Well it has been an interesting couple of days for sure! I am sure many of you have seen recent announcements and news that indicate we now have a 2nd confirmed case of COVID-19 in Maine, this one from Cumberland County. There continues to be a whirlwind of information out there, and NOT ALL OF IT TRUE. So before I get into what the Gorham Schools are doing, I would just urge folks to check out the national CDC site or the Maine CDC site for reliable and factual information. I would also encourage folks to take a moment and pause before posting things on social media that may contribute to the misinformation that exists. I am not suggesting don't use social media...I am only suggesting that we become more mindful about the implications of what we post given the current situation we are facing as a community. It is during difficult times such as these that communities either begin to tear each other apart, or they reach out to one another, comfort one another, celebrate the good and bring a community together more strongly. In the past five years I have come to know just what a strong community Gorham truly is and I have full faith that our community is up to this particular challenge!
All that being said, I have a lot to share with you...so let me start. I'll do my best to use headings that will help organize the information so folks can go from one piece to the next. Here goes:
Consideration of School Closures
At this point in time, neither the CDC nor the Maine Department of Education is recommending broad closures of schools. This morning, Superintendents of Schools from both York County and Cumberland County got together to discuss what kind of guidance we wanted to use to establish when/if we should consider the closure of schools. There was agreement that in order to consider the closure of schools, Superintendents would need to be aware of specific information that would warrant such a large decision. Such information might minimally include:
- Knowledge of a large group of students or staff who have been tested for COVID-19 and are awaiting results, or
- Knowledge of a confirmed case of COVID-19 in our community, or
- Increases in staff absenteeism that might not allow us to continue operations of our programs.
At this time, the Gorham School Department has NO KNOWLEDGE of any of the three items listed above occurring in our community. Therefore, it is our intent to open school on Monday, March 16, 2020 as planned. Now, this information may change over the course of even this weekend, and if it does, I would use the same protocols as I do for snow cancellations to notify parents and students that school is canceled on Monday. Until conditions change, however SCHOOL IS SCHEDULED TO OPEN ON MONDAY.
I know this may not be a popular decision among many in our community. As is always the case, I want to make sure parents/guardians know that it is always within the right of any parent/guardian to make decisions that are different from the schools that you feel are in the best interest of your child. This means that if parents/guardians wish to keep individual students home on Monday, this is your choice to make. As with every decision that is made there are natural consequences. Right now, I just want parents to be clear that if they are holding students out of school for reasons other than those outlined in our policy that make an absence "excused" we would need to record absent students as unexcused and follow our policies in this area. I have linked the policies that I think are most pertinent to this below. Please reach out to your school's principal if you have questions in this regard as they can help you to navigate these issues.
* Policy JEA - Compulsary Attendance (near bottom)
* Policy JHB - Truancy
All that being said, in order to feel as though we are protecting the health and wellbeing of our students, staff, and community most effectively we have made some recent changes to our daily operations in order to try and limit potential exposure to the virus.
Additional Restrictions to Limit Exposure for Students/Staff and Community
In addition to maintaining our focus on handwashing, appropriate coughing etiquette, staying home when sick, and the twice-daily sanitization of our schools and buses by teachers and custodial staff we are also implementing the following changes IMMEDIATELY:
* We are limiting visitors to our schools. Any non-essential visitor (such as guest speakers, or recruiters, etc. - basically anyone other than a parent/guardian and the UPS/Fedex delivery folks) will not be admitted into our schools during the course of the school day. Our Administrative Assistants will be monitoring all entrances and communicating with folks accordingly.
* We are asking that our school volunteers stay home with just a few very unique exceptions.
* We are suspending ALL FIELD EXPERIENCES for students in grades K-12.
* The MPA announced today it is suspending the beginning of the spring athletic season for all HS sports programs until April 27, this includes try-outs, practices, and any other related travel.
* We have suspended our GMS athletic programs for competition. We are currently working to see if we can set up an intramural (for only GMS students) program for after school activities so that we can keep our students active, but we are basically shutting down anything that has contact with outside districts or outside facilitators or coaches.
* We are canceling or postponing any school-sponsored gathering that either occurs outside of regular school hours or involves "outside people" (anyone other than students and staff) that has more than 75 people in attendance.
* We are closing down all outside use of the Gorham School Facilities to any outside organization.
In addition to these already made decisions, we are also CONSIDERING the possibility of moving to limit "intra-school" gatherings as well. This would mean moving to cancel school assemblies, have school lunches eaten in classrooms vs. cafeteria spaces, etc. these decisions will be made either over the weekend or during the early part of next week.
