MEDIA RELEASE: Mills Administration Secures WiFi & Learning Devices for 100 Percent of Maine Students Reporting a Need In Face of COVID-19’s Impacts on Schools

AUGUSTA – Governor Janet Mills and Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin announced today that the Maine Department of Education has secured internet access and devices to facilitate at home learning for 100 percent of Maine school children for whom there was a reported need. The success comes as Maine educators have demonstrated extraordinary commitment and creativity in response to the suspension of classroom-based instruction as a result of COVID-19, providing invaluable and meaningful personal connection and assurance to students in a time of great uncertainty. However, it is still difficult for educators to offer equitable online learning opportunities without individual student internet access.

Through a combined effort with the Department of Administrative and Financial Services, ConnectME, and business and philanthropic entities, the Maine Department of Education (Maine DOE) has acquired 14,494 service contracts through three different service providers, nearly all of which are for WiFi-enabled Samsung Galaxy Tablets that can be used as learning tools and hotspots or hotspots only. Through one of the service providers, DOE was also able to order MiFi, a wireless router that acts as a mobile WiFi hotspot, to fulfill internet-only needs. To fulfill the device only needs, Maine DOE was able to order 7,450 Chromebooks.

“The suspension of classroom-based instruction because of the Pandemic has brought on new challenges and we should all be grateful for how Maine’s educators have adapted to provide a quality education to our children,” said Governor Mills. “It is our responsibility to ensure that Maine’s teachers, and all students, have the tools they need to stay connected during these unprecedented times. These new connections will allow Maine students to do just that and stay engaged remotely with their school no matter where they live.”

All schools who indicated a need are receiving the information and devices directly from the vendors. Need was assessed by the Department of Education through several surveys of all traditional and non-traditional public schools and private schools who serve public students to understand the connectivity needs statewide. Of the 21,845 students statewide lacking connectivity, based on data from the 75 percent of schools that responded, 14,494 students needed a wireless contract and 7,351 students needed only a device in order to have equitable access to online learning opportunities.

The need for universal connectivity was identified as the top priority of stakeholders across the state in terms of mitigating the impact from the COVID disruption. Teachers have been struggling to connect with the many students and families who do not have access to the internet. A fourth round of surveys has just been completed for schools to report student connectivity needs, and DOE is working now to fulfill this final round of requests. In addition, the department has reached out to both higher education institutions and adult education programs to determine their student connectivity needs.

“This pandemic and the educational disruption brought to light the extreme inequities that exist across our state,” said Commissioner Makin. “The emergency provision of connectivity to all students allows for educational continuity, and I am grateful to our team for their strategic and efficient execution of this enormous effort.”

The Administration utilized federal funds, including a portion of Maine’s $9.3 million allocation from the Governor’s Emergency Education Relief (GEER) Fund, which was allocated through the federal CARES Act, as well as philanthropic donations, to purchase the devices and wireless service contracts to meet the identified need for universal connectivity for Maine students.

FMI: contact Kelli Deveaux, Director of Communications at kelli.deveaux@maine.gov

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MEDIA RELEASE: 2020 County Teachers of the Year Announced in Virtual Ceremony

Teachers from all 16 of Maine’s counties were honored today in a virtual announcement that was broadcast live on the Maine Department of Education Facebook PageHere is a direct link to view ceremony.

The Maine County Teacher of the Year announcement is held annually in the spring to honor the teachers selected from nominations for Maine Teacher of the Year from each county. The County Teachers of the Year are the finalists for Maine Teacher of the Year, an honor awarded each year to one teacher in Maine.

The educators were each nominated by a member of their community for their exemplary service in education, and dedication to their students. They were selected by a distinguished panel of teachers, principals and business community members from a pool of hundreds of other nominated teachers in their communities.

During the ceremony, teachers were honored by Maine Department of Education Commissioner, Pender Makin; Executive Director of Educate Maine, Jason Judd; State Board of Education member, Martha Harris; 2018 Maine Teacher of the Year, Kaitlin Young; and 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year, Heather Whitaker.

