PRIORITY NOTICE: Widespread Influenza in Maine

The following message has been provided by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Influenza activity in Maine is widespread with laboratory confirmed influenza reported in all counties. Influenza A/H3, and influenza B have been confirmed in Maine indicating both strains are circulating.  Maine CDC has followed up on 52 outbreaks of influenza as of Thursday January 25, 2018. Influenza vaccination is still strongly encouraged and is widely available, especially to protect those persons at risk of severe disease.  The vaccine appears to be a good match to three strains (A/H1, B/Yamagata, B/Victoria) this year, and it is not too late to get vaccinated.  Nationally, the majority of the circulating A/H3 strains are not a good match to the vaccine.  Maine specific data is not available at this time, but it is assumed to be similar to the national picture.  Vaccination is still recommended as it will protect against the other three strains, and it may offer cross protection and decrease the severity of illness.

What can Maine schools do to prevent and control influenza?

  • Report outbreaks: Report outbreaks of any illness, defined as student absenteeism rates >15%, immediately to Maine CDC.  Submit > 15% absenteeism reports through the Department of Education NEO Dashboard Absenteeism Reporting application (for more information, see http://maine.gov/education/sh/contents/AbsenteeReportingNEOSHM.3.2017.pdf).  Field epidemiologists are available to provide consultation on infection control.  Reports may also be called to 1-800-821-5821.
  • Promote health among students and staff: Encourage students, parents, teachers and staff to be aware of their health and to identify early if they have influenza-like illness (defined as fever of 100 degrees or greater, plus sore throat and/or cough).  Promote four steps to prevent flu: wash hands, cover cough, stay home if sick, and get vaccinated.   Individuals should stay home until 24 hours after fever resolves without the use of fever reducing medications.
  • Increase environmental cleaning: Frequently clean high touch surfaces, like door knobs, desks, and light switches – this helps break down the presence of the virus in the environment.
  • Review school policy on sickness and health: Review with staff your school policy on illness among students and staff.  Invite the school nurse or physician to speak at a staff meeting or school board meeting to promote prevention of influenza.  Consider steps the school will take in the event of continued elevated absenteeism.

Where can I find more information? 

New State expectations for SAT essays set to help improve student writing

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) will start using a “cut score” that includes State expectations for the essay portion of the SAT for the first time. A cut score is the minimum score required for performance at each State expectation level. The essay cut scores are expected to help educators further enhance student writing.

The essay cut score was researched and determined as a collaborative effort among the Maine DOE, Maine educators, technical support from assessment experts, the Delaware Department of Education and approval by Maine’s Technical Advisory Committee (TAC).

While essay scores have previously been reported to the State, no expectation has been provided for satisfactory performance until now. Starting in 2018, the SAT essay score will have a designation of “Meets Expectations” or “Does Not Meet Expectations.” There are no changes to the State expectations for student performance in the SAT mathematics and reading score metrics.

In order to meet expectations for the essay cut score, students must score at least 3 out of 8 points on each of the three sub scores, and they must achieve an overall essay score of at least 13. Schools and districts will be provided with data that includes the percentage of students that meet the SAT expectation.

In addition to providing school officials with a measurement of the over-all student achievement level in writing, the new essay cut scores will also provide educators with an opportunity to seek improvement in teaching students analytical writing techniques.

While the goal may be a challenge for some Maine students, the Maine DOE is eager to assist educators in helping students achieve these expectations through professional development opportunities. A set of workshops took place in the fall of 2017 and materials are available on the Maine DOE Website. For questions or to discuss future professional development opportunities contact Morgan Dunton, English Language Arts Specialist at morgan.dunton@maine.gov or (207) 624-6625.

The SAT essay cut scores will also be one of the factors that contribute to performance in the federal Every Students Succeeds Act Accountability System. For more information about ESSA contact Chelsea Fortin-Trimble, ESEA Federal Programs & Title I Director at Chelsey.A.Fortin@maine.gov or (207)-624-6815.

For more information about Maine Education Assessments including the SATs contact Andrew Hudacs, Director of Assessment at Andrew.Hudacs@maine.gov or (207) 624-6636.

PRIORITY NOTICE: GI Bill benefits available for high school students

The Maine Department of Education, the Military Interstate Children’s Compact Commission (MIC3), and the Maine State Approving Agency for Veterans Education sponsor the following message:

Some of your high school students may be eligible for thousands of dollars of GI Bill benefits while attending high school.

Maine has nearly 130,000 veterans, many of whom have service-related disability ratings from the Veterans Administration or have suffered a service-related death.

If a veteran has a 100% Permanent and Total service-related disability rating, or is deceased as a result of military service, their spouse and children may qualify for Dependents Educational Assistance. This is also known as Chapter 35 of the GI Bill.

Many are aware that this benefit can be used for colleges, trade schools, adult education programs, and apprenticeship programs. However, many are unaware that an eligible child can use these same benefits while attending high school, once the child reaches the age of 18.

The Chapter 35 benefit currently pays more than $1,000 per month (full time rate). The benefit is non-taxable. Additionally, up to five months of benefits can be used while in high school without being charged against the basic 45 months of full-time eligibility. This benefit often provides an amazing “nest egg” to cover day to day household costs or additional costs associated with obtaining a post-secondary education.

The real challenge is identifying these people and putting them in contact with an agency to assist them through the paperwork. The Maine State Approving Agency for Veterans Education can assist eligible family members and school officials with completing the necessary paperwork. But they need help in identifying those who are eligible. There is no “magic list” identifying eligible veterans and their family members. That’s where our school partners can help.

If you become aware that a high school student may qualify for this benefit, worth over $50,000, please have them contact Robert Haley of The Maine State Approving Agency for Veterans Education at 207-582-2100 or via email at Robert.haley@maine.edu.