Friday, September 10, 2021

September 10 Blog Update

Two weeks of school in the "books"!  Although we've certainly had our share of challenges once again this year, it has been an incredibly positive opening of school here in Gorham!  We've got all our students back into our classrooms again, we've had parents and families in our schools for open houses, we have volunteers back in our schools, our athletic programs and after school clubs and organizations are back at it and the positive "buzz" across all our schools is palpable.  Here's a few images to capture the first few weeks of school...just know for each picture there are 20 more behind it!



After two weeks since my last blog there is lots to get to for information...so I'll jump right in!  Here we go!

K-6 POOLED TESTING INFORMATION & SURVEY - PLEASE PARTICIPATE!
If you are the parent of a K-6 student here in Gorham, please click on the link below to watch a relatively short video I created to try and simplify what Pooled Testing is and why it MIGHT be beneficial for our K-6 students.


Once you have finished watching the video, you can click on any of the additional resources below to learn more.  

Once you feel like you know enough about Pooled Testing, PLEASE COMPLETE THE SURVEY LINKED BELOW IF YOU ARE A K-6 PARENT:

SURVEY LINK:


Please complete the survey no later than Friday, Sept. 17, 2021.  THANK YOU!

CONTACT TRACING & OTHER QUESTIONS W/ANSWERS!

Over the past few weeks, we have had positive cases of COVID 19 associated with all our schools.  Clearly COVID 19 is still hanging around and it continues to be important that we follow our COVID 19 related safety protocols.  Our major safety protocols remain very similar to last year, which are:

1.  Wear your face mask whenever indoors.
2.  Wash/Sanitize hands frequently and
3.  Maintain 3 ft of physical distancing whenever possible

As a result of these recent cases, lots of great questions have come up from families that I thought would be good to share!  Below is a relatively brief "Q&A" sheet of the most common questions I have heard thus far.  I hope you find this information beneficial.  I would encourage you to reach out to your school nurses, building principals or myself if you have additional questions.  It is important that we all know what our safety protocols are, how contact tracing works, and what to expect so that we can best navigate this continued pandemic together and keep our children in school as much as possible!  


Question:  What determines a close contact?

Answer:  An individual has to be within 6 ft of a positive case for 15 minutes or more (cumulatively) and/or has had physical contact with a positive case.  Please note that we are still conducting contact tracing very much the same as we have for the past year.  This hasn’t changed.  What has changed is that there are now some specific exemptions for identified close contacts regarding quarantine rules.


Question: How Does Contact Tracing Work?

Answer: How we are required to conduct contact tracing protocols is outlined specifically in the Maine CDC's "Standard Operating Procedures" or the infamous "SOP" as we lovingly refer to it as. You can CLICK HERE to view the whole document...but I thought it might provide more context to show you how it works through a fictional scenario...


- We become aware of a positive case associated with a 3rd grader at Village Elementary school

- From communications with the parent we determine when the date was that symptoms began, or if asymptomatic, we determine the date of the positive COVID 19 test. Once we determine this date, we go back two days (either from onset of symptoms or positive test result) to determine the exposure period. In this fictional case, we're going to say the date was on a Tuesday, which means we would look back on Monday only because on Sunday the student was not in school (I hope).

- We then back track everywhere the student has been on Monday when he was last in school. This includes classrooms, cafeterias, buses, playgrounds, allied arts spaces, etc. We do this mostly through seating charts provided to us by teachers and/or through video cameras on buses, and also through interviews with adult staff and if older, with students themselves.

- Through this investigative process, we determine which individuals (students or staff) were exposed to the positive case for 15 minutes or more (cumulatively) and/or had physical contact with the positive case during the exposure period. This creates our close contact list.

- Once we determine the close contact list, we look at the possible exemptions for quarantine for those on that list. Are individuals vaccinated? Were they wearing masks and remaining 3ft or further away (see chart below on next question). When done, we now have a list of close contacts and then a smaller list from that one of who is required to quarantine and under what circumstances.

- We then call each parent of the students impacted and if staff are impacted we call them to to notify them that they are close contacts. It is during this conversation that we will often ask if the close contact has been vaccinated or not. If they have, we will often ask individuals to share a photo of their vaccination card. We will talk with parents/families so they are clear on what their child has to do and what is required to return to school if they quarantine, or if they don't have to quarantine from school, what other limitations may exist.

- Once phone calls are made, we follow up with letters for all close contacts.

- Once that is complete, a COVID Community letter is sent to all staff and families in the district.

- Nurses will update the active case summary sheet on the website and report all required data to the CDC.


I will share that we have recently gotten some feedback from K-5 parents that would like us to send a letter to classrooms impacted even if their child is not a close contact. We are working on updating our processes to include this new step, hopefully beginning next week.


