Monday, March 9, 2020

Gorham Schools Pandemic Planning Update

It seems there is just A LOT happening in our schools and community here recently and none more interesting than the looming questions that many folks may have regarding COVID-19.  I had sent out a parent letter last week providing some initial information regarding what the Gorham Schools are doing to prepare for this possible pandemic but since then we've learned a lot more and done a lot more as a school system to prepare. I wanted to try and bring parents and community members up to speed on where we are in this important work.

Please keep in mind that planning of this magnitude is never something that you can just sit, hold a meeting, make a few decisions and then call it a day.  This type of planning is constantly moving and flexing as information changes and as conditions that surround us change.

My goal is that through this blog post, I can help to keep all of you informed as we continue to ensure our schools are prepared for any eventuality related to this potential pandemic.  As always, I'll try to use clear headings to help folks navigate what is likely to be a lengthy post.  Here goes!

Best Resources for Up To Date Information on COVID-19

The best resource for up to date information on COVID-19 are from the CDC.  They have an incredibly robust website where you can learn all you want to know about the virus, how it spreads and specific precautions you can take to prevent it.  The site also provides travel advisories and other incredible resources such as a constantly updated Q&A sheet.  If you haven't already visited this site, I would strongly suggest that this site becomes your "go-to" site for up to date and even more importantly - ACCURATE - information on COVID-19.

The Top Things YOU can do to Prevent COVID-19

The same things we have always done to prevent the spread of disease is what folks should be doing now...wash hands, wash hands, wash hands again, and then when you are really tired of washing your hands - wash them some more!

In addition to hand washing (which is the absolute best prevention), using proper coughing techniques is also very helpful.  Proper coughing techniques are to cough either directly into your elbow or cough into a tissue and throw the tissue away.  Other good "rules of thumb" include some more traditional good practices such as:

-  Don't drink after others
-  Don't eat after others
-  Use of social distancing (6 feet is a good rule of thumb)
-  Keep hands away from eyes, nose and mouth
-  Stay home if you are ill

If you would like some "decorations" to help spread the message around your own home for proper hand washing and coughing - similar to the ones we have posted all over our schools - feel free to click on the links below and print your own copies and place them near your sinks and in common areas of your home.

Adult Hand Washing Poster
Child Hand Washing Poster
Proper Etiquette in Coughing Poster

Our Pandemic Plan For The Gorham Schools

One of the first things that the CDC and the MDOE suggested schools do in preparation for COVID-19 is to review and "dust off" our Pandemic Flu Plans.  Back in 2009 when the H1N1 virus was going around, schools across the nation were asked to create Pandemic Plans and include them in their overall Crisis Response plans.  Gorham created this original plan in 2009.  During the past week, we did as instructed and we pulled it out and "dusted it off" to update the plan and make sure it was solid for the purposes of COVID-19.  I have to admit, whoever crafted the original plan in 2009 did a GREAT JOB because we just had to make a few tweaks here and there to the overall plan and it was all set.  This plan provides an awesome outline for how our schools should become prepared to deal with a Pandemic.

You can find the full copy of our Pandemic Plan on our website - LINKED HERE.  But generally speaking, there are three core parts to the plan that I will review below.

Pre-Pandemic Planning

The first part is what is called "Pre-Pandemic Planning".  In this part, we focus on things like making sure there are ample cleaning and other supplies, making sure there are clear protocols for handwashing and coughing etiquette, and training staff and students on these items and then ensuring staff/students actually do the things we are asking them to do to prevent the spread of any virus.  This part of the plan also asks that we put together a planning team(s) and that we review the plan and make adjustments as needed and that we are prepared to communicate with internal and external stakeholders.

For this part of the plan, we have already done the following:

-  Identified a Public Information Officer (Superintendent) and established a planning team(s).
-  Reviewed Pandemic Plan with Community Stakeholders (Fire Dept., Police, Town Manager, Facilities Director, etc.).
-  Reviewed Pandemic plan with school physician and nurses
-  Ensured each school's staff meets with nurses for "refresher" on proper handwashing and coughing techniques.
-  Placed posters prominently across all schools to remind students/staff on the importance of washing hands and coughing etiquette.
-  Ordered 6-8 weeks worth of cleaning supplies
-  Communicated with BSG on proper cleaning schedules.
-  Provided supplies and training to bus drivers to wipe down buses daily.
-  Refilling hand sanitizing stations.
-  Established communication protocols for tracking student illness.

