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Lawmakers Consider Raft Of Bills Related To Pandemic's Effect On Education

Maine lawmakers took up several bills Wednesday intended to help schools and families deal with the pandemic’s impact on student attendance and learning.

One proposal would require the Maine Department of Education to study student truancy and absenteeism across the state and recommend policies to help districts get students back.

Holly Couturier with the Maine Principals’ Association, says more state guidance would be helpful for many districts, which have seen large drops in attendance and student engagement during the pandemic.

“We’ve been trying. Even following the letter of the law, it’s not getting them present,” she says.

Another proposal would allow high school seniors to be granted alternative diplomas.

The bill’s sponsor, Democratic Rep. Rebecca Millett, says that the pandemic has drastically affected the lives of high schoolers, from hybrid and remote learning to housing instability and hunger.

She says her legislation would allow some of those students to apply for an alternative diploma from the state over the next four years if they’re unable to meet their local school’s graduation requirements.

“This bill, as amended, is one potential tool in our toolbox, and will be especially important for those who simply can’t meet their school’s diploma requirements despite the best efforts of all involved,” Millett says.

Another bill would allow parents to hold back their children at their current grade level, because of the effects the pandemic has had on their education.

The legislation has received support from several educational groups and the Maine Department of Education.