It is important to note that EACH CIRCUMSTANCE IS DIFFERENT, although the rules for how we conduct contact tracing are the same...some situations have no close contacts due to timing, others may have a large number of close contacts, but not many quarantines due to exemptions. It is all dependent upon each unique circumstance...but the bottom line is that the process of contact tracing and quarantining is very clearly outlined in the SOP and our staff is very well trained on how to appropriately and thoroughly conduct contact tracing processes. Contact tracing and quarantine remain a very effective means of preventing the spread of COVID 19.


Question:  What are the rules that allow a close contact to be exempted from quarantine?

Answer:  If a person is vaccinated, they no longer have to quarantine, but should monitor for symptoms are are recommended to still get tested 3-5 days after the exposure.  If universal masking is in place and the close contact was NOT closer than 3ft from the positive contact and both were properly wearing masks the close contact would not have to quarantine from school, however they would be required to quarantine from extra/co-curriculars and outside functions.  They would also need to monitor for symptoms and would be recommended to get tested within 3-5 days of the exposure. If a person is participating in pooled testing they would also not have to quarantine from school related activities but would still be required to quarantine from community events.   See chart below from SOP for details:



Question:  Why doesn’t the masking rule work in areas outside of the classroom?

Answer:  Because the classroom is a cohort and when you move to other areas such as the cafeteria or buses, you are mixing cohorts. Additionally, in a cafeteria setting, you must remove your mask for a period of time to eat, which increases the risk of spreading COVID 19. Please remember, although it doesn't help with the contact tracing and quarantine piece, we have added air purifying units to each cafeteria as an additional layer of safety for all students.


Question:  What is different now in our cafeterias than what we experienced this past spring?

Answer:  Because last spring, we spread students out to 6 ft by eating in classroom areas we needed to pull a lot of staff to do this.  The only way we could do that was to pull ed. Techs and support staff for far longer periods of time than usual.  This meant that some students were unable to get required support services because our staff were tied up with duties.  This year, we are trying not to do that, and instead we are asking students to all eat in cafeteria settings.  We have reduced numbers of students per meal, but we are unable to have 6 ft. of distance between all students all the time.  Because of this, when there is a close contact situation, there are larger numbers of students involved.  Because K-5 students are not yet eligible for vaccines, and because they are not wearing masks while they eat, these students are required to quarantine.  Although it doesn’t help with the quarantine situation, we have added air purifying units to each cafeteria space to ensure that an additional layer of protection is provided to our students.


Question:  What is pooled testing and why are we not using it in Gorham at this time?

Answer:  Pooled testing is a prevention strategy that is being encouraged by the MDOE, DHHS and Maine CDC to use.  It involves weekly testing of defined “cohorts”.  A defined cohort - say Mrs. Smith’s first grade classroom would be tested each week...all swabs would be collected and placed in a single testing “pool”, allowing you to test larger numbers of individuals in a quicker time frame.  If any of the pooled tests come back positive, you would test each individual in the cohort with a Binex now antigen test to identify the specific positive cases.  The positive cases would be sent home to isolate and those remaining in the pool would be able to stay in class because they would have been “caught” prior to the defined “exposure period” would have allowed them to transmit the virus.  There are three major reasons why we haven’t moved forward with pooled testing in Gorham - at least NOT YET:


  1. We do not want to send any “mixed messages” to families that would encourage any family to send students to school when ill.  Families who think their children are being tested weekly might be more likely to send their children to school when symptomatic.  We have sent clear messages to parents - stay home if sick - period. We do not want to to do anything that would water down this message.

  2. Pooled testing only works if you have large numbers of participants in each cohort.  We are not sure how many families would participate - YET - that is the purpose of the survey above.  We would seek approximately 30% of each grade level as a target. We didn’t survey over the summer because we wanted to ensure survey participation to get the most accurate information.

  3. Masking is a universal strategy that works, especially in conjunction with physical distancing.  We know it works, because last year we proved it works.  We want to focus our attention on this mitigation strategy and not have people feel over confident that they can “let their guard down” because we have another strategy in place. 


Participation in pooled testing is not "off the table"...we are simply taking a more measured approach. As you can tell from the previous article - we are exploring the possibility of moving forward with pooled testing in grades K-6.

REQUIRED LEAD TESTING ACROSS SCHOOLS

During the 2021/2022 academic year, the Gorham Schools (all five schools) will test our drinking water fixtures for lead in accordance with a new Maine law.  All fixtures in our school that are used for drinking or preparing food will be tested and results will be shared with parents, students and staff.

The rationale for this new law is that testing for lead will help us create a safer environment for our students, as lead exposure can result in serious developmental health effects, particularly in younger children who are more sensitive to the effects of lead.  

Lead typically enters drinking water from plumbing and/or water fixtures, which is they contain lead material, can dissolve into the building's water.  Lead rarely is found in source water, such as from a well or water district.

To be clear, our buildings have never had previous issues with lead, but as a result of this new law requiring that all schools be tested, we will be testing fixtures as required.  If you have any questions about testing in our schools, please reach out to heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

Thank you! 

