PRIORITY NOTICE:  Updated Recommendations and Guidance from Commissioner Makin for Remainder of 19-20 School Year

Dear Champions of Education,

As you may know, US CDC guidance recommends an 8 to 20 week timeframe for avoiding large group/in-person instruction once there is evidence of community transmission of COVID-19.  Therefore, I am recommending, with the support of the Governor, that you begin to plan to replace classroom/group instruction with remote/distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

It is difficult to make such a recommendation, recognizing the profound challenge of reinventing public education and the many culminating events and rites of passage that educators and students anticipate all year long. I also realize that this recommendation will be difficult for families to hear, given the challenges of childcare and managing school expectations on top of the other significant impacts of this state and national emergency.

That said, I believe it is extremely important for school leaders to have as much information as possible in order to best prepare educators, students, and communities for a longer period of remote learning and to promote opportunities for redesigned celebrations and alternative ways to provide both continuity and closure.

Please know that you’re not in this alone. The DOE team is available Monday through Friday – with daily “office hours” for discussing and sharing challenges and solutions; free professional development offerings; an enormous list of online and “unplugged” resources for every possible subject/content area, topic, and grade level; and as many resources as we can make available to you and your schools.  The schedule can be found here.

Here are some additional updates, requirements, and recommendations:

SAT and student grades:  

As you know, the SAT was used as part of our ESSA accountability assessment system, and we have received a waiver exempting us from the ESSA assessments.  We will not be requiring, nor offering, the SAT to this year’s 3rd year high school students, and we intend to invite educators and school/school administrative unit (SAU) leaders to assist us as we redesign a state assessment system that will authentically measure school success and student achievement in a more useful and meaningful way.

We have confirmed that the SAT is not required for admission, nor will it be required as a screener for any program, at any Maine college or university.  In addition, we are hearing that colleges and university across the country are following suit. NPR reported about this last week.

We also learned that UMS will be using a pass/fail system this year, including prerequisites for competitive and advanced courses, and that they recognize that students from the current cohort of applicants may also be receiving pass/fail grades. They are developing innovative and flexible admissions criteria and processes.

We have heard from many SAUs and schools who are using a variety of grading practices during this emergency education situation: some schools are maintaining grading practices, while others are implementing Pass/Fail. Some schools are only providing feedback instead of grades, and some are only including grades that improve a student’s overall GPA or academic standing. Ultimately this is a local determination, however we would encourage SAUs and regions to discuss and determine a system that holds harmless students for whom conditions are outside of their control.

Enrolling new students:

There are many students whose families are experiencing housing disruption or changes during this COVID emergency, and we’ve had several calls regarding whether schools are expected to register new students if they move into a SAU. The answer is, “Yes.”  It is important to ensure there are directions that are publicly available on how new students can enroll during this pandemic.

Commissioner’s Conference for superintendents:

We apologize for this inconvenience, but we will be postponing the Commissioner’s Conference that had been scheduled to take place in June.  We are looking for another date and will share this as soon as possible.

Providing meals during April Break:

We have applied for and received approval for a waiver that will allow for SAUs to continue approved Unanticipated School Closure meal service operations during April Break. You can claim reimbursement for meals served at approved sites over the break on the days of the week you have been approved to serve.

Continuity of Education Plans:

SAUs do not need to send us your plans – only the minutes from the board meeting at which your continuity of education plan was approved by your board – in order to receive the waiver on the minimum required school days. If you need assistance or resources for ensuring learning opportunities for your students, please reach out to the Department.  A copy of the minutes should be submitted here.

Take care of yourselves and your people:

Unlike the well-defined grief of a definite and specific loss, the nebulous impacts from COVID-19 are disorienting and hard to describe; we’re experiencing the loss of our basic and reliable systems and structures.  While the economy, health care, and education systems are disrupted, and when the fabric of our social habits and traditions disintegrates into forced isolation, people understandably lose the comfort of predictability and control.  I mention this here because it can be helpful to acknowledge grief for what it is and to remember that the process actually helps us to adapt to new conditions and to become resilient.

Collectively, Maine schools have provided a much-needed sense of security for students, families, and communities during this extraordinarily challenging time, and all of us at DOE continue to be in awe of your leadership and your commitment to providing the best educational services possible for your students.

