Dear Brewer School Department Families & Staff:
I am writing to update Brewer’s return to school plan.
On August 12 the Maine Center for Disease Control (MCDC) released a new Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) document which is an updated version of the rules for Maine schools during the pandemic. One key part of this SOP was the unexpected announcement that if everyone masks then close contacts of a positive case do not have to be quarantined when in classroom settings (the exception does not apply to staff). That is a significant change and a way to keep everyone at school as we open up full time to all our students. Vaccination remains the surest way to avoid quarantine. Participation in a pooled testing program is a third way to keep students out of quarantine.
We have also seen a significant increase in Delta variant cases in Maine during August. As part of this trend we have had our first few positive cases as people have begun to arrive on campus for preseason and other activities. We also had one other positive case of a person associated with the Brewer School Department. Everyone is fine, but we are now seeing local impact.
As a result we will make an adjustment, moving from our August 2nd plan that placed the District at Level 3.5, to Level 3.0 which features bringing all students back full time but masked. Here is a link to the Level Framework for reopening. Scroll down to the Fall of 2021 chart at the bottom of the document and look at the Level 3.0 column. I have struck through aspects of the Level 3.0 that have changed since last year due to the MCDC’s elimination of social distancing as a core mitigation strategy.
I said, in my letter of August 8, that I would not hesitate to move to universal masking if conditions changed. That has happened over the course of recent days, thus the change. However, similarly, I believe that we will likely see a decrease in cases at different points in time this year and that we will get to a place where voluntary masking, as represented in Level 3.5, is appropriate. At some point vaccinations will also be available for students ages 5 to 11 years old.
It’s important to know that, because of the high number of students and many grade levels at both Brewer Community School and Brewer High School, our kids will be unmasked and within three feet or less of one another during lunchtime. This will create a possible time when close contacts would still need to be quarantined.
I have filled out a Pooled Testing application for the Brewer School Department in order to be in line for support and funding because it provides one more way to keep the virus out of our schools and make it so that participating students can avoid being quarantined in many situations. Once our application is processed I will reach out again to discuss details and next steps. Parents would need to give permission. We will take this one step at a time, but in the meantime here is a NewsCenter Maine clip explaining Pooled Testing.
In all honesty I expect that we could have cases pass between members of our school community during school programming time this year, which was not true during the 2020-2021 school year. The Delta variant is twice as communicable and the MCDC has removed distancing guidelines so that everyone can return to school full time. That combination will likely produce a situation where the virus could be transmitted from one person to another, though we will work hard to limit that possibility.
While I can’t promise that everyone will love every decision that gets made this year, I can, like last year, give you complete and timely information and explain any choices that get made. The Brewer team will listen and take all the facts and everything everyone has to say into consideration.
I have appreciated everyone’s feedback this month and will keep the lines of communication open.
Gregg Palmer, Superintendent