STAFF VACCINATION RATES

Maine's Department of Health and Human Services is requiring that all Maine schools report their staff vaccination rates.  This edict was handed down just a few weeks before school opened in August.  Since then we have been working hard with our staff to develop a survey tool to collect the needed data and to then report it to DHHS.  The reporting module for DHHS opened on Sept. 1 and is closing TODAY, Sept. 10.  Data will be posted publicly on their website as of Sept. 15, 2021.  This will be a monthly reporting requirement that will be updated each month as we move throughout the school year.

I wanted to take a moment to share with all of you the results of our first series of data collection.  If you have any questions, please reach out.  THANK YOU!



HOW TO ACCESS SCHOOL COMMITTEE MEETING INFORMATION



I realize that we might have a few new families with us this year, and that at the beginning of each year is a good time to remind folks about how to access information for School Committee Meetings.  

The best place to go for information regarding School Committee meetings is our website.  If you go to our district website (www.gorhamschools.org) and then click on "About Us" you can then click on "School Committee".  I've linked that page HERE for your convenience.  Once there, you can click on the right hand menu to get all kinds of information as well as to view agendas, minutes, and public meeting packet materials.

All of the School Committee's regular meetings are also broadcast on GoCat.

If you have any questions about accessing information regarding the School Committee, please do not hesitate to reach out - heather.perry@gorhamschools.org.

UPCOMING K-12 PARENT PUBLIC FORUM

After two weeks of operations, working through some tweaks to transportation schedules, having a few positive cases of COVID pop up and just generally getting back into the swing of things, I thought it might be a good idea to host a K-12 parent public forum again.  No formal agenda, just an opportunity for parents to jump on to a convenient meeting via zoom, ask questions and get some quick hitting answers to help keep us all focused on doing what we need to do for our students and keeping things running smoothly and on a positive note!

Please feel free to join Assistant Superintendent Brian Porter and I on Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 6:30 p.m. to ask any questions you may have.  We'll do our best to answer!   Mark your calendars...link is below:

Join Zoom Meeting https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/87304585064?pwd=aGJaamU5TzJLVVpKQm9zY1VCOHVTZz09 Meeting ID: 873 0458 5064 Passcode: 988628


GREAT FALLS ELEMENTARY SCHOOL WILL BE FULLY REMOTE ON NOV. 2 DUE TO ELECTIONS

As the Town continues to struggle with finding appropriate spaces to conduct elections while providing for required COVID 19 related physical distancing safety protocols, they have once again requested the use of the Great Falls Elementary School site as well as Gorham Middle School for polling locations this year.  

As you know, the town has used GMS for many years as a polling location.  In the past, as will be the case again this year, we have been able to keep GMS open to students while allowing our gym to be used as a polling location.  The physical structure of the GMS site and gymnasium space allows us to safely cordon off polling locations from student learning locations.  That will be the plan once again this year for GMS.

The physical plant at Great Falls Elementary School, however, does not allow us to safely cordon off the polling location from student learning locations due to the location of cafeteria spaces and the gymnasium in relationship to the main entrance.  Bottom line, because of the physical nature of the building, we are unable to do both elections and operate school safely on this day.  Therefore, we will be moving Great Falls Elementary School students only to fully remote instruction on Nov. 2 so that the building may be used by the Town as a polling location.

The GHS site will not be needed this year as a polling location because Shaw gym will once again be utilized for this ward's voting location.

Reminders will go out again as November 2 draws closer.  Hopefully this will be the last year we will have to make accommodations.  If this need continues to extend beyond that, we will likely need to consider closing all schools for elections and then just lengthening the calendar in June as a result.

I realize you are likely getting tired of hearing this from me, but Thank you again in advance for your incredible flexibility and patience as we all continue to navigate changing conditions in this Pandemic as a community.

REMEMBERING 9/11

I think most of us who were old enough to remember the events of that day can tell a story.  Twenty years ago I was a teaching principal at Bay Ridge Elementary School in Cutler, ME.  I had a grades PK-8 school of about 100 students.  I was teaching my 7th and 8th graders when I got a phone call from another teacher in the building saying I should turn on the TV and watch as it looked like a plan had hit one of the twin towers in NY.  At the time, I believed, and I think most others believed that what had happened was an accident.  I turned on the TV and watched with students.  Then the 2nd plan hit...and our worlds changed forever.  Those students may have just been 11 or 12 years old but they too immediately understood the gravity of what had just occurred.  We were awestruck.

What I remember then was my phone in my classroom started ringing off the hook.  Parents began calling wanting to withdraw their students for the day as they were worried about what was happening.  I remember one student quietly asking in the back of the room how many people might be in those buildings.  I remember students hugging one another and comforting one another.  I remember the horrible feeling of not knowing exactly what to say to assure my students that everything was going to be alright.  I remember a parent calling me to tell me that one of my students may have just lost their father in the crash.  She was in absolute tears.  I did my best to comfort her and talk through how we could support her family if that were the case.  Most of the rest of my memories are just blurs...but I'll never forget the feelings from that day.  Again, I'm sure many who are old enough to remember can't forget those feelings either.