As always, thank you for everything you do on behalf of your students and our education system!

–  Pender

Pronouns: she, her, hers

Commissioner, Maine Department of Education

Continuity of Learning and Special Education During COVID-19

This is a working document, which may be updated frequently due to the rapidly changing response to this pandemic emergency and ongoing Federal guidance updates.

Public and private schools and higher education institutions statewide have suspended in-classroom instruction in accordance with the Governor Mills’ March 15, 2020, recommendation. On March 31, 2020, Governor Mills ordered that all such schools shall continue to cease classroom or other in-person instruction until at least May 1, 2020, or until further Order.

Given this extended period of alternative learning, the Office of Special Services is available to provide guidance and support to educators regarding the implementation of continued educational opportunities and the impact on special education.

All members of our school communities must continue to consider what is appropriate under the current circumstances and reasonable within their resources, to determine what constitutes providing continued educational opportunities, to the greatest extent possible, consistent with state and federal guidance.

The following guidance will address educational opportunities, communication with families and caregivers, IEP team meetings, timelines, annual review/re-evaluation dates, referrals and next steps.

Educational Opportunities
The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) does not specifically address a situation in which school-based instruction would be suspended for an extended period due to exceptional circumstances, such as a pandemic emergency.  School Administrative Units (SAUs) must provide a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) consistent with the need to protect the health and safety of students, and those individuals providing education, specialized instruction, and related services to these students.  Present exceptional circumstances may affect how special education and related services are provided, just as it is impacting what a “public education” currently is for all our students. SAUs may not be able to provide all services in the same manner that they are typically provided.  Federal disability law allows for flexibility in determining how to address the individualized needs of students receiving special education services.

Given that school buildings across the state of Maine are not providing school-based instruction, it is essential that SAUs focus on providing continued educational opportunities for all students in alternative ways.  SAUs must ensure that students receiving special education have access to these opportunities.  For students with individualized education programs (IEPs), SAUs must ensure that each student is provided the special education and related services sufficient to meet the intent of the  student’s IEP developed pursuant to the IDEA, to the greatest extent possible, in light of the suspended classroom instruction impacting all our students.

Continued educational opportunities are not required to be determined or documented within the IEP team process, however these opportunities should be individualized based upon the student’s unique needs.

Communication
During this uncertain and difficult time, it is important to maintain positive relationships with families.  Consistent communication and documentation with parents is vital in ensuring that SAUs and parents or guardians collaborate as a team, even though they are not in the same physical location.

When communicating with parents and/or guardians, the Office of Special Services recommends the following:

  • Acknowledge in your communications to all caregivers that either you have a plan for providing equitable access and special education and related services or are developing such a plan.
  • Develop a protocol to communicate proactively with parents, guardians and caregivers regarding their child’s IEP services during alternative instruction taking into consideration the parents’ and guardians preferred method of communication.  This should be done on an individual basis and SAUs should not rely on communications to the general population to provide this information.
  • As soon as possible, notify parents and/or guardians of students with disabilities of your individualized plan for that student to access continued educational opportunities.  Include the input of parents or guardians and the student, as appropriate, when discussing the plan.
  • Allowing parents and/or guardians to provide feedback provides them, and ultimately, students, a voice in the process, rather than simply notifying them of the result.  This communication should be ongoing throughout the implementation of the plan so that the educators delivering and/or overseeing the services can adjust the plan when appropriate.

IEP Team Meetings
During this period of alternative learning, the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS) has indicated that if all students are receiving continued educational opportunities (homework packets, continuous learning opportunities, online/virtual learning), SAUs are not required to revise an IEP because all students are receiving an alternate mode of instructional delivery of the general education curriculum.  This would avoid the need to conduct IEP meetings related to the instructional delivery method in those cases and would not constitute a change in placement.  This also allows school staff to focus on the provision of supports and services, rather than engaging in numerous IEP meetings.  If a parent or the SAU wishes to discuss the student’s continued educational opportunity, the parent and SAU have flexibility to use other means of conferring with one another, rather than convening the IEP team for a meeting.

