Media Advisory: Mills Administration Updates COVID-19 School Health Advisory System

Knox, Franklin, Somerset, and Washington counties designated yellow, Waldo and Kennebec closely monitored in green

AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration today released an update to its color-coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission by color and is provided to assist schools as they continue with their plans to deliver instruction and support students safely this fall. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) assessed the data and trends for all counties.

Based on this assessment, Knox and Franklin counties are now categorized as yellow, joining Somerset and Washington counties, which were designated yellow last week. Waldo, which was moved to a yellow designation on October 23rd, will return to green, but remain closely monitored, along with Kennebec County. All other counties remain green.

  • REMAIN YELLOW: New case rates in both Somerset and Washington counties continue to climb. These counties’14-day positivity rates are 4.7 percent and 3.3 percent, respectively.
  • NOW YELLOW: Both Knox County’s and Franklin County’s new case rates have increased over the past week and their positivity rates are above the state average.
  • CLOSELY MONITORING: Waldo County has experienced a drop in new cases recently. However, because its positivity rate remains relatively high, it will be closely monitored. Additionally, Kennebec County has experienced a number of outbreaks in the last week, including at a gym, church, and hospital. As such, it, too, will be closely monitored.

While Cumberland County has a high rate of new cases, this includes the outbreak at Maine Correctional Center which will have little impact on schools. Cumberland’s positivity rate is below the state average, and, as such, remains green at this time.

“Keeping schools open and serving as many students as possible each day is a fundamental goal for the wellbeing of our state.  Students, school staff, and school leaders have been diligently implementing the health and safety guidelines, thereby keeping school transmission low,” said Pender Makin, Commissioner of Education. “Because the color-coded risk designations are based on public health measures and trends throughout each community, we are urging the people of Maine to support your local schools by wearing face coverings, maintaining physical distance from one another, and staying home when you’re not feeling well.”

Under the “yellow” designation, which indicates an increased (moderate) level of community risk, schools may consider additional precautions, such as limiting numbers of people in school buildings at the same time, suspending extracurricular or co-curricular activities including competitions between schools, limiting interaction through cohorting, or other measures based on the unique needs of each school community.

These designations are made out of an abundance of caution and for the consideration of school administrative units in their decisions to deliver instruction.

It is essential that school districts across the State of Maine continue to implement plans that adhere to the six requirements for returning to in-person instruction, regardless of their county’s red, yellow, or green designation:

Symptom Screening at Home Before Coming to School (for all Staff and Students) – Students (parents/caregivers) and staff members must conduct self-checks for symptoms prior to boarding buses or entering school buildings each day.  Schools should provide information to families in their primary language to support them in conducting this check.   Any person showing symptoms must report their symptoms and not be present at school.  Schools must provide clear and accessible directions to parents/caregivers and students for reporting symptoms and absences.

Physical Distancing and Facilities – Adults must maintain 6 feet of distance from others to the extent possible. Maintaining 3 feet of distance is acceptable between and among students when combined with the other measures outlined in this list of safety requirements.  6 feet of physical distancing is required for students while eating breakfast and lunch, as students will be unable to wear masks at that time.   A “medical isolation space” (separate from the nurse’s office) must be designated for students/staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms during the school day. Adequate ventilation is required for classrooms, with schools having flexibility in implementation such as using properly working ventilation systems or outdoor air exchange using fans in open windows or doors. Groups in any one area, room, or classroom must not exceed the Governor’s gathering size limits.

Masks/Face Coverings – Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear a mask/face covering. Students age five and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth.  Masks are recommended for children ages two to four, when developmentally appropriate. Masks/face coverings must be worn by all students on the bus. Face shields may be an alternative for those students with documented medical or behavioral challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings. The same applies to staff with medical or other health reasons for being unable to wear face coverings. Face shields worn in place of a face covering must extend below the chin and back to the ears. Nothing in the mask/face covering requirements should be interpreted as preventing a school from making accommodations on an individualized basis as required by state or federal disabilities laws.