We can all disagree on a lot of things.  But on that day - we were all AMERICANS.  We were all impacted by this tragedy - some more closely than others for sure - but we were all impacted.  On that day we mourned together and we still mourn together as we remember it.  

Please take a moment to remember this weekend.  

If parents are looking for resources...feel free to check out this site.  It is geared for teachers...but that's our first role as parents anyway isn't it!  Let's all remember those that were lost and what that day meant to us all then and still even now.  I know I will never forget.  Thank you.



That's likely enough information for now...you can look for my next Blog post two weeks from now on September 24, 2021



Friday, August 27, 2021

August 27 Blog Update

It has been a great week of preparation with our Gorham Schools staff these past few days!  We had an excellent opening day, lots of training, lots of learning, lots of questions and answers, lots of professional discussions and lots of fun working hard to make sure we are prepared for our students next week!  Here's a few images of some of our opening days with staff:

We absolutely have the best staff around...we are ALL very much looking forward to the return of our students next week!

REMINDER - BUSES ARE ROLLING!

Just wanted to take this opportunity to remind folks that our buses will be back on the road again starting Monday, August 30!  Let's be sure to plan a little extra time getting to work and make sure to stop for those red flashing lights!  This first week of school, drivers are getting used to runs, parents and students are getting used to pick up and drop off procedures - so let's ALL be a little more vigilant on the roads for the safety of our children!  

A reminder, if you need to access our a.m. bus route schedule, you can go to our website!  I've linked the page HERE for your convenience.  Please be sure to have students ready at their stops at least 10 minutes ahead of time for the first week of school as times may vary while we get used to our new routes.  For the p.m. time frames, we purposefully do not post times as we don't know exactly when buses leave each school in the afternoons, especially at the elementary schools.  If it is helpful to know, we develop all our routes to be no more than 30-40 minutes in length.  We encourage families to be flexible and patient the first week or two.  After that the routes settle in and are much more predictable.  Please know that we take very good care of our students on our buses.  Not that we plan for any missteps, but If a student misses a bus or gets on the wrong one, we will make sure to take loving care of them.  Know that they are safe and well supervised at all times and that we will communicate with you as needed.  If you have any questions or concerns, please reach out to your school's offices and they can assist.

OPENING DAYS OF SCHOOL CALENDAR REMINDER

Just a quick recap for those who just want to make sure you know our opening day schedules...here you go:

-  Monday, August 30 - Grades 6 & 9 only 

-  Tuesday, August 31 - Grades 1-12 

-  Wednesday, Sept. 1 - Grades 1-12

-  Thursday, Sept. 2 - Grades K-12

-  Friday, Sept. 3 - NO SCHOOL - LABOR DAY WEEKEND

-  Monday, Sept. 6 - NO SCHOOL - LABOR DAY WEEKEND

You can find a more detailed district wide events calendar on our website (www.gorhamschools.org) and then you can click on each school to get their specific school events calendars.  As always, if you have any questions, just reach out to your school's office and they'll be more than happy to assist!

STUDENT MEAL SERVICES BENEFITS APPLICATION - PLEASE COMPLETE!

Just a strong reminder to families to PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE take the time to complete the Student Meal Services Benefits Application this year (formerly known as the Free/Reduced Lunch application).  You will likely be getting a paper copy in your opening of school packets, but you can also access a PDF form by CLICKING HERE or you can complete the application entirely online by CLICKING HERE.

Even though approved meals for all students will be free this year WE STILL NEED FAMILIES TO COMPLETE THESE FORMS!  Other important school funding depends on it!  The programs listed below are all funded based on the results of these applications.  If these forms aren't completed, we could stand to lose significant dollars to support our schools (please see a summary below of other funding based on this information).  Please take the few minutes required to complete the forms - EVEN IF - you don't. think you will qualify.  THANK YOU!


HOT DAYS & SNOW...OH MY!

I have recently received several questions from parents asking about how we will be dealing with hot days this fall, especially with everyone wearing face masks while indoors and many of our schools NOT having climate control in our classrooms.  

Please know we have well established safety protocols that we will use to determine if our buildings are too hot for instruction to safely take place.  We primarily lean on the utilization of the heat index (see image below).

We use this index to determine when conditions get too hot for students to safely be in our schools.  Similar to snow days, we closely monitor individual conditions across our schools and make determinations based on those conditions.  In the event that we have to release students early from school due to heat (which is most often the case vs. a full cancelation), we will communicate with families ASAP and use our early release procedures for getting students home.

This does remind me to remind folks about snow days too.  WE WILL BE HAVING ACTUAL SNOW DAYS THIS WINTER.  Unlike last year, we do not have an emergency waiver for the number of school days and we are required by law to have 175 student days. The plan at this point is that we have five "snow days" built into our calendar.  We will use these as traditional snow days...then if we go above those days (which we typically don't - but sometimes do) we will use remote learning days so that we do not have to extend the school year into the scheduled summer.  

