Ellsworth School Superintendent Dan Higgins sent the following letter to parents on Wednesday, July 22nd. With his permission we share it here so the entire community can know about the back to school thought process.

Dear Parents and Guardians of Ellsworth School Department Students:
I hope this communication finds you all well and enjoying the Maine summer weather.  The purpose of this letter is to provide you with information on the ongoing framework planning process for the start of the school year in September, keep you up to date on recent significant changes in guidance and requirements from the Maine Department of Education (DOE), Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and Maine Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and ask for your prompt response to a survey that will be distributed later today.
 Framework Planning
The framework planning process for the ESD and the start of school in fall continues in an effort to release publicly a framework based on information current at that time at the August 3, 2020 School Board workshop.  In addition to relying on the guidance documentation, our work focuses on development of in-person, remote, and hybrid instruction models, technology necessary to support equitable instruction, health and safety factors (including preparation of facilities, purchase of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and cleaning supplies, development of health screening checklists), transportation and food service programming, and supporting the social, emotional, and mental health needs of students and staff.  We appreciate your understanding that guidance has changed several times since the beginning of June and will likely continue to change over the next several weeks.  Each time we receive updated guidance or requirements, we need to revise and update our local framework plans.  We will provide a status update at the July 28, 2020 School Board workshop.
 Maine DOE Updates
On Friday July 17, Maine Governor Janet Mills, DOE Commissioner Pender Makin, DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew, and CDC Director Nirav Shah conducted a press conference in which they publicly release a revised version of the Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction document  https://www.maine.gov/doe/framework  This document (the initial version was released on June 11 and has been revised several times since, the most recent July 17) is the primary guidance document for planning the start of the 2020-21 school year.
The most significant amendments to the Framework include the implementation of two new components. The Maine DOE will assist individual school systems in determining when it is advisable to return to in-person instruction.  Determination’s will be based on the following two factors.

  •  Maine Counties’ Risk of COVID-19 Spread for Schools – a color coding system designed to assign a risk level for COVID-19 transmission (green, yellow, red) by county; and
  • Required Health and Safety Measures for All Schools - a list of requirements all schools are required to implement for schools to open safely.The color coded risk system uses multiple sets of quantitative and qualitative data to categorize counties as red, yellow, or green.  As provided in the DOE Framework document:
  • “Categorization as ‘red’ county suggests the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in person should not be conducted; • Categorization as ‘yellow’ suggest that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that hybrid instruction models should be adopted; and • Categorization as ‘green’ suggest that the county has a relatively low COVID-19 risk and that inperson instruction can be adopted – although a SAU may opt for hybrid instruction if its buildings or readiness make adhering to the required Health and Safety measures for All Schools a challenge.”

The categories of the Required Health and Safety Measures for all Schools include (please click here for additional details):

  • Symptom Screening Before Coming to School protocols;
  • Physical Distancing and Facilities protocols;
  • Masks and Face Coverings – all staff and students are required to wear a mask or face covering.
  • Hand Hygiene training and requirements;
  • Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) – the ESD will be providing PPE for staff and students;
  • Return to School After Illness protocols.

It is important to understand that these two new components need to be considered together in determining the instructional model for the safe start of the school year.  Color coded categorizations will be issued beginning July 31 and bi-weekly after that.  Once a county receives a categorization, schools in that county will need to determine how they meet the health and safety requirements before they can determine whether the return to school will include in-person, hybrid (combination of in-person and remote), or full remote instructional models.
 Instructional Models Under Consideration and Follow-Up Survey
As reported at the July 14 Ellsworth School Board meeting and as required in the DOE Framework document, local school systems must plan for in-person, hybrid, and remote learning instructional models for the fall.  Our planning process is following that requirement and we will be providing a framework planning status update at the July 28 School Board workshop and at a special August 3 School Board workshop.  With regard to hybrid models, one option we are considering is a model by which families have a choice of in-person instruction (following all health and safety requirements) or remote instruction (in a model that has clear expectations for scheduling, instruction, assessment, communication, and grading).
To further aid our framework planning process, we will be sending a survey to families today intended to determine the number of students who:

  • Would prefer to return to in-person instruction and the number of students who would prefer to participate in a remote learning program;
  • If returning to in-person instruction, would use school provided transportation; and
  • If participating in a remote learning program, would like to access the school lunch program.

We ask that you complete the survey by no later than Monday July 27, 2020.  If you do not receive a survey through our Infinite Campus notification system, please contact the ESD Information Technology Department at help@ellsworthschools.org  We appreciate your attention to this request.
Please know we realize September is fast approaching and we are working to consider and evaluate all necessary information, guidance, and requirements to determine how we will best begin the 2020-21 school year while implementing measures to protect the health and safety of our students and staff.

I appreciate your continued understanding that there are many factors to consider in the planning process, many of which continue to change in an unpredictable manner.
Best wishes to all and stay safe.
Warmest Regards,

Daniel A. Higgins Superintendent of Schools

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