Hand Hygiene – All students and staff in a school must receive training in proper hand hygiene. All students and staff must wash hands or use sanitizing gel upon entering the school, before and after eating, before and after donning or removing a face mask, after using the restroom, before and after use of playgrounds and shared equipment, and before and after riding school transportation.

Personal Protective Equipment – Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when student require physical assistance. These precautions must at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering. Classrooms and/or areas that have been used by an individual diagnosed with Covid-19 must be closed off until thorough cleaning and sanitization takes place.

Return to School after Illness – Sick staff members and students must use home isolation until they meet criteria for returning to school.

The Health Advisory System categorizations are defined as follows:

  • RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.
  • YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider additional precautions and/or hybrid instructional models to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.
  • GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.

The county-level assessments are based on both quantitative and qualitative data, including but not limited to recent case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). Those data are publicly posted every week on the Maine CDC website. DHHS and Maine CDC also consider qualitative factors, such as the presence of outbreaks that may potentially affect school-age children.

The Health Advisory System reflects ongoing analysis of evolving data, and serves as one piece of information that school and district leaders can use to make decisions about how to deliver education this fall. The qualitative and quantitative considerations and data used by the CDC in determining community transmission risk levels for schools can be located here: How County Risk Levels for Maine Schools are Determined

The Health Advisory System can be found on the Maine DOE website in Part I of the Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Classroom Instructionhttps://www.maine.gov/doe/framework/part-I.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Court of Appeals Decides in Favor of DOE Commissioner

On October 29, 2020, the Maine Department of Education received word of the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit’s decision in favor of Commissioner Pender Makin in Carson v. Makin. This decision of the Court of Appeals affirms the earlier decision of the United States District Court for the District of Maine.

Maine’s Constitution requires the local provision of public education; however, the expansive landscape and small communities of Maine are not conducive to the operation of a school within every school administrative unit. For this reason, Maine has a long-established “tuition” program through which the children within a community that cannot or does not operate a public school are permitted to access a public education through the payment of state and local funds to a nearby public or approved private school.  Public dollars cannot be used for sectarian schools; however, a family is not prevented from accessing, at their own cost, a religious education.

“As the Commissioner of Education, I am charged with the responsibility of ensuring that public funds allocated for education in Maine are spent within the legal and intended use of those funds,” stated Commissioner Pender Makin when learning of the decision. “I am pleased that the court has recognized the lawfulness of our fiscal stewardship.”

The case was argued before the Court of Appeals by Assistant Attorney General Sarah Forster on January 8, 2020.  Assistant Attorney General Forster and Deputy Attorney General Christopher Taub have represented the Commissioner throughout the legal proceedings in this matter.

“I am pleased that the First Circuit correctly found that Maine has created a narrowly tailored “tuition” program that responds to our unique need to ensure that a public education is available in school administrative units that do not operate public schools,” said Attorney General Aaron M. Frey regarding the court’s decision. “The Court recognized that because the only purpose of Maine’s program is to replicate the education that a student would receive at a public school, Maine is not discriminating based on the religious status of any private school. Rather, Maine is simply declining to pay for religious instruction that would be unavailable in a public school. In this way, Maine’s program is unlike the “no-aid” clause in the Montana Constitution at issue in the Supreme Court’s recent Espinoza decision, or any prior school choice program that has been subject to review.”

The decision in its entirety can be read, here.

MEDIA RELEASE: Mills Administration Updates COVID-19 School Health Advisory System

Somerset and Washington counties join Waldo County with yellow designation, all other counties remain green

AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration today released an update to its color-coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission by color and is provided to assist schools as they continue with their plans to deliver instruction and support students safely this fall. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) assessed the data and trends for all counties. Based on this assessment, Somerset and Washington counties are now categorized as yellow, joining Waldo County, which was designated yellow last week. All other counties remain green.

In Somerset County, both the positivity rate and the rate of new cases per 10,000 people have risen over the previous 14-day period. In Washington County, the site of the Second Baptist Church outbreak, the new two-week case rate per 10,000 is four times higher than it was last week. Waldo County continues to have Maine’s highest county positivity rate at 3.0% and highest new case rate of 17.4 per 10,000 over the last two weeks.  No outbreaks have been identified in Waldo or Washington county schools at this time.