COVID DATA AVAILABLE

Just a quick reminder that families can check out our COVID 19 website to get up to date information on active positive cases in our schools.  CLICK HERE to view and stay up to date.  We'll be sure to keep you informed!


POOLED TESTING 

The Gorham Schools are electing NOT to begin the school year utilizing pooled testing.  We have made this initial decision based upon the following factors:

-  We do not want to send any messages of "false security" to families who may decide to send students to school if they are sick thinking they will be tested.
-  We want to maintain our student/staff focus on mask wearing and hand washing/sanitization as the best and most effective prevention strategy.
-  We are unsure how many families would give permission for students to participate (permission must be granted by parents for students to participate) and if numbers are low, results will not be as helpful.
-  The pooled testing program would only prevent quarantine for students in classroom cohorts (which universal masking already greatly mitigates),  and would not assist in preventing quarantine for students in cafeterias, buses, or athletics which are outside of those cohorts.  

THIS IS NOT TO SAY THAT WE HAVE ENTIRELY "CLOSED THE DOOR" TO POOLED TESTING AS AN OPTION.  It is to say that we have decided to take a more cautious and "wait and see" approach.  That being said, we do want to consider the wishes of our families, especially our K-5 families on this item since it is this population of student who have not yet had access to vaccinations.  Therefore, we plan on surveying all K-5 families about their interest in participating in pooled testing.  We will send a survey out after the first two weeks of school and then use the results of this survey to better determine next steps.

That being said, I'd like to urge families to learn more about Pooled testing and what it is so that when we ask your opinion, you will be able to make a more informed choice.  Here are some resources to learn more:


I'm sure you can each do your own research as well and I would encourage you to do so.  Please stay tuned.

VOLUNTEERS WILL BE ALLOWED IN OUR SCHOOLS - AFTER TRAINING!



Just wanted to let folks know that we will be opening our schools back up again to volunteers.  ALL VOLUNTEERS (regardless of whether or not you may have already previously participated in a training program) must participate in a training/orientation program before being allowed to volunteer in the schools.  The reason for this is that we want to add and include in this training specific expectations for COVID safety protocols so that our volunteers and our staff are clear on the rules and procedures that we will be using to keep everyone safe.  

If you are interested in volunteering in our schools, please go to our website LINKED HERE  to learn more.  WE WOULD LOVE TO HAVE YOU!

Note:  There is a contradiction on the website regarding any previous training...we will be fixing this.  Bottom line, EVERY VOLUNTEER will need to complete a "COVID 101" training before entering our schools.  Please reach out to Kelly Reed with any additional questions.  Her email is on the site linked above.

SCHOOL BACKPACK PROGRAM SIGN UP FORM!


The BackPack Program provides school-age students enrolled in the Gorham School Department with healthy snacks and staple meal items helpful to your family for the weekend.  We aim to provide food that is child-friendly, non-perishable, and easily consumed; and to distribute the weekly bag discreetly, with the help of school staff.

Food bags will be distributed TO STUDENTS while they are in school once a week.  In addition, participants will receive 1 snack per day while they are at school.

If you are interested in signing your family up for this program, please click on the survey ink below.  If you have any questions or would like to learn more about how to help support this incredible program, please email Heather Whitaker at heather.whitaker@gorhamschools.org.

Here's the survey link:  https://forms.gle/qMoXN22eTeRxg2zQ8

ASPIRE GORHAM SUMMER EDITION

We thought you might like to know a little bit more about our 2021 graduates and their plans!  Check out the information below to learn more about our recent graduates' "future stories"! 


UNITED CRAFTSMEN FAIR COMING TO GORHAM
On Saturday, September 11, 2021 the United Craftsmen Fair will be held on the Chick Property space near the ice skating rink.  Crafters will begin set up at 6:00 a.m..  The fair will run from 9:00 a.m. - 3:00 p.m.  Parking will be in the Narragansett School Lot, the Public Safety Lot next to the skating rink, and the bus loop as needed throughout the day.  

No Parking on Chick Drive.

Porta Potties will be near the skating rink area.

COME AND ENJOY these talented crafters...and maybe get a little early Christmas shopping done! 

NEW BLOG TIMELINE


Last year I sent out a blog post every week.  This year I plan on sending out a blog post every TWO weeks.  If things come up between those time frames I may send out some posts in between...but for now, please anticipate one of these updates every two weeks.  Next one will be Sept. 10!  

In the meantime...WELCOME BACK TO SCHOOL IN GORHAM!  Check out our social media sites for pictures and images of our opening days!  We are so very excited - GO RAMS!











