MEDIA RELEASE: Mills Administration Announces $25 million in Coronavirus Relief Funds To Support Maine’s Working Parents and School-Aged Children

AUGUSTA — Governor Mills announced today that her Administration will provide $25 million in federal CARES Act Coronavirus Relief Funds (CRF) to support Maine schools in developing and offering day programming for students to supplement in-person instruction. The funding comes as many school districts across Maine are implementing hybrid learning models that incorporate both in-person and remote learning days this fall to protect the health of students and school staff. The funds will support Maine’s working parents find alternative child care on days students learn remotely while ensuring that all Maine children receive nutrition, supervision, and learning support both in and outside of the classroom.

“As the parent of five now grown daughters I can only imagine how difficult the pandemic has been for working parents trying to balance the demands of their job with their children learning from home or finding child care for when they otherwise would have been at school,” said Governor Mills. “The success of our families and the strength of our economy depends on parents being able to safely return to work. Funding these programs is critical to ensure working parents, especially those on the frontlines of our state’s pandemic response, stay in the workforce while being confident their children are cared for.”

The Department of Education will distribute these funds through December 2020. The program is modeled on the 21st Century Community Learning Centers, which provide support to students across the state. Through a simplified application process, school units may apply for funds towards the initial costs of materials and supplies, facilities expansions, and staffing as they work with community partners to establish day programming. The Department will accept applications through September 4, 2020 and may prioritize available funds based on the district’s number of economically disadvantaged students. The funding comports with a recommendation of the Governor’s Economic Recovery Committee, which highlighted child care as a key stabilization measure for Maine’s economy.

“Now more than ever, Maine schools are critical to the infrastructure of our communities,” said Commissioner of Education Pender Makin. “These funds will assist with the additional structures and supports that students and their families need.”

The funds are the latest effort by the Mills Administration to support Maine families and child care providers during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier today, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) announced that it will invest $1 million in existing funding to support well child visits, vaccinations, and dental care for children covered by MaineCare. In July, DHHS announced it would provide $8.4 million from the CRF to more than 1,700 Maine child care providers for the extra costs and challenges of operating during the pandemic. Additionally, DHHS is preparing to issue this month the remaining awards to child care providers as part of $11 million in separate CARES Act funds Maine received through the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families’ Child Care and Development Block Grant (CCDBG) program.

The DHHS Office of Child and Family Services, which licenses child care providers, will provide technical assistance for school units interested in establishing partnerships with afterschool and child care programs in their communities, with applications for emergency licenses when necessary, and assistance with implementing COVID-19 health and safety protocols and best practices.

DOE and DHHS coordinated on this initiative as part of the Administration’s broader collaboration across Departments through Governor Mills’ Children’s Cabinet. The Cabinet continues its work to ensure that Maine children enter Kindergarten prepared to succeed and that Maine youth enter adulthood healthy, connected to the workforce and/or education.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Music Education Provides a Note of Hope for Many Amid COVID 19

As schools head back into session in the midst of a global pandemic, we face a never-ending torrent of restrictions and requirements to keep all people safe while still providing and getting quality education. A well-rounded and comprehensive education consists of many necessary components to keep students engaged and learning. This includes a robust music education programming, a fact that educators alike are well aware.

“The skills we learn in music lead to experiences that are creative, aesthetic, and uplifting,” said Sandy Barry, Maine Music Educators Association (MMEA) President and Middle School Band Director at Mahoney Middle School in South Portland. “A music classroom embodies the best of 21st century skills, including problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration and interdependent learning.”

Yet on the minds of musicians (and music educators) around the world is the heartbreaking truth that singing and playing wind instruments while near other people is now considered a risk in transmitting COVID-19.  While we mourn the absence of live concerts and impromptu choir practice in the halls, or even just singing at the top of our lungs in the car with our friends, music educators are busy trying to orchestrate a very different but essential music education program this school year.

“Preserving access to music education for all of our students during this difficult time is crucial.  As we reimagine music education along with our students, it is important to focus on all that we can do in the music classroom, even though group singing and wind playing looks different right now,” said Ben Potvin, MMEA Past President and Grades 3-5 Classroom Music, Band, and Chorus at Mast Landing School in Freeport (RSU5). “Maine’s music educators are up to the challenge of fostering connections with our students and maintaining safe, high-quality music instruction.”

With hard work and a deep commitment to ensuring quality music instruction continued, Maine’s music teachers took on the challenges posed by COVID-19. “I am in awe of the creative and innovative ways in which our music, and all our visual and performing arts, educators have re-imagined their craft,” said Commissioner of Education, Pender Makin.  “Music is one of the core expectations for our schools exactly because it nurtures this kind of flexible problem solving and creativity, skills that are vital for our classrooms and for the 21st century.”