Protocols for Students/Staff Who May Be Sick
Any child exhibiting signs of COVID-19 (fever, dry cough, and shortness of breath) while at school will be kept in a safe area of the school away from other students and staff until a parent or guardian can take them home. As a reminder, any student who is at home experiencing these symptoms should REMAIN HOME. Similarly, any staff member exhibiting these symptoms while at school will be directed to the school nurse. If, in the assessment of the school nurse, the staff member appears to have a communicable disease (including COVID-19), the staff member will be sent home. Students and Staff who (1) have traveled to (2) have been exposed to others who have traveled to, or (3) have plans prior to the end of the school year to travel to countries or areas that the CDC has identified as having widespread ongoing coronavirus transmission, or have sustained community-level transmission should report this information to their administrator/supervisor.
If you are concerned about the health of a student or staff member in your child's school, please refer them to the school nurse or make the school nurse away through communication with your building principal. Finally, please understand that this is an extremely fluid situation, and guidance may change at any time requiring revisions to protocols, so please continue to read these blog updates for updated information in these areas and any areas related to COVID-19.
School Closings A Possibility
Our school personnel are continuing to work with public health officials, municipal officials and others on this situation as mentioned above. At this time, we are not planning on closure of schools, but this could change at any moment. If that does, the information will be shared with parents via our school messenger system similarly to how snow days are canceled.
If the Gorham Schools are closed, the following will be our guiding structures. Please note that we are still finalizing details of this plan. Also please note that the intent of the educational programming outlined below is to stabilize learning and to prevent regression. It is not to advance learning in a similar manner as what would otherwise be accomplished under optimal learning conditions (in our schools). This is important for parents to understand. These educational programs will be delivered as follows:
* Students in grades 4-12 will utilize 1:1 devices. These devices will be distributed to students in grades 4-5 at the conclusion of the school day on Monday, March 16. Students in these grades will have educational materials shared with them by their teachers using our google classroom platform. Most students in these grades are already familiar with this platform if not, tutorials will be provided.
* Students in grades K-3 will utilize instructional packets that will be emailed to parents by their classroom teachers.
* The first 3 days of a long term school closure will be spent by teachers PREPARING materials. Nothing will go home to students/parents until the 4th day. This decision is made to allow our teachers ample time to prepare and ensure that their systems of communication and lesson delivery are fully functional.
* After the first 3 days, online educational materials will be sent and communicated to students and families on a routine schedule as communicated by each teacher. This schedule could be communicated as often as daily or as minimal as once per week. The intention is that instruction will likely NOT be asynchronous in that there will likely be no times during which students are required to be working at specific schedules...only that the outcomes for the work are clear, that support is provided to students by teachers on a timely basis and that the work being asked for is completed.
* For the first TWO WEEKS of school closures, special education teachers will be working to prepare specific methods within which the individual IEP's of students will be met. Special education teachers are being given extra planning time before being asked to provide specific programming to students because the specialized requirements of programming for students with IEP's is a more complex requirement to meet. Therefore, parents of students with an IEP should expect classroom teachers to reach out to students to begin regular education work, and then later on, within two weeks, for special education teachers to then add their required levels of services onto those regular education services. MORE DETAILED INFORMATION WILL BE COMING OUT FOR PARENTS/GUARDIANS of students with special needs early next week so please stay tuned.
School Lunches and Food Insecure Families
At this time (and again conditions may change) - it is the intent of the Gorham Schools to continue to provide school lunches to families. We are still working out the details, which will be ready early next week, but generally speaking, we are anticipating that minimally, an announcement will go out to families who are interested in having school lunches delivered to designated "satellite areas" in the community. School Nutrition staff would then create bagged lunch meals. We would then work with our transportation staff to transport these meals to these designated satellite areas for pick up by parents. In the event of school closure we will communicate these protocols to families within the first three days (similar to providing prep time for teachers the first three days) and then begin operation of the program at that time.
There is no question these past few days have seen us become witness to historic events. We are indeed in a challenging time in our community. My hope is that the Gorham School Department can provide the structure and support our families and, frankly, our community needs during these difficult times. We are blessed with a wonderful community. We have incredible students, an extremely talented staff, supportive parents and a caring community. These assets will come in handy as we continue to work together through these difficult times. I urge you to continue to communicate your needs either directly to myself (firstname.lastname@example.org) or to your building principals. Please know we will continue to work tirelessly to provide the support that we can to our Gorham Community. From what I have witnessed thus far...I have full faith the community of Gorham is up for the challenge! I continue to be so VERY PROUD to be a GORHAM RAM!