Maine DOE: All 16 counties currently categorized as “green,” in-person instruction can be adopted with safety conditions

Designations will be updated every 2 weeks.
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Mask sits on desk in a classroom(WVLT)
Published: Jul. 31, 2020 at 12:12 PM EDT
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AUGUSTA, Maine (WABI) - What will school look like in the fall?

A question that has been asked countless times over the past weeks.

Friday, the state provided some initial answers.

The Maine Department of Education released its county color designations.

All 16 Maine counties have been classified as green, allowing for in-classroom instruction as long as schools follow safety protocols required by the state.

“These designations are intended to be guidance to help administrators get a sense epidemiologically of what’s going on in their neighborhood,” said Dr. Nirav Shah.

State officials assigned a green designation to every county in Maine, which allows for in-classroom learning.

Red calls for all remote learning - like how the 2019 year ended.

Yellow suggests a hybrid model, which many may opt for out of the gate.

“We anticipate that many school districts will implement some form of hybrid education plan as we begin this new school year in order to minimize the number of people on buses or in schools or classrooms at any one time,” said DOE Commissioner Pender Makin.

“The green here is not like the green light at a drag strip. It does not mean you put your feet on the accelerator and go as fast as possible,” said Shah. “The green light here is really more like the green light at a car wash. You enter slowly, you look around you with caution, and you be prepared to stop at any time. That’s really the way in which these designations are offered.”

The color assignments are to be updated every two weeks following the latest data.

State officials stressed these colors are guidelines.

Ultimately, decisions about how to return to school are going to be made locally.

“We do know that some of our counties are relatively large,” said DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew. “There may be a county that at some point is yellow, but there are parts of it where community transmission is relatively low, and those school districts may opt for more children in classrooms and vice versa. There may be green counties where, again this is not green go back to pre-covid days, this is green you can open your schools if you meet those six requirements that are on the Department of Education website.”

Those requirements include at home symptom screening, proper spacing, and face coverings.

“The face covering is far from being any sort of impediment to in-classroom education should really be viewed of as the vehicle that allows us to get to green and hopefully stay at green,” said Shah.

The full statement from Maine DOE can be read here:

"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:

  • Symptom Screenings Before Coming to School
  • Physical distancing and school facilities
  • Masks/Face Coverings
  • Hand Hygiene
  • Personal Protective Equipment
  • 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: 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.”

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