Dear Brewer School Department Families & Staff:
I hope that you are all having a relaxing summer. We live in interesting times, so I hope you are able to find ways to prioritize your own health and well being and that of your family. My thoughts are with all of you.
I understand that the unknown can make people anxious, so I wanted to get some school reopening information out now that we’re in August and know a bit more about where things stand. The plans discussed below have been endorsed by the Brewer School Committee in its August 2nd meeting.
First, here is the school year calendar for 2021-2022. One note is that we partner with Penquis Child Care Services for our Pre-K program at Brewer Community School (BCS), and based on their calendar the Pre-K students will begin the year on September 7, one week after the start of school for our K-12 students which is Monday, August 30.
Return to school options plan:
We now know that we will open our doors for all students to be back at school full time as we begin this school year. That by itself is an amazing sentence to be able to type and send out to you all. The federal and State of Maine Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have clearly stated that no conditions should prevent the full reopening of school to all students. This means we will not be educating students remotely this year as all staff resources will serve our in-person, school-based programming.
This effectively eliminates social distancing at school because of how many students populate both Brewer Community School (BCS) and Brewer High School (BHS).
At this point in time we will not require masks be worn, though we certainly support it and anyone who wants to wear a mask during the regular school day. The exception is on district transportation where there is still a federal mandate that masks must be worn.
Current conditions and the nature of the Delta variant will shift our focus to frequent testing as an early warning system in order to help keep the virus out of Brewer Schools. Happily we have a high percent of vaccinated individuals in Brewer, coupled with highly effective HVAC systems in our schools and, where necessary, supplemental portable units deployed in rooms all of which filter out viruses. It’s good to report that summer youth programs in our buildings had voluntary masking this summer with no reported cases of the virus, though we will be ready to do whatever is required as things unfold.
Here is a link to a framework for reopening that includes some details we will focus on to begin the year. You will see that previous levels of reopening are also included, but go ahead and scroll down to the Fall of 2021 chart at the bottom of the document and look at the Level 3.5 column. That is where we will begin our year. The School Committee voted to allow me to move the District between the different columns as needed this year. In that 3.5 column, it states that we are asking people to continue to monitor symptoms and stay home if they are sick; keeping students in their learning groups or pods whenever possible; and that we will offer more, voluntary vaccination clinics whenever our students and school community need that along with other strategies.
To be clear, we will move to mask wearing if and when that’s deemed necessary based on facts on the ground and as that information pertains to any potential impact in our schools. We will try to create a reasonable, rational approach that remains flexible in the pursuit of safety and access to all our programming.
Key to our safe return, and continued efforts to reduce any need for quarantining and other disruptive measures up to and including shutting schools down due to a spike in cases, is a COVID-19 testing program called Pooled Testing. The Maine CDC also has a set of frequently asked questions and answers about Pooled testing. We need to get at least 30% of each school’s total population who are willing to participate in this voluntary testing program in order for it to work, but it’s my hope that as a key, reliable mitigation strategy we will be able to have a large majority of all our students and staff join in the program. We’ll look to take advantage of State funding to hire a coordinator to make things run smoothly, and our wonderful partnership with Penobscot Community Health Care in our school-based health clinic will also help support us in this effort. Together we can make testing a foundational practice that keeps our Brewer Schools open full-time and everyone safe. Simply put, participating in this voluntary testing program will give your student the best chance to avoid quarantine while giving everyone the confidence that we are keeping COVID-19 out of our schools.
Quick Pooled Testing facts:
Parents need to give permission for a student to participate in Pooled Testing.
How it works: students in a common homeroom perform their own, quick nasal swab once a week at a designated time and with the rest of their class who are participating and place the swab in a sealed container. All the samples from each room then go to a lab for testing with results returned in 24-48 hours. If there are no COVID positives in the room (or “pool”) then things are fine and the students will just continue on and be tested in another week. If there is a positive then each individual in the classroom pool gets tested individually as a follow up. A positive case would quarantine, but others in the pool would not have to quarantine even if they are a close contact.
This program helps reduce risk with the loss of distancing requirements.
Because of how the Delta variant affects people we want everyone willing to participate, including those who are vaccinated. Vaccinated people are still protected from serious illness, but with Delta they could be carrying a viral load that could be communicable.
Staff are also invited to participate (I will be first in line in order to help create a safe environment).
Results of the testing will go to our nurses as trained health professionals, but those results are confidential and protected.
Currently students age 5 to 11 cannot be vaccinated, but that will likely be offered at some point this fall. It’s good to know that serious illness or complications in children remain extremely rare. Also, according to News & World Report infection rates in unvaccinated children declined 99% after widespread vaccination of adults. And one more piece of good news is that, according to Maine DHHS, 90% of people are vaccinated in Brewer. They write, “the count of people vaccinated in each zip code comes from data reported to the Maine CDC on people of all ages who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.” You can view the vaccination map of Maine here. Data is updated every few weeks.
As stated earlier the Brewer School Department will continue to offer voluntary vaccine clinics and promote the benefits of vaccination without judging those families who choose not to vaccinate. Our only goal is the health and well-being of our community as we look to keep our schools open.
You will also be getting some building-based information in the coming days and weeks as we look to retain some pieces that worked well last year, such as a virtual Open House for BCS in order to reduce the chances of any students having to quarantine before the start of the year, continuing to hold virtual IEPs, the planned start of Fall sports, modified staggered pick up times after school, and other items.
Thank you so much for your continued support as we look forward to the opening of our 2021-2022 school year.
Gregg Palmer, Superintendent