Biddeford and Dayton schools will switch to all remote learning for the week following the Thanksgiving holiday, to try and minimize the risk of coronavirus. Tammy Wells Photo

BIDDEFORD — Students who attend Biddeford and Dayton schools will attend classes remotely for the week following Thanksgiving.

Biddeford and Dayton Superintendent Jeremy Ray announced the decision, given the rising numbers of COVID-19 infections statewide, late last week.

The decision is intended to help minimize the risk of an outbreak in the cities’ schools, which could result in an extended shutdown. An outbreak is defined by the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as when three or more people have tested positive for coronavirus.

The Maine CDC has cautioned families to consider risks involved with holiday gatherings and suggested alternatives such as having a meal with immediate household members, eating outdoors while maintaining a six-foot distance, and wearing masks, and the U.S. CDC has issued similar advice. On its webpage, the federal agency suggested opening windows and doors, if feasible, based on weather, to increase ventilation inside. It also advised limiting the number of attendees The U.S. CDC advised that those planning in-person holiday gatherings with guests to consider asking them to strictly avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.

Ray said the School Department realizes some families will hold traditional gatherings, go shopping, and take in other events.

“As this occurs, close contacts increase creating a potential uptick in positive cases and ultimately may jeopardize our schools remaining open for in-person instruction,” Ray said.

“Therefore, all Biddeford schools and Dayton Consolidated School will be remote instruction only the week following (Thanksgiving) vacation, Nov. 30 through Dec. 4.”

“We completely understand the additional four days at home (five for Dayton students) can be a challenge for families,” said Ray.

He said school leaders considered several factors.

The Maine CDC recommends testing for all close contacts of people with coronavirus infection five to seven days after exposure, Ray said, and pointed out that if staff or students were exposed, they would likely show symptoms during the week following the holiday and could be tested, if needed, prior to returning to in-person classes.

Having onsite classes that week substantially increases the odds of an outbreak that could close school buildings for up to 28 days, which he noted would be much harder for families.

If teachers and transportation staff were required to quarantine, Ray said, schools could be in a challenging situation, due to smaller classroom sizes and limited bus drivers. “Depending on the number of staff required to quarantine, we realistically face being forced into remote instruction due to the reduced teaching staff in the building or bus drivers available to transport students,” he said.

Early planning allows families to coordinate childcare arrangements and reduces a sudden disruption in the schedule as compared to an outbreak, Ray said.

The week following Thanksgiving will also provide an opportunity for teachers to practice and evaluate areas for improvement in the event a future classroom forced to quarantine, an outbreak, or a state lockdown, he said. Staff will teach from within their empty classrooms at least two to three times that week while adhering to current guidelines, Ray said.

“I believe this decision would be in the best interest of our community as a whole,” the superintendent said in a social media posting. “It would undoubtedly assist in reducing exposure and hopefully allow our schools to remain open for in-person instruction.”

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