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Return to In-Person Learning Proposal

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Return to In-Person Learning Proposal
Posted on 08/04/2020
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Superintendent Xavier Botana is recommending that the Portland Public Schools adopt a “yellow” hybrid scenario for students to safely return to school this fall during the COVID-19 pandemic. That hybrid plan would limit the time and stagger the number of students who can attend school in person, depending on grade level.

Details of the recommended scenario for the various grade levels are as follows:

Pre-K-5:

·      To start the year, half of the students would attend school in person 2 days per week and participate remotely 3 days. The district is working with community partners to provide before- and after-school care and also programming for students on their remote learning days.

·      If elementary school staff and students demonstrate that they are able to successfully adjust to the required health and safety guidelines in the first month of school, Botana's recommendation is to have all Pre-K through grade 5 students return to school for in-person instruction 5 days per week by Oct. 13.

·      Peaks Island School and Cliff Island School would go directly to in-person learning five days a week.

6-8:  Half of the students attend school in person 2 days per week and participate remotely 3 days. This plan would stay in place for the first trimester and then be re-evaluated.

9-12:  Ninth-graders attend school in person 2 days per week and participate remotely 3 days. Students in grades 10-12 would continue to learn remotely in the morning and would have scheduled access to in-person support for academics, social emotional needs and extra-curricular activities in the afternoon.

The Portland Arts and Technology High School  (PATHS) would operate on a hybrid schedule with all students attending in person 2 days a week and learning remotely the remainder of their schedule.

Portland Adult Education would provide in-person enrollment, screening and placement support but classes would be mostly remote.

A remote learning option with consistent schedules and learning experiences also will be available for families who opt not to attend in-person school.

Botana envisions these plans staying in place through the end of the first trimester and would be reconsidered then, or if the state’s color-coded advisory designation requires a move to remote learning.

Botana also is recommending that the first day of school for students be postponed by about two weeks – from Aug. 31 to Sept. 14 – to allow teachers and other staff to prepare for all the safety precautions that must be in place before students enter buildings. All students and staff would be required to follow mandated state health and safety protocols that include mask wearing, physical distancing, and daily symptom checks.

“Overall,” Botana said, “We have so many new protocols and routines that we need to put in place that we need the extra time to get ourselves ready.” Teachers and other staff will return to work on Aug. 24, as originally scheduled, for professional development and planning to ensure that the first day for students gets off to a smooth start.

Botana will be presenting his recommendation and explaining the rationale behind it to the Portland Board of Public Education at its  6 p.m. Zoom meeting  on Tuesday, Aug. 4. After the adjournment of its meeting, the Board will hold a public hearing on the plan. The Board is expected to vote on the recommendation on its Aug. 18 meeting.

Botana’s recommendation follows the first posting on July 31 by the Maine Department of Education of its  color-coded health advisory system  for each county. MDOE, which will update its advisory every two weeks, categorized all counties in Maine as “green,” with a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread.

That means that schools may resume in-person instruction if they are able implement six state-mandated health and safety measures: symptom screening at home before coming to school; physical distancing in buses, classrooms, hallways and other spaces; masks or face coverings for students and staff; hand hygiene; personal protective equipment; and the establishment of a return-to-school-after-illness protocol. If schools can’t fully implement all those requirements – for such reasons as insufficient space, staffing or transportation – districts may offer a hybrid model.

Botana thanked the 20 district workgroups that have worked throughout the summer to develop a framework for reopening school for 2020-2021 school year. “I am grateful for the passion and commitment of our staff and their resourcefulness in thinking through how to maximize learning opportunities for our students in these trying times,” Botana said. The groups have included a design team made up of administrators, educators and a Board member and over 100 educators and community partners, informed by input from parents in the planning process. The workgroups substantively completed their design work on July 24 and their conclusions were summarized in a letter to parents  that day and served as the basis for the district’s plan.

The Portland Public Schools is Maine’s largest school district, with about 6,750 students, and is also the most diverse. About one-third of the district’s students – 35 percent – come from homes where languages other than English are spoken—a total of more than 60 languages. About 53 percent of the district’s students are white and 47 percent are students of color. Approximately half of PPS students qualify for free or reduced school lunch.