There may be unique instances, however, when a SAU and a parent agree that an IEP team meeting is necessary.  In such cases, the parties may agree to conduct the meeting via an alternate means of meeting participation, such as video conference or conference call.  In determining if an IEP team meeting is necessary please consider the following:

  • The purpose of the IEP team meeting (e.g., Given that there is no requirement to revise IEPs to include remote continued educational opportunities, is having an IEP team meeting necessary? Will holding the meeting affect the continued educational opportunities being provided to the student? etc.).
  • The IEP team membership requirements (e.g., Will each member be available and able to meaningfully participate in the meeting? etc.).
  • Confidentiality and privacy concerns (e.g., If the meeting is being held telephonically or virtually, will each team member have access to a private space? Is the virtual format that you are using secure? etc.).

Please note, if there is a need to change the IEP during alternative instruction, the parent of a child with a disability and the SAU may agree not to convene an IEP meeting for the purpose of making those changes, via an IEP amendment Agreement to Change an Individualized Education Program Without Convening a Planning and Placement Team Meeting.

Timeline Requirements
This is an unprecedented time where the primary focus is the safety of students, families, and educators and allowing staff the time to provide instruction and services to students.  Focusing on those priorities may cause challenges to timeline compliance.  Federal guidance on timelines is forthcoming.

IEP Annual Review/Re-evaluation Dates
Given that schools are not operating as usual for an extended period, SAUs may find it difficult to conduct Annual Reviews and Re-evaluations.  There are no statutory or regulatory provisions that allow extensions of time to conduct these IEP team meetings.  Be reminded however, a parent/adult student may agree in writing that a re-evaluation (i.e., “triennial review”) is not necessary.

If an annual review or re-evaluation date is not met, the school district should hold the IEP team meeting once school resumes.  Missed meeting dates due to school closings related to COVID-19 will not affect the district’s General System of Supervision and Monitoring.  Monitoring activities are currently suspended and will resume based on each SAU’s projected cycle. More information will be provided around monitoring when school-based instruction resumes.

If the effective date of a student’s IEP lapses during the period of alternative learning, the student’s IEP will remain in effect until a new IEP is developed.

Next Steps
As the next steps to protect public health and safety unfold, The Office of Special Services is committed to providing ongoing guidance to support SAUs and families.  SAUs should prepare for the need to individually assess the impact of school closures for their students.

The Office of Special Services has collected information and resources for administrators, teachers and families/caregivers which may be accessed at https://www.maine.gov/doe/learning/specialed/covid19.

PRIORITY NOTICE: Expanded Authority of Reserve Funds

An Act Regarding the Reserve Funds of Certain School Organizational Structures was signed by Governor Mills on March 12, 2020 and will become effective on June 16, 2020.

The contents of the new legislation are summarized below and may be of interest to leaders of some School Administrative Unit (SAU)s. Administrators may wish to consult with legal counsel regarding the procedures for establishing reserve funds for their school organizational structure.

School Administrative Units included in this act are School Administrative Districts (SADs), Regional School Units (RSUs), Community School Districts (CSDs), and Career and Technical Education (CTE) Regions.

Previously, School Administrative Units were able to establish a reserve fund for school construction projects and for financing the acquisition or reconstruction of a specific or type of capital improvement. This new legislation provides additional flexibility to create reserve funds for any of the following: regular education, special education, career and technical education, other instruction such as summer school and extracurricular activities, student and staff support, system administration, school administration, transportation and buses, facilities maintenance, debt service and other commitments; and all other expenditures including school lunch. The request for the reserve fund must be included in the district budget and have a description of the purpose for the reserve fund. The governing board is the trustee of the reserve fund, and in the cases of SADs, RSUs and CSDs, the fund must be deposited or invested by the treasurer as directed by the governing board.

Previously, Boards of Directors of any of these SAUs were able to expend money from reserve funds only if they were authorized to do so by a vote at a district budget meeting and an article for the purpose for the reserve fund had been in the warrant calling the meeting. However, this legislation now also provides the Boards of Directors with the ability to expend funds when the expenditure is required by law or in an emergency where the cost of a district vote is prohibitive. The governing board of the SAUs may expend the funds after providing public notice of a regular or special meeting, at which a vote to expend funds from the reserve fund will be taken. A public hearing must be held prior to the vote to expend funds from the reserve fund, and the vote must be recorded in the meeting minutes.