2020 County Teachers of the Year:

As ambassadors for teachers, students, and quality education in Maine, the Maine County Teachers of the Year are available to make presentations to local and regional organizations. Throughout the summer, they will continue to participate in an intensive State Teacher of the Year selection process.

The Maine Teacher of the Year is a program of the Maine Department of Education, administered and partnered by Educate Maine, a business-led organization working to ensure Maine’s students and workers are the best educated and highly skilled in the world.

For more information contact Rachel Paling (Maine DOE) at rachel.paling@maine.gov or Dolly Sullivan (Educate Maine) at dolly@educatemaine.org.

 

MEDIA ADVISORY: Maine DOE to Announce the 2020 Maine County Teachers of the Year on Facebook Live Thursday, May 14 at 2pm

What: 16 Maine teachers will be announced and honored as part of the Maine Department of Education’s annual Maine County Teachers of the Year awards. The teachers were nominated by a member of their school community, and through a rigorous application process were selected by a panel of teachers, principals, and business community members.

Maine County Teachers of the Year serve as ambassadors for teachers, students, and quality education state-wide. The Maine County Teachers of the Year are available to make presentations to local and regional organizations. Throughout the summer, they will continue to participate in an intensive State Teacher of the Year selection process.

Who: 16 Maine teachers, representing each county in Maine; Maine Department of Education Commissioner, Pender Makin; Executive Director of Educate Maine, Jason Judd; State Board of Education, Martha Harris; 2018 Maine Teacher of the Year, Kaitlin Young; and 2020 Maine Teacher of the Year, Heather Whitaker.

Where: The virtual announcement will be streamed live on the Maine Department of Education Facebook PageThe pictures and a recording of the presentation will also be available after the announcement.

When: Thursday, May 14, 2020 from 2:00pm – 3:30pm

For more information contact Rachel Paling (Maine DOE) at rachel.paling@maine.gov or Dolly Sullivan (Educate Maine) at dolly@educatemaine.org.

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine DOE Issues Guidance on High School Graduation Ceremonies

On Wednesday, the Maine Department of Education issued guidance to Maine’s education leaders regarding high school graduation ceremonies amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The guidance was issued at the request of superintendents and other school leaders who are making extremely difficult decisions about graduation ceremonies, as the 2019-2020 school year comes to a close.

Maine Department of Education assembled a group to explore and make recommendations on ways that schools can celebrate the class of 2020, while taking into consideration public health concerns, social distancing recommendations, and government-issued restrictions on social gatherings. The group complied the best available advice and information, which was then reviewed by health and education experts.

“School and district leaders have requested guidance, and unfortunately there is no one right way to approach this,” said Commissioner Pender Makin.  “Local school communities must assess their unique needs and capacities, and many variables will impact decisions around graduation celebrations. Many schools are hosting virtual events or postponing the ceremonies, but for those who are planning an in-person event, this guidance addresses important safeguards and considerations.“

Decisions around whether to host graduation ceremonies will remain at the discretion of local school boards and superintendents and must be conducted in accordance with Governor Mills’ “Stay Safer at Home Orders.” As we remain in a state of civil emergency, planners of important events are urged to consider the fact that regulations and recommendations are subject to change, due to the dynamic nature of this situation.

The following guidelines must be taken into consideration when planning events:

  • June-August, 2020, social gatherings will be limited to no more than 50 people. (In May, the limit is no more than 10 people).Physical (social) distancing of at least 6 feet must be maintained at all times.
  • Cloth face coverings must be used in all public settings. (Exceptions: Cloth face coverings are not required for children under age 2, a child in a child care setting, or for anyone who has trouble breathing or related medical conditions, or who is otherwise unable to remove the mask without assistance).
  • A 14-Day Quarantine is required for all individuals entering or returning to Maine prior to going out in public.
  • Some municipalities have additional requirements and guidelines that must be followed.

