On June 11, Maine’s Department of Education (DOE) released a working draft listing a series of recommendations that may be used by schools to aid them in reopening this fall. The list includes a number of common-sense recommendations, such as bolstering efforts to keep student spaces clean, reducing classroom capacity and developing remote curriculum options in the event of a sharp increase in cases.
However, closer scrutiny indicates that the DOE’s method to implement these strategies doesn’t make sense.
In their working draft, the DOE says that “Maine DOE, in partnership with CDC and MEMA, will determine when it is advisable for schools to begin in-person instruction.” There is no good reason for the DOE to shoulder the responsibility of determining when schools should reopen. This responsibility should belong to local school boards.
The statutes outlining the responsibilities of school boards already include addressing “exposure to communicable disease” and the development of an annual “comprehensive emergency plan.” Although no one has experience in planning for a pandemic, the logistics of emergency planning and preventing the spread of disease falls under the purview of school boards, not the state DOE.
The DOE’s working draft also stipulates that the decision to return students to school will be predicated on whether there is a regional “downward trajectory” of COVID-19 cases. Broadly applied, this seems like a poor standard for determining when students should return to school.
In areas where the case count is currently low—such as Washington County where only two cases have been reported, or Aroostook County where there have only been eight reported cases—will there need to be a “downward trajectory” of cases to reopen schools?
The safety of our school-aged population must be a top priority as we work to re-enroll our students. Recent research indicates that it is imperative for students to go back to school—stalling on re-entry will only lower educational outcomes and threaten the physical and emotional well-being of students.
The financial woes of parents who need to return to work is also a pressing concern.
We must be mindful, however, that communities, not state entities, are best equipped to decide when students should return to classrooms.
Luckily, the DOE has noted that this document is a working draft of recommendations, rather than regulations that are set in stone. There is plenty of opportunity for the DOE to revise their plan for reopening and allow school boards to rightfully take over the process.