demands of the hybrid model for a prolonged period of time. 

We implore Governor Janet Mills and the Maine Department of Education to revise the physical distancing requirement currently outlined by the Maine DOE so that more Maine schools can safely reopen full-time, especially for the 2021-2022 school year. It’s time to do the right thing. 

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At 2,500 signatures, this petition is more likely to get picked up by local news!