Even when schools had no choice but to deliver remote education in the spring, music educators still found a way to encourage and engage students from home and students blossomed with the opportunity to get more of want they wanted.

“Because I had more time and flexibility in my schedule when we were distance learning, I was able to focus on my own musical goals and develop a more consistent practice routine,” said Delia Harms, a Junior from Massabesic HS in Waterboro who plays the bassoon in the school band, the Portland Youth Wind Ensemble, and the Symphony Orchestra. “I had time to really dig into more challenging music, but also to focus on returning to the basics and developing fundamental skills. Though it was different, every moment that I was able to connect with others about music, through recordings or on zoom, it brought back some of that excitement and connection that music has always created. It has been inspiring to see the resilience and commitment of my musical community that has allowed them to persevere through these difficult circumstances to continue making music.”

For many, the chance to continue having a creative space to practice and learn music through education programming provides solace during an uncertain time.

“Access to music education is incredibly important for a number of reasons, especially now, but the first one that comes to mind is to create a support system for kids” said Colette (Coco) Carrillo, a Junior from Waterville High School who is an active member of the school choral program.” So many people I know see their school’s music programs as a creative outlet and a safe place that they don’t have anywhere else in the school. It offers them an activity that can not only relieve their stress but can also build so many skills for their futures. Whether it’s in person or online, kids in music programs do those activities for a reason. They want to share their passion with friends, learn new material, and improve their skills. Getting rid of those programs or lowering the standard will harm their academic minds as well as their artistic minds.”

Finding a new way to learn during the pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, and the reinvention of how we educate students and how we prioritize what we need to do has provided a valuable lesson in and of itself.

“When schools began to shut down, the music department was arguably hit the hardest, as playing/ singing together does not lend itself to virtual mediums very well due to the fact that digital latency prevents synchronization,” said Tyler Lucca, a Junior from Yarmouth High School who plays the trombone in the school’s honors level Wind Ensemble and Jazz Band, and sings in the honors level Chamber Choir. “This made making music with my peers nearly impossible, at least in the traditional way, and it showed me how important these classes that we took for granted truly are.”

Music education is essential to a robust educational experience and while it may look very different this year, and possibly for years to come, it is more than just another education standard to meet or a lesson plan to fit into the schedule. It’s an emotional state, it’s a way to cope, and for many it’s a vital part of what makes them who they are.

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MEDIA RELEASE: Department of Education Fall 2020 Survey Data Released

Contact: Kelli Deveaux
August 12, 2020

Today, Maine Department of Education released the data received from over 40,000 parents, educators, and education leaders from across Maine.

On July 6, 2020 the Maine DOE released a series of surveys about the 2020 school year during COVID-19 as part of an ongoing effort to gather input from families, communities, educators, leaders, and educational stakeholders across Maine. This information was aggregated by an independent research group and reported to the DOE for consideration.

The DOE staff continue to have ongoing conversations with educational leaders, state leaders, and health experts to develop health markers and corresponding guidance to ensure the safe return to in-classroom instruction. It will also inform the technical assistance and supports that the DOE will provide to our school community members, including educators, families and students.

Recognizing that the greatest value is in the feedback gathered locally, Collaborative Planning Teams for each school unit across the state have also facilitated the critically important local conversations as to the unique variables, resources and needs within each school community; the state and county data compiled from the DOE survey will be one of many resources that will guide the processes and decision making regarding instructional models for the 2020-2021 school year.

“I am extremely grateful to the tens of thousands of individuals across Maine who took the time to fill out these surveys,” said Commissioner Pender Makin. “Their input is not only deeply appreciated, but it is critical as we further develop our guidance to schools amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and continue to have conversations with leaders across the state about education in Maine. We remain committed to providing support and leadership during these uncertain and unprecedented times.”

Survey information by group, county and question, along with initial considerations and actions, can be found on the Department of Education webpage: https://www.maine.gov/doe/fall2020survey

MEDIA RELEASE: Maine DOE Student Cabinet, Governor Mills Release COVID-19 PSAs for Maine Youth

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) and the Children’s Cabinet teamed up with the Maine DOE Student Cabinet to create and launch a series of COVID-19 public service announcements (PSAs) created by Maine students for Maine students.

The youth PSAs feature members of the Maine DOE Student Cabinet in a series of videos that talk about staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic. The PSAs will be posted on social media throughout the remainder of the summer and into the 2020/2021 school year to help remind Maine’s youth to stay physically active and mentally healthy even while social distancing and wearing face coverings to help stop the spread of COVID-19. The PSAs can be viewed at the following links:

Governor Janet Mills has also created a special video for Maine’s youth acknowledging how much they have sacrificed during the COVID-19 pandemic in addition to thanking them for their efforts and emphasizing the importance of their resilience moving forward.