Step 1 – Reserve fund proposed in the budget for specific purpose is approved

Step 2 – Reserve fund set aside in SAD, RSU, CSD organizations

Step 3 – To expend the funds in the budget year, provide notice and:

  1. Hold a district meeting, OR
  2. Hold a regular or special meeting of the governing board with a public hearing, vote, and recorded vote.

For CTE regions, the cooperative board may expend the reserve fund if permitted by any indebtedness secured by the reserve fund and if approved in the region budget. A separate article for that purpose must be included in the budget proposal.

Please reference PL 2019 Chapter 588 for additional information.

Expanded Authority of Reserve Funds

Download a PDF of this graphic

 

PRIORITY NOTICE: Virtual Meeting Schedule – Wednesday 4/8

Virtual office hour schedule for Wednesday, April 8, 2020

The Maine Department of Education continues to schedule virtual office hours with Department Specialist to support educators and administrators during extended remote learning. During these meetings, our specialists will be available to provide support and guidance regarding distance learning and school supports, as well as to facilitate networking and resource sharing between educators.

As a reminder, virtual meeting schedules are regularly updated on this web page: https://www.maine.gov/doe/covid-19/contentmeetings. The Department will continue scheduling content specific office hours as needed.

Please note that Department staff hosting the virtual meetings have ramped up security measures to keep out participants that are attempting to hack into the meetings for reasons other than to participate in education related conversations.

Virtual Office Hours:

(Please note: some meetings have a 100 person max capacity.)

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 8, 2020

FOCUS AREA SPECIALIST TIME MEETING INFO CONTACT INFO
Brain Centered Emotional Support Kellie Bailey 8:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005  kellie.bailey@maine.gov
Pre K for ME- Focus on Centers Nicole Madore 9:00 AM https://zoom.us/j/142611875  nicole.madore@maine.gov
Physical Education Jean Zimmerman and Susan Berry 9:30 https://zoom.us/j/580974456

See email from Susan Berry for password or request password from Susan

susan.berry@maine.gov
School Clinical Mental Health “Office Hours” Bear Shea 10:00 https://zoom.us/j/975637699 w.bear.shea@maine.gov
Special Education: Elementary/Middle School Special Ed Consultants 10:00 AM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/841008831 roberta.lucas@maine.gov
Adapted Physical Education Jean Zimmerman and Susan Berry 10:15 https://zoom.us/j/580974456

See email from Susan Berry for password or request password from Susan

susan.berry@maine.gov
ESEA Federal Programs Update and Office Hour Shelly Chasse-Johndro 10:30am See email from the GEMS system for link. Link and password can also be requested via email shelly.chassejohndro@maine.gov
Pk-5 Mathematics Office Hour: Networking Jen Robitaille & Michele Mailhot 11:00 AM Register jennifer.r.robitaille@maine.gov
Pre K Open Office Hours Nicole Madore 11:00 AM https://zoom.us/j/257654032  nicole.madore@maine.gov
PK-5 Science: ME Audubon & PBS Shari Templeton 12:00 p.m. https://zoom.us/j/385026278 shari.templeton@maine.gov
PK-12 Social Studies Office Hour Joe Schmidt 1:00pm Contact Joe Schmidt for meeting link and password joe.schmidt@maine.gov
School Psychology During theCOVID-19 Crisis Ann Belanger 1:00 PM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/381739019 ann.belanger@maine.gov
6-12 Mathematics Office Hour: Networking Michele Mailhot & Jen Robitaille 2:00 PM Register michele.r.mailhot@maine.gov
School Nursing/How to Host a Vaccine Clinic, Part 2 Emily Poland, Patricia Endsley,  & MeCDC 2:00 https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/253041016

Password required, please email Emily

 emily.poland@maine.gov
Health Education Susan Berry and Jean Zimmerman 2:30 https://zoom.us/j/662765411

See email from Susan Berry for password or request password from Susan

susan.berry@maine.gov
CED and CTE Networking Diana Doiron & Meg Harvey 2:00 Contact Diana or Meg for link & password diana.doiron@maine.gov
Brain Centered Emotional Support Bear Shea 3:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 bear.shea@maine.gov
English for Speakers of Other Languages April Perkins 4:00 https://zoom.us/j/407031543 – Contact April Perkins for password. april.perkins@maine.gov

PRIORITY NOTICE: Virtual Meeting Schedule – Tuesday 4/7

Virtual office hour schedule for Tuesday, April 7, 2020

The Maine Department of Education continues to schedule virtual office hours with Department Specialist to support educators and administrators during extended remote learning. During these meetings, our specialists will be available to provide support and guidance regarding distance learning and school supports, as well as to facilitate networking and resource sharing between educators.

