Dear Brewer Schools’ Families,
This letter is intended to lay out the Brewer School Department’s plan for the start of the 2020-2021 school year now that we have received a reopening designation [hyperlink when available] from the Maine Department of Education (M-DOE) based on guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control (M-CDC). Our plan includes being in alignment with the M-CDC and M-DOE guidelines regarding symptom screening, social distancing, wearing face coverings, emphasizing hand hygiene, and using PPE throughout the district along with other core safety practices. The following are mandated for any person who is present in a Brewer School Department building during the instructional day:
Based on all the information and guidance that has been examined over the past days, weeks, and months the general model for reopening will be a Level 2/Yellow hybrid model that will feature, at the outset, a 50% return to school (with both an A group and a B group of students. Group A will be for students whose last names begin with the letter A through K and the B group will be for students whose last names begin with the letter L through Z. There will be some adjustments to even out numbers and make sure that siblings with different last names can be at school and at home on the same days as one another. We will send word to any families that are affected by an adjustment no later than Friday, August 14. Our first goal is to create even numbers so we can space students for safety.
On a typical 5-day week Wednesday will be a flex day during which we will support students online and will provide them with enrichment activities so they can extend their studies. Teachers will also use the flex day to create new lessons and work for students’ other remote learning days.
Most students will either be at school a Monday/Thursday (group A) or Tuesday/Friday (group B) rotation. We will clean and prep the buildings in such a way as to limit chances of contamination one day to the next and have contracted with professional cleaners to supplement our custodial staff whenever necessary. It is one of our highest priorities to have our physical plant sanitized to begin each new day. Furthermore, we are working, for middle and high school classrooms, on a system that is capable of giving access to classroom instruction when students cannot be physically present at school. We know that, for some students, there were concerns about keeping them engaged in work when we were fully remote last spring. This schedule should help keep students safe, give fewer days between seeing their teachers in person, and for students struggling with social/emotional issues they will also have fewer days elapse before they can be with peers, teachers, and professional supports.
There are two important caveats. First, some students and classrooms could feature a more robust return to in-person learning based on numbers of students in a given grade-level or program; or, conversely, a lesser amount of time spent in-person should the scenario or individual student need call for it. This includes having some students, whose families do not feel ready to have them return to any in-person learning, remain in a remote learning (Level 1/red) model with support from the Brewer School Department. These students will complete equivalent work and be otherwise treated as any other student in the district would be.
The second caveat is the idea, mentioned above, that we are beginning with a 50% hybrid. The reality is that all three levels may come into play this year. We are not announcing a single, narrow plan as a permanent approach. Given the nature of the virus we must remain flexible and ready to react to current conditions. While we’re planning on starting in a way that is designed to give us an opportunity to establish safety protocols with our students and also about transition and caution than any kind of last word on what school will look like over the course of the entire year.
We are looking to initially limit the total number of people in a building in order to better maintain safe social distancing, reduce the pressure on school buses, allow us to divide our buildings into separate learning areas (or pods) which will help to reduce the amount of student-to-student contact. This idea of having smaller groups of people together over time has worked in other institutions in this country and around the world, in conjunction with distancing, facial coverings, and other common sense safety precautions.
The other reason for a hybrid model is to be able to begin balancing the three types of safety that include physical safety, social/emotional well being, and learning. The difficult part of the COVID-19 pandemic crisis is that it has pitted these three protective factors against one another where they would normally work in harmony. While there is no perfect answer, we believe a cautious, partial reopening will allow us to begin to reestablish this balance while monitoring all data and responding to the resulting outcomes.
A hybrid model may also give us a better chance of maintaining having students back for in-person learning by reducing the number of people in the building at any one time. We will couple this with other, proven steps such as limiting public access to inside our buildings during the instructional day and a stepped up schedule of routine cleaning.
Here is the opening year calendar:
Monday, August 31: Voluntary, noontime district-wide Zoom meeting of students, families, staff, school committee, and our Brewer trustees
August 31 through Wednesday, September 2: Teacher planning and professional development
September 3 & 4: The 50% of our students in group A attend school on Thursday, September 3 and the 50% of students in group B attend on Friday, September 4
Monday, September 7 is off due to Labor Day
Tuesday, September 8 through Friday, September 11: Group A attends school on Tuesday, September 8 and Thursday September 10 while group B attends on Wednesday, September 9 and Friday, September 11. During a student’s two remote days this week students can review online videos that further explain the new safety protocols and complete initial academic assignments. There is no flex day this week
Monday, September 14 through Friday, September 18: The first 5-day week with group A attending school on Monday, September 14 and Thursday, September 17 and group B attending Tuesday, September 15 and Friday, September 18 with a Wednesday of that week as a flex day
Special considerations will be taken for students who have learning plans such as an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or what is referred to as a 504 plan (from Section 504 of the U.S. Rehabilitation Act). This could mean that while others are returning to school another student, based on their learning plan, could require more remote learning or, in the opposite case, a student with a learning plan might have additional time spent accessing in-person support and instruction beyond the general district plan. Determinations regarding allotment of resources and/or accommodations for a student with a learning plan will be made on an individual basis by respective IEP/504 teams.
Virtual open houses will be announced by building and grade level, giving families a chance to hear about what students will be learning this year and to get to meet the people who will be working with your students. We need to avoid having more than 50 people in a space at one time and also want to limit unnecessary foot traffic through the buildings as we prepare for students.
Another detail I’ve been asked about are the traditional school breaks for the coming year, and at this time we are planning to have our 2020-2021 school calendar maintain those regular vacation breaks.
Additional details will be sent both from central office and from building administration. We are working with community partners to help find daycare solutions as we work to accommodate our students and families. For reference, here is the M-DOE's Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction and our Brewer Framework Level Options developed in May and June and distributed to the community at the start of summer break. The framework was voted on by the Brewer School Committee as our COVID response plan for reopening.
It is our most fervent hope that we will be able to end the year with all students back at school full time. Whatever comes the families, students, and staff that comprise the Brewer School Department define our mission, and we are proud to be able to serve you all.
Gregg Palmer, Superintendent of Schools