“I want to thank you for the role you are playing in keeping our state safe and healthy,” said Governor Mills in the video. “This is a challenging time for everyone all across the country, but especially for you.” View Governor Mills’ full video message below.

 

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MEDIA RELEASE: Mills Administration Releases Guidance to Assist Schools with Fall Plans

Health Advisory System reflects relative risk by county, updated requirements to safely reopen schools promote public health

AUGUSTA — The Mills Administration today released updated guidance to assist school communities in making their decisions about how to resume instruction this fall in the face of COVID-19.  This guidance includes the Health Advisory System that classifies counties’ relative risk by color as well as updated requirements for schools to reopen safely.

The Health Advisory System is a collaboration among the Maine Department of Education (DOE), the Maine Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (Maine CDC). The previously announced classifications were developed to categorize counties based on quantitative and qualitative data about COVID-19 including, but not limited to, recent data on case rates, positivity rates, and syndromic data (e.g., symptoms of influenza or COVID-19). This system categorizes counties by three-color based designations: red, yellow, and green.

The initial assessment released today showed that 16 Maine counties are currently categorized as “green,” suggesting a relatively low COVID-19 risk at this time and that in-person instruction can be adopted as long as schools can implement the six Requirements for Safely Opening Schools in the Fall. While COVID-19 remains more prevalent in Cumberland, York, Androscoggin, and Sagadahoc counties than in other Maine counties, the assessment pertains to the unique circumstances of schools and currently indicates relatively limited risk statewide. All counties, like the state as a whole, have COVID-19 prevalence below that of virtually all other states.

Circumstances could change between now and the official start of the school year. The Health Advisory System reflects ongoing analysis of evolving data. It will be updated every two weeks, serving as one piece of information that school and district leaders can use to make decisions about how to deliver education this fall.

“Today, we are providing additional guidance to school districts as they decide how to proceed with the school year,” said Maine DOE Commissioner Pender Makin. “While I’m grateful to know that our state continues to be relatively safe due to the vigilance of Maine people, this risk evaluation is intended to be, and should be, just one of several variables that local school districts take into consideration as they make decisions that are best for their communities. We anticipate that in many cases schools in low risk areas will open this fall using a hybrid learning model in order to best protect the healthy and safety of their students and provide them with the most effective education possible. It is our goal to support them through this challenging time.”

The Requirements for Safely Opening Schools in the fall are required by all schools if they decide to return to in-classroom instruction, regardless of their county’s red, yellow, or green designation to protect the safety and well-being of staff, students, and families. They fall into six categories:

  1. Symptom Screenings Before Coming to School
  2. Physical distancing and school facilities
  3. Masks/Face Coverings
  4. Hand Hygiene
  5. Personal Protective Equipment
  6. Return to School After Illness

A school administrative unit (SAU) may opt for hybrid instruction if its buildings or readiness make adhering to these requirements a challenge.

Maine DOE has updated the requirements based on further analysis and public feedback to its Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction. This includes changing the requirement to wear face coverings to a recommendation for children ages 2 to 4, when developmentally appropriate. This reflects feedback provided by experts and aligns school and child care guidance. It also adds recommendations on school activities like music classes.

Governor Mills announced on July 17 that these science-based health and safety requirements, which follow national best practices, will be financially supported by up to $165 million in Federal CARES Act funding to be distributed to school systems across Maine. The Mills Administration views the funding as an important initial investment to help schools prepare for in-classroom instruction but recognizes that more funding is necessary for ongoing operations. The Administration is hopeful that Congress will provide greater aid to Maine school systems in the coming weeks and months.

“The dedication and diligence of Maine people have kept the state’s COVID-19 infection rates relatively low,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “While today’s assessment reflects that, we continue to urge continued vigilance as we approach the fall.”

“These designations are a tool for local school communities to use as they prepare for the coming academic year,” said Dr. Nirav D. Shah, Director of the Maine CDC. “They’ll be updated every two weeks based on the latest Maine CDC data analysis and information from medical providers throughout the state.”

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 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.

Given the large and varied nature of counties in Maine, SAUs within a county or spread across multiple counties may adopt a reopening policy that differs from this county-based categorization of COVID-19 risk.  The Health Advisory System can be found on the Maine DOE website in Part I of the Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction: https://www.maine.gov/doe/framework/part-I/#risk

While the county categorizations apply only to schools, Maine DHHS has also updated its guidance for licensed child care providers to align with the Requirements for Safely Reopening Schools. The DHHS Office of Child and Family Services is sharing this updated guidance with licensed child care providers throughout Maine and supporting their efforts to protect the health and safety of their staff and the children and families they serve.