Wednesday, August 4, 2021

2021-22 Parent/Guardian Opening Letter


                                    
                                                    GORHAM SCHOOL DEPARTMENT
Office of the Superintendent
75 SOUTH STREET, SUITE #2, GORHAM, MAINE 04038


Hollis S. Cobb                                                        Heather J. Perry, PhD                                        Brian A. Porter, PhD
Business Manager                                                  Superintendent of Schools                                Assistant Superintendent 
(207) 222-1000                                                      (207) 222-1012                                                  (207) 222-1025
FAX 839-5003                                                       FAX 839-8885                                                    FAX 839-8885                       


August 4, 2021

To:  Gorham Schools Parent/Guardians
From:  Heather J. Perry, PhD, Superintendent of Schools
Re:  Parent/Guardian Opening Letter 2021

Dear Parents/Guardians,

For those families who are new to Gorham - WELCOME TO RAM COUNTRY!  

For those families who are returning to the Gorham Schools - WELCOME BACK FOR ANOTHER INCREDIBLE SCHOOL YEAR!  GO RAMS!

We are so excited to be able to continue our journey towards a more "Pre-COVID normalcy" in our schools even as COVID 19 (and the Delta variant) is sending clear messages that it isn't finished with us yet!  The fact that we will be able to open our schools to all of our students for five full days of instruction per week is something I know we have all been looking forward to for far too long!  I know our support staff, our teachers, our administrators - ALL OF US - are very excited for the re-opening of schools this fall!  Our buildings have been far too quiet without everyone here this summer!

I am sure many of you are interested in hearing about what we anticipate to be our updated COVID 19 related safety protocols and procedures.  I will most definitely get to that in this message, but first, I wanted to make sure to share with you several other important pieces of information that I believe all families will need to ensure a great start to our upcoming 2021-22 School Year!

2021-22 SCHOOL CALENDAR


A reminder is offered that you can find our most up to date 2021-22 School Calendar by going to our district website (www.gorhamschools.org).  Once there, click on "District Info." and then you should see the school calendar link from that drop down menu.  I've LINKED IT HERE for your convenience.

School will begin for all Grade 6 and 9 students on Monday, August 30.  School will begin for students in grades 1-5, 7-8 and 10-12 on August 31.  Kindergarten screening will take place for all Kindergarten students Monday, August 30 - Wednesday September 1st.  If you are a parent of an incoming K student, you will receive specific information regarding appointment schedules, etc. from your school's principal.  The first day of school for incoming Kindergarten students will be Thursday, September 2.

Elementary Schools will begin their day at 8:50 a.m. and end at 3:10 p.m.  GMS will begin at 8:00 a.m. and end at 2:20 p.m. GHS will begin their day at 7:50 a.m. and end at 2:10 p.m.  When we have early release days (marked on the calendar) students will be dismissed from GHS at 11:00, from GMS at 11:10 and from the three elementary schools at 12:00 p.m.  K-5(8) schools will be sending out specific Parent drop off and pick up information that might slightly impact these times, as specific procedures to accommodate student and COVID safety guidelines will still be in place.

Please note that our 2021-22 School calendar INCLUDES 5 SNOW DAYS!  Yes - that's right - we'll have snow days again this coming year!  The plan at this point will be to use the 5 snow days as needed for traditional snow days, and then (and only then) we would look to utilize remote learning snow days so that we do not have to extend the ending of the school year.  This will only be done if we have already utilized all five snow days that are built into the current calendar.  I'll send more information out on this as we get closer to that brrrrrr time of the year! ☺

 TRANSPORTATION SURVEY NEEDED FOR FAMILIES & OTHER TRANSPORTATION RELATED INFORMATION
First and foremost, we ask any family who requires what we call "alternative transportation" (transportation to school from any location other than home, or transportation from school to any location other than home) to PLEASE COMPLETE THE FOLLOWING TRANSPORTATION SURVEY.  Without this information we cannot finalize routes for the fall!  If you are a parent who needs this type of transportation, please complete the survey below asap.  THANK YOU!  (Note:  we assume transportation from home to school and from school to home for children otherwise)

SURVEY LINK:


Specific Transportation routes and estimated times for a.m. and p.m. bus schedules will be posted on our website no later than August 23, 2021.  Your timely participation in the survey linked above will help speed the process up...so if you haven't already completed the survey for the 2021-22 School Year - please take a few minutes to complete it.  Thank you!

Unlike last year, numbers of students on the bus at any given time will not be regulated (other than to the overall bus capacity rules that have always existed).  In other words, we will be moving back to full seating on our buses across grades K-12.  Although we still urge families that can provide their own transportation to do so, we are no longer in drastic need of this taking place.  This should cut down on the time it takes for parents to pick up and drop off their children at each school daily as well if you choose to provide your own transportation.  

Like last year, however we will still be requiring face masks be worn by all students and staff when riding our buses/vans.  Please know that students will be expected to sanitize their hands as they enter the bus and they will be required to wear a face covering/mask while riding the bus.  Four windows will remain open on each bus to increase air circulation.  Please plan accordingly. 

UNIVERSAL FREE BREAKFAST & LUNCH WILL CONTINUE FOR ALL STUDENTS - BUT WE STILL NEED YOUR HELP!

