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.

Virtual Office Hours: A Preview of Next Week

Please note: the schedule below will be updated with additional meetings next week.

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.

The 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:
(Some meetings have a 100 person max capacity.)

Please note: the schedule below will be updated with additional meetings next week.

Monday, April 6, 2020

FOCUS AREA SPECIALIST TIME Join Meeting CONTACT INFO
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Kellie Bailey 8:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 kellie.bailey@maine.gov
Pre K for ME- Focus on Read Alouds Nicole Madore 9:00 AM https://zoom.us/j/415572963 nicole.madore@maine.gov
PK-12 Social Studies Office Hour Joe Schmidt 9:00am https://zoom.us/j/354020865

Contact Joe Schmidt for password

joe.schmidt@maine.gov
Special Education: Accessibility/Engagement Special Ed Consultants 10:00 AM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/818733823 roberta.lucas@maine.gov
School Nursing/How to Host a Vaccine Clinic, Part 1 Emily Poland & Patricia Endsley 11:30am https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/122608644

Password required, please email Emily

emily.poland@maine.gov
CED and CTE Networking Diana Doiron & Meg Harvey 12:00 PM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/928762672  diana.doiron@maine.gov 
Adult Education Advising Adult Learners Remotely Amy Poland 1:00 PM https://zoom.us/j/8097107454 amy.poland@maine.gov
SEL Content Hour Kellie Bailey 1:00 https://zoom.us/j/5080785422 kellie.bailey@maine.gov
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Bear Shea 3:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 bear.shea@maine.gov

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

FOCUS AREA SPECIALIST TIME Join Meeting CONTACT INFO
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Kellie Bailey 8:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005  kellie.bailey@maine.gov
A Teacher Perspective on Teaching About Maine Native Americans Joe Schmidt w/ Melanie Brown/Ellsworth MS 9:00 https://zoom.us/j/252289268

Contact Joe Schmidt for password

joe.schmidt@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
SPPS/SAC Mary Adley 10:00 https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/461510694 tracy.w.whitlock@maine.gov
Meet & Learn with the Maine Secretary of State Joe Schmidt/ w/ Secretary Dunlap 11:00 https://zoom.us/j/836160049

Contact Joe Schmidt for the password

joe.schmidt@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 https://zoom.us/j/642285431

Contact Joe Schmidt for password

joe.schmidt@maine.gov
PK-12 Social Studies Office Hour Joe Schmidt 2:00 https://zoom.us/j/452696712

Contact Joe Schmidt for password

joe.schmidt@maine.gov
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Bear Shea 3:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 bear.shea@maine.gov

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

FOCUS AREA SPECIALIST TIME Join Meeting CONTACT INFO
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) 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
ESEA Federal Programs Update and Office Hour Shelly Chasse-Johndro 9:00 See email from the GEMS system for link. Link and password can also be requested via email shelly.chassejohndro@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
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 https://zoom.us/j/211893751

Contact Joe Schmidt for Password

joe.schmidt@maine.gov
School Psychology During theCOVID-19 Crisis Ann Belanger 1:00 PM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/186569953 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
CED and CTE Networking Diana Doiron & Meg Harvey 2:00 https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/217650109 diana.doiron@maine.gov 
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Bear Shea 3:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 bear.shea@maine.gov

Thursday, April 9, 2020

FOCUS AREA SPECIALIST TIME Join Meeting CONTACT INFO
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Kellie Bailey 8:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 kellie.bailey@maine.gov
School Nursing Emily Poland 8:30 https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/615139238

Password required, please email Emily

emily.poland@maine.gov
Adult Education: Support for AE Instructors Amy Poland 10:00 https://zoom.us/j/8097107454 amy.poland@maine.gov
Special Education: High School/Transition Special Ed Consultants 10:00 AM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/455923434 roberta.lucas@maine.gov
SPPS/SAC Mary Adley 10:00 AM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/461510694 tracy.w.whitlock@maine.gov
PK-12 Social Studies Office Hour Joe Schmidt 11:00am https://zoom.us/j/852537604

Contact Joe Schmidt for password

joe.schmidt@maine.gov
Online Resources to Teach About WWII Joe Schmidt w/ Shane Gower/Maranacook Community High School & The World War II Museum 1:00 https://zoom.us/j/738937227