As a reminder, virtual meeting schedules are regularly updated on this web page: https://www.maine.gov/doe/covid-19/contentmeetings. The Department will continue scheduling content specific office hours as needed.

Please note that Department staff hosting the virtual meetings have ramped up security measures to keep out participants that are attempting to hack into the meetings for reasons other than to participate in education related conversations.

Virtual Office Hours:

(Please note: some meetings have a 100 person max capacity.)

TUESDAY, APRIL 7, 2020

FOCUS AREA SPECIALIST TIME MEETING INFO CONTACT INFO
Brain Centered Emotional Support Kellie Bailey 8:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005  kellie.bailey@maine.gov
Health Education Susan Berry and Jean Zimmerman 8:30 https://zoom.us/j/387550607

See email from Susan Berry for password or request password from Susan

susan.berry@maine.gov
A Teacher Perspective on Teaching About Maine Native Americans Joe Schmidt w/ Melanie Brown/Ellsworth MS 9:00 Contact Joe Schmidt for meeting link and password joe.schmidt@maine.gov
VISUAL ART K-12 Office Hour Jason Anderson 10:00 Links and passwords are emailed nightly through the VPA Listserv jason.anderson@maine.gov
School Counseling: Open Office Hours Bear Shea 10:00 https://zoom.us/j/598318140 w.bear.shea@maine.gov
Special Education: Updates/K-12 Special Ed Consultants 10:00 https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/961272533 roberta.lucas@maine.gov
Adult Education Office Hours Megan Dichter 10:00 https://zoom.us/j/475000964 megan.dichter@maine.gov
Elementary Literacy Danielle Saucier 10:00 Please email Danielle (Dee) for a link and passcode. danielle.m.saucier@maine.gov
SPPS/SAC Mary Adley 10:00 https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/461510694 tracy.w.whitlock@maine.gov
MUSIC, 9-12 Office Hour Jason Anderson 11:00 Links and passwords are emailed nightly through the VPA Listserv jason.anderson@maine.gov
Meet & Learn with the Maine Secretary of State Joe Schmidt/ w/ Secretary Dunlap 11:00 Contact Joe Schmidt for meeting link and password joe.schmidt@maine.gov
Digital Learning – Best Practices Around Video Conferencing Jon Graham & Emma Banks 11:00 https://zoom.us/j/830817204 jonathan.m.graham@maine.gov
School Nursing Emily Poland 11:00 https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/615139238 

Password required, please email Emily.

emily.poland@maine.gov
Resources for Teaching Personal Finance & Economics Joe Schmidt w/ Mary Dyer/FAME & Maine Jump$tart 1:00 Contact Joe Schmidt for meeting link and password joe.schmidt@maine.gov
Google Classroom Support (using the “classwork” tab) Jason Anderson, VPA Specialist 1:00 (90 minute session) https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tZEtduqvpz4rbLb0OxW-SFPygzCp4FWgBw jason.anderson@maine.gov
PK-12 Social Studies Office Hour Joe Schmidt 2:00 Contact Joe Schmidt for meeting link and password joe.schmidt@maine.gov
Physical Education Jean Zimmerman and Susan Berry 2:30 https://zoom.us/j/411897271

See email from Susan Berry for password or request password from Susan

susan.berry@maine.gov
Brain Centered Emotional Support Bear Shea 3:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 bear.shea@maine.gov
Google Classroom Support (using the “classwork” tab) Jason Anderson, VPA Specialist 3:00 (90 minute session) https://zoom.us/meeting/register/v5UsfumsrjwriKFIpB-H1v3uJDMCzSUDkA jason.anderson@maine.gov
Digital Learning – Best Practices in Video Tutorials and Self-Recording Jon Graham & Emma Banks 3:00 https://zoom.us/j/830817204 jonathan.m.graham@maine.gov
Grades 6-12 ELA Professional Learning: Text-Based Questions and Feedback Morgan Dunton 3:00 Contact Morgan for link and password morgan.dunton@maine.gov