Under the “yellow” designation, which indicates an increased (moderate) level of community risk, schools may consider additional precautions, such as limiting numbers of people in school buildings at the same time, suspending extracurricular or co-curricular activities including competitions between schools, limiting interaction through cohorting, or other measures based on the unique needs of each school community.

These designations are made out of an abundance of caution and for the consideration of school administrative units in their decisions to deliver instruction.

It is essential that school districts across the State of Maine continue to implement plans that adhere to the six requirements for returning to in-person instruction, regardless of their county’s red, yellow, or green designation:

Symptom Screening at Home Before Coming to School (for all Staff and Students) – Students (parents/caregivers) and staff members must conduct self-checks for symptoms prior to boarding buses or entering school buildings each day.  Schools should provide information to families in their primary language to support them in conducting this check.   Any person showing symptoms must report their symptoms and not be present at school.  Schools must provide clear and accessible directions to parents/caregivers and students for reporting symptoms and absences.

Physical Distancing and Facilities – Adults must maintain 6 feet of distance from others to the extent possible. Maintaining 3 feet of distance is acceptable between and among students when combined with the other measures outlined in this list of safety requirements.  6 feet of physical distancing is required for students while eating breakfast and lunch, as students will be unable to wear masks at that time.   A “medical isolation space” (separate from the nurse’s office) must be designated for students/staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms during the school day. Adequate ventilation is required for classrooms, with schools having flexibility in implementation such as using properly working ventilation systems or outdoor air exchange using fans in open windows or doors. Groups in any one area, room, or classroom must not exceed the Governor’s gathering size limits.

Masks/Face Coverings – Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear a mask/face covering. Students age five and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth.  Masks are recommended for children ages two to four, when developmentally appropriate. Masks/face coverings must be worn by all students on the bus. Face shields may be an alternative for those students with documented medical or behavioral challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings. The same applies to staff with medical or other health reasons for being unable to wear face coverings. Face shields worn in place of a face covering must extend below the chin and back to the ears. An exception for wearing a mask or face shield applies only to an individual participating in voluntary school sports during vigorous physical exercise. Nothing in the mask/face covering requirements should be interpreted as preventing a school from making accommodations on an individualized basis as required by state or federal disabilities laws.

Hand Hygiene – All students and staff in a school must receive training in proper hand hygiene. All students and staff must wash hands or use sanitizing gel upon entering the school, before and after eating, before and after donning or removing a face mask, after using the restroom, before and after use of playgrounds and shared equipment, and before and after riding school transportation.

Personal Protective Equipment – Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when student require physical assistance. These precautions must at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering. Classrooms and/or areas that have been used by an individual diagnosed with Covid-19 must be closed off until thorough cleaning and sanitization takes place.

Return to School after Illness – Sick staff members and students must use home isolation until they meet criteria for returning to school.

The Health Advisory System categorizations are defined as follows:

  • RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.
  • YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider additional precautions and/or hybrid instructional models as a way to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.
  • GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.

The county-level assessments are based on both quantitative and qualitative data, including but not limited to recent case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). Those data are publicly posted every week on the Maine CDC website. DHHS and Maine CDC also consider qualitative factors, such as the presence of outbreaks that may potentially affect school-age children.

The Health Advisory System reflects ongoing analysis of evolving data, and serves as one piece of information that school and district leaders can use to make decisions about how to deliver education this fall. The qualitative and quantitative considerations and data used by the CDC in determining community transmission risk levels for schools can be located here: How County Risk Levels for Maine Schools are Determined

The Health Advisory System can be found on the Maine DOE website in Part I of the Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Classroom Instructionhttps://www.maine.gov/doe/framework/part-I.

