Allison Lytton, Lewiston Education Association president, poses in front of Connors Elementary School in Lewiston on Thursday afternoon. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Lewiston’s teachers union outlined its objections to the School Department’s reopening plan for the fall and on Thursday called for a remote-only return until state health and safety requirements can be met.

On Monday, the department announced a hybrid education model for this fall that incorporated virtual and in-person learning. The Lewiston Education Association, which represents all the School Department’s certified and education technician staff, including teachers, nurses, academic coaches, school counselors, social workers and others, released a statement Thursday saying the plan does not ensure the health and safety of students and educators.

The School Department’s proposal divides students into four groups, or cohorts, each with different schedules for in-person and online learning. The School Committee is expected to vote on it next Monday.

“We’re asking the School Committee to take a deep dive and examine these plans before signing off on them,” Lewiston Education Association President Allison Lytton said.

In the statement, the association outlined concerns about the School Department’s preparedness for and the feasibility of meeting the Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention requirements for in-school learning by opening day Aug. 31.

The association’s concerns also include enforcement of physical distancing and mask-wearing, lack of protocols for students and staff returning to school after an illness, availability of personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer and other supplies. Also, concerns include technology for staff and students, the workload of staff, and logistics surrounding student transportation and sanitation of classrooms.

Citing “the lack of educator and family preparedness for virtual learning and the lack of available technology and access for all students and staff,” the union is also asking the district to submit a request to the Maine Department of Education to waive the minimum number of student days.

Assistant Superintendent Karin Paquette said the district worked to keep the association involved during the roughly two-month process of developing the plan, which continues to be tweaked. She said the statement “shows the need to continue to collaborate and communicate and do what’s best for our students, schools and staff.”

Lytton agreed the department has kept its lines of communication open with the union and commended “the tireless efforts of all involved in developing the hybrid reopening plan,” but added the union still has concerns about the district meeting all health and safety requirements for students and staff.

The union questioned whether the district has secured all necessary supplies, such as masks and other personal protective equipment, for the scheduled return of staff on Aug. 24 and students a week later, and whether it will be able to replenish such supplies in a timely manner throughout the school year.

Paquette said the district has continued to add to supplies left from last school year, stockpiling pallets of hand sanitizer, personal protective equipment and other safety supplies, and continues to receive shipments at its facilities daily and has full confidence they will be adequately stocked at opening.

On the technology front, she said the School Department continues to gather existing inventory and has ordered additional hardware for students and staff, but acknowledged it will have difficulty supplying each individual on a one-for-one basis.

Teachers are also concerned about additional workload placed on staff in having to conduct synchronized in-person and virtual instruction while also having to enforce social distancing and mask-wearing, Lytton said.

“We’re trying to provide the best education possible for our students,” said Lytton, who is a family engagement coordinator at Connors Elementary School. “If we’re being torn in three different directions, will we be able to do that?”

Lytton said teachers wonder how schools can ensure all students and staff will conduct symptom screening at home before going to school and have concerns about the action to be taken when an individual attending in-person instruction doesn’t report symptoms.

In the statement, teachers also question whether staff, students and their families have had “adequate time for quality training for virtual learning.”

School officials have tried to help minimize staff workload by proposing students be released 90 minutes to two hours earlier than usual, while giving them additional time for planning lessons.

Paquette said community support for a hybrid reopening model is considerable. As of Wednesday afternoon, she said, about half of families had filled out the department’s enrollment survey and roughly 80% of those responses wanted a hybrid plan.


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