In-Person Outdoor or Indoor Ceremonies:

Beginning in June, when group sizes of up to 50 will be permitted, there are some options available for very small graduating classes (or for larger classes, broken into smaller groups through multiple ceremonies) while maintaining social distancing. The following guidelines should be followed to ensure a safe event:

  • Limit the number of participants, staff, and guests to fewer than 50 people, in total.
  • Seat graduates 6 feet apart in all directions.
  • Seat guests 6 feet apart in all directions.
  • Require use of cloth face masks.
  • Develop accommodations, with increased distancing and precautions, for those with underlying health issues.
  • Mark the standing locations of graduates waiting in line and during processional at 6 foot intervals.
  • Ensure additional staff support to monitor and maintain acceptable distance.
  • Utilize one-way direction of movements and use separate entrances and exits if possible.
  • Consider how diplomas will be collected when a student’s name is called. Staff may consider placing the diploma on a table for the student to collect. Students may walk across the stage, collect the diploma from the table, and pose for a picture individually or appropriately distanced from a school/district official.
  • Communicate expectations and guidelines in advance to ensure understanding and compliance.
  • Develop plans for use of restrooms and access to soap and water for hand washing with marked waiting spaces at 6 foot intervals to avoid crowding at bathroom stalls or sinks. Arrange for a custodian to monitor and replenish soap/paper towels.
  • Provide hand sanitizer in multiple areas.
  • Contact your local law enforcement to help with planning and crowd control.
  • Consider designating a single person to take an official photo/video of each graduate receiving their diploma and prohibit others from approaching the area to take their own pictures or video.

Drive-In Options:

  • Before planning a drive-in ceremony, please consider the needs and rights of families who do not have access to a vehicle and make equitable arrangements.
  • Maine drive-in movie theaters have been granted permission to open, as long as they meet a set of criteria and follow certain guidelines. Schools may contract with a drive-in movie theater operating within those regulations.
  • If a school wishes to plan a “drive in” ceremony outside of an approved, open, theater, there are many precautions that should be taken:
    • Work with local law enforcement to get approval for use of a field or parking lot, and to support traffic flow and crowd control.
    • Measure out parking spots that are spaced a minimum of 6’ apart.
    • Communicate rules ahead of time regarding the need for all participants to stay inside the cars with the doors closed and to wear cloth masks if windows are down.
    • Allow one student at a time to leave the family’s vehicle to pick up a diploma, using the guidelines above for in-person ceremonies.

Other options for honoring graduates:

  • Virtual Ceremonies or video tributes:  Ask seniors to send individual videos with short messages to their graduating classmates. This can be compiled with more traditional speeches that can be done by video or livestream to create a keepsake video.
  • Hashtag Campaigns:  Highlight seniors on social media each day with special hashtags that allow for family, friends, and community members to congratulate individual students (who agree to participate) with photos and messages.
  • Postpone the graduation ceremonies until it is safe to gather in large groups once again, or host them in one year as an “early reunion.”

MEDIA RELEASE: Governor Janet Mills Kicks off Teacher Appreciation Week with a Special Message

Governor Janet Mills is helping to kick off a week-long celebration of Maine educators for Teacher Appreciation Week. Celebrated May 4th through May 8th this year, Teacher Appreciation Week is observed nationally, and is a time when all are encouraged to take a moment to thank teachers for all they do to positively impact the lives of students and families.

“This is national Teacher Appreciation Week, a time to recognize the significant contributions our teachers make to public education and honor their commitment to the success of Maine students,” said Governor Mills in a special video message. “On behalf of the people of Maine, I want to thank all teachers for dedicating their careers to providing our students the foundation for greater opportunity and lifelong learning.”

The Governor and the Maine Department of Education are encouraging families and students across Maine to join them by sending letters, cards, and social media posts to thank and acknowledge the dedicated teachers in their lives.

“We have never been prouder of the Maine educators who have been serving students in countless innovative ways during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Commissioner of Education Pender Makin. “Teachers are working harder than ever before, and I can’t think of a better time for families around the state to applaud their tireless efforts to educate Maine students under some of the most challenging circumstances we’ve ever experienced.”

Join us as this week by taking a moment to thank your teacher for all their hard work! If you are posting on social media be sure to use the hashtag #Thanks4TeachingME, and tag the Maine Department of Education at @mdoenews (Twitter) at @MaineDepartmentofEducation1 (Facebook) the Maine DOE the Maine DOE will help share your message.