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Mills Administration Updates COVID-19 School Health Advisory System

Waldo County moves to yellow, all other counties remain green

AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration today released an update to its color-coded Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk of COVID-19 transmission by color and that is provided to assist schools as they continue with their plans to deliver instruction and support students safely this fall. The Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC) assessed the data and trends for all counties. Based on this assessment, Waldo County is now categorized as yellow. All other counties remain green.

In Waldo County, the number of new cases per 10,000 in the last two weeks has climbed to 14.4 and the positivity rate is 1.4 percent, higher than all other counties in Maine. No outbreaks have been identified at Waldo County schools at this time. As previously reported by Maine CDC, individual cases associated with an outbreak investigation originally centered on Brooks Pentecostal Church have been identified at four schools in the county: Ames Elementary School in Searsmont, Captain Albert Stevens School in Belfast, Mount View Elementary School in Thorndike, and Lighthouse Christian Academy, a school affiliated with the church. There is not currently evidence of transmission in the schools. Waldo County will continue to be closely monitored.

Under the “yellow” designation, which indicates an increased (moderate) level of community risk, schools may consider additional precautions, such as limiting numbers of people in school buildings at the same time, suspending extracurricular or co-curricular activities including competitions between schools, limiting interaction through cohorting, or other measures based on the unique needs of each school community.

These designations are made out of an abundance of caution and for the consideration of school administrative units in their decisions to deliver instruction.

It is essential that school districts across the State of Maine continue to implement plans that adhere to the six requirements for returning to in-person instruction, regardless of their county’s red, yellow, or green designation:

Symptom Screening at Home Before Coming to School (for all Staff and Students) – Students (parents/caregivers) and staff members must conduct self-checks for symptoms prior to boarding buses or entering school buildings each day.  Schools should provide information to families in their primary language to support them in conducting this check.   Any person showing symptoms must report their symptoms and not be present at school.  Schools must provide clear and accessible directions to parents/caregivers and students for reporting symptoms and absences.

Physical Distancing and Facilities – Adults must maintain 6 feet of distance from others to the extent possible. Maintaining 3 feet of distance is acceptable between and among students when combined with the other measures outlined in this list of safety requirements.  6 feet of physical distancing is required for students while eating breakfast and lunch, as students will be unable to wear masks at that time.   A “medical isolation space” (separate from the nurse’s office) must be designated for students/staff who exhibit COVID-19 symptoms during the school day. Adequate ventilation is required for classrooms, with schools having flexibility in implementation such as using properly working ventilation systems or outdoor air exchange using fans in open windows or doors. Groups in any one area, room, or classroom must not exceed the Governor’s gathering size limits.

Masks/Face Coverings – Adults, including educators and staff, are required to wear a mask/face covering. Students age five and above are required to wear a mask/face covering that covers their nose and mouth.  Masks are recommended for children ages two to four, when developmentally appropriate. Masks/face coverings must be worn by all students on the bus. Face shields may be an alternative for those students with documented medical or behavioral challenges who are unable to wear masks/face coverings. The same applies to staff with medical or other health reasons for being unable to wear face coverings. Face shields worn in place of a face covering must extend below the chin and back to the ears. An exception for wearing a mask or face shield applies only to an individual participating in voluntary school sports during vigorous physical exercise. Nothing in the mask/face covering requirements should be interpreted as preventing a school from making accommodations on an individualized basis as required by state or federal disabilities laws.

Hand Hygiene – All students and staff in a school must receive training in proper hand hygiene. All students and staff must wash hands or use sanitizing gel upon entering the school, before and after eating, before and after donning or removing a face mask, after using the restroom, before and after use of playgrounds and shared equipment, and before and after riding school transportation.

Personal Protective Equipment – Additional safety precautions are required for school nurses and/or any staff supporting students in close proximity, when distance is not possible, or when student require physical assistance. These precautions must at a minimum include eye protection (e.g., face shield or goggles) and a mask/face covering. Classrooms and/or areas that have been used by an individual diagnosed with Covid-19 must be closed off until thorough cleaning and sanitization takes place.

Return to School after Illness – Sick staff members and students must use home isolation until they meet criteria for returning to school.