For the last year the federal government has stepped in to provide free breakfast and lunch for all students and it plans to continue that program through 2021-22.  The effort has allowed all students, regardless of their family's socioeconomic status, to receive a free breakfast and lunch, while at school across all grades.  If the pandemic has done nothing else, it has certainly shown us the importance of providing meals to all students, not just those who meet income eligibility requirements.  It has been one less thing parents have had to worry about, and a great way to ensure access to healthy and nutritious meals for all students.  It is good news that we will be able to keep this program for the coming year - no question!

Here's the "bad news"...well maybe not "bad news", but where WE NEED YOUR HELP! Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020, when school meals became complementary, there has been a significant drop in Meal Benefit Application returns––meaning less families are filling out the application. THIS IS NOT GOOD - Here's why...

The family income data provided by the application informs key funding for school resources. This includes school meal reimbursements, funding for Title I programs, funding and resources for after school programs, funding provided to schools from the Maine State Legislature for essential programs and services at school, funding for special education, teacher loan forgiveness, and much, much more!

Federal and state government use the aggregate data from the application to distribute education funding to schools across the county and state of Maine. In other words, if there is no data to inform the needs of the community, it could result in less state subsidy for Gorham, which will mean increased local taxes and potentially less service support for our children most in need!

By completing the Meal Benefit Application, you are directly investing in your child’s education and the children and families in your community.

How can I complete the Meal Benefit Application?  The COMPLETELY CONFIDENTIAL application is available to print, complete and return to your school on our district Website (CLICK HERE) or you can Follow this link to access your SAU’s online application.  If you have difficulty accessing either of these methods, the form can also be sent home with a student...just contact your school's office to make the request.  If you have questions, please feel free to reach out to Raina Cooper n our School Nutrition office via email:   rainalee.cooper@gorhamschools.org

FALL SPORTS BEGIN AUGUST 16!

Is your child interested in participating in a fall sport offered through the schools?  If so, registration is now open and forms are available...please check out the Athletic Department's Website (LINKED HERE) to learn more and reach out with questions if you have them.  Our Athletic Director, Tim Spear will be happy to answer them!  Here's his email:  timothy.spear@gorhamschools.org 

A REMINDER REMOTE LEARNING PROGRAMS INFORMATION FOR FALL, 2021


The Gorham School Department believes strongly that the best instructional environment for students to learn is offered in our classrooms. We are excited about our ability to open schools in the Fall of 2021 to full 5 day per week programming for our students across grades K-12.  The Gorham School Department recognizes, however, that there will be a few students who will not be able to access in-person learning for the 2021-22 School Year due to compromising medical conditions that warrant minimizing exposure to COVID 19.  Because of this, we will be offering a fully remote learning program to only those students who are determined to be medically unable to attend school in person because of the risk of exposure to COVID 19.


This consideration would be made through either our Response To Intervention (RTI) team, Section 504 Team, or Special Education (IEP) Team after a referral for consideration is made by the parent/guardian to the school principal.  Once a referral packet is received, the appropriate team will convene to discuss the concerns for the student, and determine if there is a need for additional accommodations or whether a fully remote program is in their educational best interest.  Again, the district always has the goal of having students attend in-person instruction as the least restrictive environment.


In order for this referral to be considered, the following will need to be completed prior to meeting so that the team has the appropriate full information to consider:


Step 1:  The parent/guardian of the student(s) or an adult student completes the “Referral Form”.


Step 2:  The parent/guardian of the student(s) or an adult student reaches out to their licensed physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant or mental health clinician to complete the “Remote Instruction Consideration by Physician Form”


Step 3:  The parent/guardian of the student(s) or an adult student completes the “Authorization to Release/Exchange Information with Gorham School District Form”


Step 4:  The parent/guardian of the student(s) or an adult student returns the forms found under steps 1-3 to the School’s Principal.


Step 5:  The school’s nurse will reach out to the student(s) licensed physician, nurse practitioner, physician assistant or mental health clinician to discuss possible accommodations that may be preferred to full remote instruction.


Step 6:  The school’s nurse, guidance counselor, principal or the student’s case manager will reach out to schedule a meeting of the school-based team and family to discuss the referral, considerations, and impacts to make a decision on the need for remote instruction and develop a plan as needed.  Note:  These meetings will take place in Mid-June and/or Late August, 2021.


Families who are considering referring their child(ren) for full remote programming for the Fall of 2021 should first review the “Virtual Learning Programming Overview” that is the first page of the appendix documents found in the order listed below:


Appendix A:  Virtual Learning Programming Overview

Appendix B:  Referral Form

Appendix C:  Remote Instruction Consideration by Physician Form

Appendix D:  Authorization to Release/Exchange Information with Gorham School District Form


K-12 PARENT OPEN FORUM SCHEDULED


I suspect that after you have read/reviewed all this (especially the last piece below) you may have some questions.  I have scheduled a K-12 Parent Open Forum for this very purpose to be held on August 9, 2021 at 6:30 p.m.  