What is Left to Do:

-  Finalize ordering of products for cleaning to be used by classroom teachers in the classroom setting.
-  Finalize plans to ensure all students are either washing hands or using hand sanitizer prior to eating lunch each day.
-  Continue ongoing conversations with staff regarding planning

Early In Pandemic Planning

The focus in this portion of the planning is making sure things are set to continue to operate schools even though absenteeism and illness may begin to have an impact.  In this section, we need to be prepared to track attendance data and symptom data for students and staff who are ill.  We need to be familiar with how to report to CDC if absenteeism rates rise above 15% for any individual school, we need to have established "isolation" spaces to house students/staff who are presenting possible symptoms as they wait to go home and we need to ramp up handwashing schedules for students and staff.  It is also during this time that we may think about altering schedules to limit large gatherings of students and staff by doing things like producing bagged lunches and asking students to eat in classrooms, or by limiting athletic events or other large gatherings.

For this part of the plan we have already done the following:

-  Changed voice mail messages to be consistent across all schools in asking for the same information of parents calling in sick students.
-  Developed "scripts" for Admin. Assistants who need to follow up with parents to gather additional health information.
-  Identified "isolation" spaces at each school.
-  Identified methods for nurses to conduct "morning checks" and "return checks" in collaboration with other staff to monitor symptoms.
-  Ensured 6-8 weeks of necessary supplies are on hand.
-  Have held initial conversations about how to limit large group interactions while schools remain open.
-  Have held initial conversations about how to provide educational programs if schools were to close 6-8 weeks
-  We have developed template letters for communication during all phases of a pandemic.

What is left to do in this portion of planning:

-  Identification of one staff at each school to assist nurses in taking temperatures and recording data.
-  Determine a cleaning agent to be used by classroom teachers in classroom setting and order
-  Develop a plan for how to require scheduled hand washing 3-4 times per day (if needed).
-  Finalize system of communication with neighboring school districts to track trends especially related to athletic & co-curricular activities.
-  Finalize plans for how to provide educational programs if schools were to close for 6-8 weeks to include special education, food service, and other support service provision.
-  Continue ongoing conversations with staff regarding planning

During a Pandemic Planning

The focus here is in assuming a full-blown Pandemic is in place and that there MAY be a need to actually close schools down for 6-8 weeks.  During this time, we need to find ways to avoid unnecessary travel, we need to ensure we have systems in place to still pay people and vendors for services, and most importantly we need to ensure there are systems in place to continue educational programming if schools are closed.

So far we have done the following for this phase of planning:

-  We have worked with business and technology offices to ensure remote access to all business functions.
-  We have begun discussions with Special Services, Technology & Principals/Teachers, and School Nutrition Programs regarding how too provide essential educational services if schools are closed.

What is left to do in this portion of planning:

-  Finalize plans for how to provide essential educational programming if schools were to close for regular instruction, special education/504 instruction, social services, and School Nutrition programs.
-  Continue ongoing conversations with staff regarding planning

At this point, we hope to have the early pandemic planning and pandemic planning completed by end of this week and we then plan on turning our full attention to nailing down already formed ideas on how to continue to provide educational programming if schools were to close for an extended period of time.  Certainly, this is not something we would do lightly, but it is something we have to consider and plan for.


As you can see, there is A LOT going on in the Gorham schools to help prepare for COVID-19.  With any luck, we will do all this work and then not need it...but just in case - it's always nice to know that our school community is prepared just in case we do!

As a parent/guardian you may wonder how you can expect to learn more about our work in this area and how you can ask questions.  It is important to know that during a Pandemic, our primary mode of communication with internal audiences (staff and students) will be via email while our primary mode of communication with external audiences (parents/guardians/community) will be via our School Messenger System and our school website (to include continued blog posts).  The school system may supplement communications using our social media platforms, but the primary methods will be through School Messenger and our website.

If you are seeing things "out and about" in social media land, I would say the best thing to do there would be to hold out a healthy dose of skepticism regarding the accuracy of whatever information that is, and instead, refer to our school website or blogposts for accurate local school information.

If you ever have ANY questions, I would strongly encourage you to reach out to me directly via email.  My email address is

Well, I think that is enough for this update - at least for now.  Once we have more concrete and finalized plans for how we MAY continue educational programming IF our schools were to close for extended periods of time, I will definitely get another blog post out so everyone has a solid idea of what to expect.  You can expect that follow up Blog within the next two weeks.


No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.