Teachers in Lewiston are urging the school district to reconsider its proposed plan to reopen schools this fall. They're worried about protecting the health and safety of staff and students.
In a letter to local school officials, the executive board of the Lewiston Education Association requests that remote learning continue until several concerns are addressed. District administrators are recommending that the school use a "hybrid" reopening plan, with most students likely to attend school a few days per week.
But local union president Allison Lytton says that model may make it difficult for the district to meet federal and state health guidelines. For one thing, she says, there are questions about the availability of personal protective equipment, whether schools will have proper ventilation and, on top of that, possible shortages of teachers and substitutes. Local union leaders would like to see the district stick with remote learning until it can ensure that all health and safety requirements can be met.
“There are lots of concerns that still haven't been adequately addressed to be able to commit to this plan on Monday.”
The call from Lewiston educators comes after many teachers in Portland voiced similar concerns about their district's proposed reopening plan. Last week, the state announced that, based on current health data, schools across Maine could consider fully reopening. So far, many school districts have opted for a hybrid approach in order to follow state health guidelines, including social distancing and mask requirements for all staff and students over age 5.
Lewiston Assistant Superintendent Karen Paquette says that the district is committed to "working collaboratively" with teachers and staff through the reopening process and has created a hybrid reopening plan that meets state health and safety guidelines.
Paquette adds that students, parents and staff expressed that remote learning in the spring was very difficult, and that about 80 percent of parents who've responded to surveys have indicated that they'd like their children to have some face-to-face learning. The district plans to allow families to choose between in-person and virtual learning this fall.
"I hope that, even through this pandemic, we can find a way to provide the best educational opportunities for our students, as well as keep our staff and our students healthy and safe," Paquette says.
The Lewiston School Board is set to meet and potentially vote on the recommended reopening plan next Monday.
For disclosure, the Maine Education Association represents most of Maine Public's news staff.
This story was updated at 8:40 a.m. Aug. 7, 2020.