To: Winthrop Parents and Community From: Jim Hodgkin- Winthrop Schools Supt. of Schools
I am writing to provide you with information regarding COVID in our schools and to make you aware of dramatic changes that have taken place with the Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines for schools. First of all, the Winthrop School Committee has chosen to follow the Maine CDC guidelines, but have made a couple of exceptions as the guidelines are not requirements. I will share more about that later.
First of all, let me provide some background around this issue. The Maine CDC guidelines have established protocols for what schools should be doing in cases where students and staff test positive for COVID. They give other guidelines about how to determine who is a close contact and what that means for quarantining students and staff who are close contacts. There is a great deal more to the guidelines, but I am going to focus on that issue.
For students and staff who test positive for COVID, they were required to quarantine for ten days before returning to school (the initial guidelines was fourteen days) and anyone determined to be a close contact was also required to quarantine for ten days. There were a number of exceptions that permitted close contacts to remain in school. However, schools across Maine and here in Winthrop still had a large number of students who missed "in person" school because they had to quarantine. Some of our students had already missed 30 or more days this year due to quarantining.
From the very beginning of this pandemic, the CDC and schools have struggled with finding a balance between trying to prevent the spread of COVID while considering the negative impacts of having students have to miss school. The impact is both Social/Emotional and academic. To date, the CDC and Maine Schools (including ours) have erred on the side of trying to stop the spread of COVID. However, the new CDC guidelines have clearly changed that thinking.
Starting last week, the new CDC guidelines basically permits everyone who is not positive with COVID to be in school. This is specific to schools that do Universal masking, which Winthrop does. The WPS school committee had decided that we would be universal masking during the school day, but mask optional for activities after school. Recently, we have been told that in order to be Universal masking, we must include all after school events, so we are. Additionally, the CDC has changed the number of days that a positive COVID person must be out from 10 to 5 days. The person should not have symptoms before they could return. The WPS school committee voted to modify that expectation by saying that any positive student or staff can return on days 6 through 10 if they test negative for COVID. The school will administer one test between days 6-10 to check if a person is negative or not. Anyone who is not having symptoms can return after day ten without needing to test again. Any student or staff may choose to purchase a home test to administer. If that test is negative anytime between days 6-10, that person can return to school with evidence of that negative test.
I am sharing this information for a number of reasons. First, it is a major change and this will make some people happy and others very nervous. In conversations with my colleagues and in a Zoom meeting with Commissioner Makin of the Maine Department of Education (DOE), three reasons have consistently been shared as to why such a dramatic shift has occurred, especially in light of the increasing numbers of COVID cases going on right now.
1. The concern for the number of students in quarantine has reached a critical mass. This is both related to the Social/Emotional concern as well as the academic loss for them.
2. The stress that planning and delivering of education has reached a critical level for our staff who are trying to do the best they can to teach students that are in front of them as well as those that are in quarantine.
3. The reality of the negative impact on our economy from parents needing to miss work to stay home with the children in quarantine.
There are clearly more points to be made in support and in opposition to these changes.
It is important to understand that these changes do not change the fact that everyone should continue to make contingency plans for their children in case schools need to move to remote education. This is a distinct possibility given that schools may not be able to have staff to operate schools. Since returning from the holiday break, over 12 staff have tested positive for COVID and over 60 students have tested positive as well. Our administrators have been very creative in finding ways to keep schools open, but other schools in the state have still had to go "remote" due to staff shortages. We have been fortunate to have more substitutes recently as there are quite a number of young people home from college. Soon they will be going back and we will not have them to substitute teach for us.
Lastly, I implore you all to continue to be vigilant about checking your child for symptoms and encourage you all to keep them home if they are showing symptoms. As I am sure you already know, the flu is also hitting us hard right now as well. I also encourage you to keep your children home if someone in your household is positive for COVID or has the flu. As hard as it might be to find a way to make this happen, sending children to school that are already at a high risk for COVID and/or the flu is too risky.
Thank you for your consideration.