July 29, 2020
Update by Superintendent Jeremy Ray
I am writing today to update you on our efforts to plan for a safe, thoughtful return to school. In a nearly 4-hour public meeting last night, the community mulled dozens of factors that impact our fall schedule. Meetings with staff and the community are scheduled to continue in the coming weeks, and our website will continue to warehouse all the latest and most comprehensive information.
Of all of the programs and institutions the pandemic has forced to shutter, perhaps none face the same pressure to reopen as public schools. Our teachers and principals want to open schools and provide as much normalcy to the students we have the privilege to serve as possible. Physicians exhort schools to open when risk can be mitigated so that student deficits aren’t compounded. Parents need to understand the potential impact on their employment obligations in the absence of a place to send their children every day.
We understand. We’re parents and employees too. I can’t assure you that our start-to-school will be perfect, but I can assure you that my team is working harder than ever to ensure that we do everything possible to provide the best, least disruptive welcome back possible.
Last week, Governor Mills and the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) released the state’s Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction. This roadmap provides a road on which schools in Maine can drive, but there is still much navigating and rule-making to be done. I know you are as anxious for details; we are, too. This is the first in a series of back-to-school communications that you’ll receive from me as we countdown to September.
What you need to know, now:
The School Committee is endorsing a revised school calendar, so that the first planned student day is now September 8. This change has been adopted by nearly every York County school and will afford our faculty and staff desperately needed time to help reconfigure our buildings and receive training on everything from remote instruction to health monitoring.
Based on parent surveys, input from our school district’s consulting pediatrician, MDOE guidance, and the input of our public governance board, our intent is to return students Pre-K through Grade 8 either full- or part-time beginning September 8. Our goal is to cap class sizes at 12-14 to accommodate social distancing. Our plan may require the reassignment of buildings and the utilization of leased space. The epidemiology supports this model. There will be modifications to school schedules, bussing routes, and even building entry procedures to mitigate transmission risk. More information will be forthcoming after we receive our first red, yellow, or green designation from the state of Maine on July 31.
The Maine Principals’ Association has endorsed a shortened season for athletics. Area superintendents are still mulling the implications of the Association’s plan. No final decision regarding athletics has been made at this time, and as with all things COVID, plans for athletics and co-curricular activities may change at any time. The Biddeford School Department will not convene any team practices until August 24.
Safety is job #1 for us. In the coming weeks, we’ll share more about building entry procedures, temperature checks, masking requirements, social distancing strategies, and other prevention measures. Our health and screening plans have been developed by our physician, school nurses, and administrative team. Compliance with these measures helps mitigate risk for students and staff alike and is not optional. Please refer to the student handbook regarding COVID guidelines below. This handbook was written by our faculty, in collaboration with MDOE, Maine CDC, and our school’s physical and legal counsel. The school committee endorsed its use as a supplement to all school-based student handbooks last evening.
We were pleased that nearly 150 citizens joined our school committee meeting yesterday to learn more about our plans for reopening schools. For those who weren’t able to attend, we provided an exhaustive presentation about our reopening plans below, which addresses the following topics: state guidelines, masking, transportation, prevention, response to the positive case(s), building plans and grade span assignments, student density study, parent survey feedback, and more.
I’m meeting with teacher groups all day today to address questions and concerns, and I will reach out to the broader community shortly for additional opportunities to ask questions and provide us with your feedback.
Superintendent of Schools
The Maine DOE has offered the following guidance around hand sanitizer in our buildings. There have been many questions regarding the safe use of alcohol sanitizer and our fire codes. Please see the below link from our hand sanitizer supplier.