The Health Advisory System categorizations are defined as follows:

  • RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable.
  • YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider additional precautions and/or hybrid instructional models as a way to reduce the number of people in schools and classrooms at any one time.
  • GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.  Schools in a “green” county may need to use hybrid instruction models if there is insufficient capacity or other factors (facilities, staffing, geography/transportation, etc.) that may prevent full implementation of the health and safety requirements.

The county-level assessments are based on both quantitative and qualitative data, including but not limited to recent case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). Those data are publicly posted every week on the Maine CDC website. DHHS and Maine CDC also consider qualitative factors, such as the presence of outbreaks that may potentially affect school-age children.

The Health Advisory System reflects ongoing analysis of evolving data, and serves as one piece of information that school and district leaders can use to make decisions about how to deliver education this fall. The qualitative and quantitative considerations and data used by the CDC in determining community transmission risk levels for schools can be located here: How County Risk Levels for Maine Schools are Determined

The Health Advisory System can be found on the Maine DOE website in Part I of the Framework for Reopening Schools and Returning to In-Person Classroom Instructionhttps://www.maine.gov/doe/framework/part-I.

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PRIORITY NOTICE: Public Comment Period for Science and Alternative Science Waiver from Public Reporting Now Open

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) is seeking thirty (30) days of public comment from October 16 – November 14, 2020, on a waiver application (waiver from §8401(b) of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) as amended by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) of 2015) to the U.S. Department of Education (USED). The request seeks a waiver from publicly reporting student general and alternate science test data from the Spring 2021 assessment administration.

The U.S. Department of Education requires state educational agencies, when seeking waivers from statutory or regulatory requirements, solicit public comment on the application, respond to public comments, and provide evidence of the available comment period. A copy of the letter seeking waiver from §8401(b) of the ESEA as amended by ESSA can be downloaded with key elements of the request included below:

Federal program affected by the requested waiver

Section 1111(h) of the ESEA, as amended by the ESSA, requires State and LEA report cards to include information on student achievement on the academic assessments in reading/language arts, mathematics, and science described in section 1111(b)(2) at each level of achievement (as determined by the State under section 1111(b)(1)) for all students.

Maine is seeking a waiver from public reporting for the general and alternate science assessments. Maine’s 2021-2022 ESEA Data Dashboard (Report card) will continue to publicly report alternate assessment results for mathematics and English language arts.  Maine will continue to report the math and ELA/Literacy assessment results to parents through individualized student reports .

Maine will continue to meet all other reporting requirements. Maine specifically requests a waiver from the public reporting of both the general and alternate science assessments performance only.

Sections impacted include:

  • Section 1111(b)(2)(B)(iv)
  • Section 1111(b)(2)(B)(xi) (disaggregation of alt. science data by subgroup)
  • Section 1111(h)(1)(A)
  • Section 1111(h)(2)(iii)

Impact to Student Achievement

There will be no impact to assessing student achievement as all eligible students will continue to participate in the general science and science alternate assessment where applicable. The waiver will permit Maine to not publicly release student general and alternate science assessment achievement data. The Maine Department of Education will only report participation rates related to the administration of the general and alternate assessment in grades 5, 8, and the third-year high school during the 2021 spring administration. During the 2022 spring assessment administration, Maine will participate in the science alternate assessment on-line operational alternate assessment.  Standard setting and post equating in the summer of 2022 would allow for reportable student achievement levels and scores that fall.

Monitoring

Assessment administration will follow all assessment administration policies and protocols. Schools will be provided science data within the confidential reporting platform. Individual Student Reports (ISRs) will be available for bulk download in order to share applicable math and ELA/Literacy student performance with parents/guardians or caretakers.

Continuity of Services to Students

Public Comment

Maine has solicited public comment regarding a request for a waiver from public reporting. This public comment was announced through the Departments Newsroom, social media accounts and through relevant Listservs. Public comment was solicited between October 16th and November 14th, 2020 for a period of 30 days. A summary of comments and the Department’s response is attached with the waiver request. All comments, in support of or against the waiver request should be submitted to Janette Kirk at Janette.Kirk@maine.gov.