Contact Joe Schmidt for password

joe.schmidt@maine.gov
PK-12 Science Networking/Office Hours Shari Templeton 2:30 https://zoom.us/j/288624294 shari.templeton@maine.gov
ELA 6-12 Office Hourse Morgan Dunton 3:00 https://zoom.us/j/604960787 morgan.dunton@maine.gov
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Bear Shea 3:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 bear.shea@maine.gov

Friday, April 10, 2020

FOCUS AREA SPECIALIST TIME Join Meeting CONTACT INFO
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Kellie Bailey 8:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 kellie.bailey@maine.gov
Pre K for ME- Focus on SWPLN & Math Nicole Madore 9:00 AM https://zoom.us/j/288501942  nicole.madore@maine.gov
Special Education: Weekly Wrap Up Special Ed Consultants 10:00 AM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/184810547 roberta.lucas@maine.gov
PK-12 Science Networking/Office Hours Shari Templeton 12:00 p.m. https://zoom.us/j/412002677 shari.templeton@maine.gov
CED and CTE Networking Diana Doiron & Meg Harvey 2:00 PM https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/284805341 diana.doiron@maine.gov
Brain Centered Emotional Support (more info) Bear Shea 3:30 https://zoom.us/j/689251005 bear.shea@maine.gov

Celebrating National Poetry Month

The Maine Department of Education is celebrating National Poetry Month throughout the month of April. Find resources for accessing poetry, prepared lessons, and activities for educators and parents to supplement remote learning, and to celebrate and appreciate the beauty of poetry all month.

Anyone interested can find poetry resources on the Maine DOE Websitesuch as poems to inspire you, helpful links to The National Council of Teachers of English, in addition to a listing of activities the Department is encouraging throughout the month of April.

The Department hopes to encourage poetry celebration and appreciation with themed activities that can be done at home or using social media throughout the month. There will also be poetry specific virtual meetings designed for educators throughout the month.

Themes:

  • April 5th – 18th: Historical Poems and Poems celebrating History
  • April 19th – 25th: Earth Day/Nature
  • April: 26th – 30th: Creating Poetry

Activities:

  • Read in the round. Select a poem and have each person in your home read a line or a stanza. Practice changing your voice and reading with different emotions.
  • Write a poem. Tell a story about something you remember, how you are feeling, or something you wish.
  • Create a collage of photos or images with lines from a favorite poem. How does the poem look to you?

Schools, students, and families that would like to participate are encouraged to follow the Maine Department Education’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Tag us in any of your poetry activities this month, we’d love to keep up with what you are doing to celebrate poetry in April!

NOTE TO SELF: Remember to Breathe

During this Difficult Time Filled With Great Uncertainty- Please remember to take moments each day and Breathe On Purpose. As HUMAN BEINGS, it’s critically important to check in with ourselves especially now.  Ask yourself- “How Am I Feeling Right This Moment?” and “Where Do These Feelings Live in My Body?”

These questions posed to ourselves help us to slow down the business of our lives and to self-reflect. This is important because this helps human beings (who are far too often existing in a state of automatic pilot) to build our emotional intelligence. Self-Awareness takes practice and requires our concentrated effort. All other emotional intelligence skill development requires a solid foundation of self-awareness. Without being self-aware of our thoughts, feelings, needs- we are not able to fully self-regulate, form meaningful relationships, cope with life difficulties or make responsible, ethical and reasonable decisions.

Collectively, across the planet- we have been given this opportunity to sit in the moment. We are obligated to take care of ourselves in a mindful and compassionate way, as our lives depend upon the choices we make right now. Together, separately we can weather the seas of this storm as we mindfully attune to our basic human survival needs with attuned hearts and minds.

Educators- take care to check in with your sense of urgency to get lessons prepared and sent out to your students. Be aware that we’re all in this together and each of us can only do the best we know how with the resources we have available.

When we get to the other side of this- our students will not remember the science, math, reading or writing lessons we asked them to do. They WILL remember your kind words of support, your smiles, your encouragement, your calm and centered presence and most of all your love.

Take care of yourselves today and everyday so that you can continue to take care of others (family, friends, students) and BREATHE ON PURPOSE.

With Great Gratitude-

Kellie D. Bailey, Maine DOE SEL Specialist
Bear Shea, Maine DOE Mental Health / School Counselor Specialist

Join Kellie or Bear during their Brain Centered Emotional Support Sessions that are available twice daily as part of the Department’s virtual meetings.