November 18th Update from AOS 91 Superintendent Dr. Marc Gousse
Dr. Marc Gousse, the AOS 91 Superintendent of Schools sent out the following update to parents and staff on November 18th. He sent it to us so we can share it with the entire community.
Dear Parents and Families,
As of November 13th, Hancock County remains in a "Green" designation. However, given the recent uptick in positive COVID-19 cases, Hancock County is now being closely monitored by the CDC. An asterisk has been added to our county color designation by the state, which indicates a potential change in status and could mean a change of designation at any point. A shift to "Yellow" status in Hancock County does not necessarily mean our schools will automatically transition to full remote learning. Our current standard operating procedures and framework meet the criteria for continuing in-person instruction under a "Yellow" designation. It is important to acknowledge our school district intends to continue with in-person instruction to the maximum extent possible. However, any outbreak or information/data from Maine CDC may necessitate a shift to full remote instruction at any time.
For context, the most current data indicates that public schools are one of the safest places for students and staff to be. Why? Because public schools are following Maine CDC guidance; minimizing the potential for spread of COVID-19 in our schools. We (students and staff) are wearing masks, cleaning and sanitizing our buildings and spaces, getting as much fresh air as possible into our buildings and, most importantly, following the guidance provided by medical experts, scientists, and local health data.
In October, we were cautiously optimistic and encouraged as the number of cases appeared relatively low and contained in Maine. Unfortunately, over the past two weeks, cases in the state and in schools are increasing significantly. Therefore, we must pay attention to what these numbers tell Maine CDC and us. Increasing spread among students may very well happen while they are not at school more than because they are in school. This may be true due to the mandatory health and safety requirements that are being followed in our schools as opposed to other locations.
Understandably, concerns are increasing as the number of positive cases grow in Hancock County and our region. Most recently, we are fielding increased inquiries from parents and staff who have been told that they, or their children, may have had "contact" with a person who may have tested positive for COVID-19 and, as an extra precaution, they are isolating and awaiting test results. This approach is commendable as we should all proceed with caution and follow proper procedures in combating this virus.
With these thoughts in mind, while we’ve decided MDIRSS schools will proceed with in-person learning as long as we can, a positive case in a school could certainly disrupt that. The duration of that disruption will be determined by the specifics of the circumstances in alignment with our SOP (standard operating procedures). Uncontrolled community spread and/or a stay at home order would certainly disrupt in-person learning. While we must be ready for the very likely possibility of moving to remote learning on short notice we have chosen not to implement it at this time while we do not have to.
In support of this decision, please consider Dr. Nirav Shah, leader of the Maine CDC. Dr. Shah prefaced his comments by saying that one of the very highest priorities of the CDC is for Maine schools to be open. His comments about schools in a recent briefing are as follows:
Shah said in the past 30 days there have been 212 cases of the virus associated with schools. The positive cases include students, teachers and staff members. Shah said while the number might seem startling, the Maine CDC has found that there has been little spread of the virus in schools. He said the transmission of the virus is happening in the community. Shah said it is an encouraging sign that the protocols school districts have implemented, including wearing of face coverings and physical distancing, are working. He said in-person learning is a priority, and the limited transmission shows it can be done safely. “Maine DHHS and Maine CDC continue to review evidence that indicates lower transmission of COVID-19 in schools compared to the general population. Over the last 30 days, the new case rate in Maine schools, including both students and staff, was 8.8 cases per 10,000. That compares to 19.9 cases per 10,000 in Maine overall.”
We understand any shift to remote learning may create challenges for some families and students. We know that in-person learning and face-to-face interactions, even behind masks, is the optimal learning and social-emotional environment for a majority of our students. We also understand that parents having to support student learning from home while trying to work and support their family is a tremendous challenge. Please know we will continue to do everything possible to deliver instruction in as safe and healthy a manner as possible for both students and staff alike - this approach will continue to frame our planning and decision making in navigating this ever changing environment.
In support of this effort, I am pleased to report we are actively preparing to implement voluntary asymptomatic testing of employees for COVID -19 in early December and through the remainder of this school year. We are extremely grateful for the generous donation and support of Bar Harbor Bank and Trust in providing the funding necessary to augment the resources and support of MDI Hospital and the Jackson Laboratory in making this testing program a reality. Through this tool, and our collective focus on preventing the spread of COVID-19, I am confident our communities will continue to make positive gains in combating this virus.
In order for us to continue to operate the schools of MDIRSS AOS # 91 safely, our students and staff need your help! What you do, or do not do matters! It is imperative everyone follow CDC guidelines, limit unnecessary travel, keep family gatherings small and take all steps necessary to reduce risk to you, your family and community. YOU can be a part of keeping our schools open, healthy and safe.
Thank you and take care.
Marc Edward Gousse, Ed.D.