I was going to attempt to try and juggle both a live meeting and a zoom meeting, but I didn't want to have the technology of trying to juggle both get in the way of important discussions - so this meeting will be entirely via zoom.  I will, however, offer that any parent who wishes to meet with me in person please email me and we can set up a time to do so individually or in small groups.


The Zoom link for the online access is below.  I hope to see you there!


Join Zoom Meeting https://networkmaine.zoom.us/j/84775660908?pwd=R0RyaWxoK3FlWmJuZE5TdUlGNU84UT09 Meeting ID: 847 7566 0908 Passcode: 707325

One tap mobile. +1-301-715-8592



RECOMMENDATIONS FOR COVID 19 SAFETY  PROTOCOLS IN GORHAM SCHOOLS FOR FALL 2021...

There is no question that the COVID 19 Pandemic is still with us - like a bad taste in the mouth that you just can't brush, floss or rinse away!  That's really the nicest way I could think of to describe the ongoing pandemic while still being fit for public consumption.  I am sure you would all agree!  Personally, I have wanted to be done with this Pandemic for a while now, but like you, what I want and what I get are not always the same thing. 😟

I know it does no good to sit back and be upset about the things you can't control so like a good "Main-ah" I'm gonna keep this section positive and focused on how we roll up our sleeves and not let this darn pandemic get to us!  Although we may still have to do some things differently - let's all remember that at least we can still do them when just 18 months ago, we couldn't do many of these things at all!  It reminds me of our incredible GHS students playing basketball last winter with masks on.  They could have thrown their hands up in the air and said "no way"...but they loved the game and they weren't going to let this Pandemic stop them from playing it!  I'm taking a page from our students' book when I share the following recommendations that I will be making to the Gorham School Committee for the opening of schools.   

First - the good news!  I am strongly recommending that we return to school in the "green" model for five full days of instruction per week across grades K-12.  NOW THAT FEELS GOOD!  😊

Now comes the things I recommend we do in order to safely allow us to open in the green model.  Again, my recommendations are just that - my recommendations.  The School Committee will have the final authority when approving the Pandemic Operations plan on August 11.  The following list is a high level "executive summary"...please review our Draft 2021-22 Pandemic Operations Plan and our Draft 2021-22 Return To School Guidelines Handbook for more details!  Here goes:

* The Gorham Schools will be following the most recent federal CDC guidelines for the safe reopening of schools (Updated 7/9/21 & LINKED HERE)

* All staff and students riding school buses/vans must wear face coverings/masks while riding.

* All staff and students riding school buses/vans must sanitize their hands prior to boarding.

*  All students and staff across grades K-12 will be required to wear a face covering/mask while indoors.

*  Physical distancing requirements have been lifted (under the green model - distancing requirements would kick in again under the yellow model), although we will still encourage distancing when practicable.

*  We will encourage students across grades K-12 to maintain a minimum of 3ft of physical distance when eating.  Air Purifying units will be added to each school's cafeteria spaces to add additional layers of protection for students while eating.

*  We will continue to strongly encourage utilization of outdoor classroom spaces.

*  Parents/guardians will be asked to use a daily health screening tool as a guide to make decisions about sending their child to school or not each day and will only need to communicate with the school if there is a positive indication of symptoms based upon utilization of the screening tool.

*  If staff or students are sick, we ask that you remain home.

*  Contact tracing for possible exposure to COVID 19 will continue.  Vaccinated individuals will not need to quarantine due to a possible exposure/close contact, however they will be encouraged to test for COVID 19 between 3-5 days after exposure.  Unvaccinated individuals who have been deemed a close contact will still be required to quarantine for 10 days.

I realize that to some this list may seem restrictive and to others, not restrictive enough.  By encouraging those that can get vaccinated to get vaccinated and by following CDC guidelines, I believe we will be able to keep our schools open to five day per week instruction even during times when transmission rates within our community may increase.  I believe our schools have demonstrated how safe they are for our children and I believe this coming year will be no different.  I believe that by opening in and operating in the green model we can make sure our students have engaging, fun, and meaningful learning experiences across all our schools.  We may have to do a few things a little differently (like keep the masks) but we are not going to let this pandemic get us down!  We are going to find a way to SAFELY do the things we know are most important for our children.  We are going to learn and play together.  We are going to laugh and possibly even cry a bit together.  We are going to listen to and support one another - we are going to be what Gorham is - STRONG! 

I may be a bit biased, but in my humble opinion, we have the BEST students around, we have the BEST staff around, we have the BEST parent/guardians around, and we have the BEST community in the state!  I know I speak for everyone when I say we can't wait to hear that "buzz" across our schools that can only be heard when our students are safely with us, learning, playing and growing together!  See you all soon!

Sincerely,


Heather J. Perry, Ph.D

Superintendent of Schools, Gorham, ME.