LEWISTON — The School Committee on Monday night voted 3-6 against a motion to move schools to fully remote instruction for two weeks after the Christmas break to limit a potential “holiday spread” of COVID-19.

In making the motion, member Kiernan Majerus-Collins noted that statewide cases had hit another record high as the virus continued to surge in the wake of Thanksgiving gatherings.

“We’ve seen this close intermingling during the holidays, and that is no doubt tied to the spike,” he said, “and there will be a spike after Christmas.”

Giving families and school employees three weeks’ notice would be better than having to close schools with no notice if outbreaks occurred, he said.

Schools are set to reopen Jan. 4.

Majerus-Collins’ motion would have moved all students to remote instruction from Jan. 4 to Jan. 19, the Tuesday after Martin Luther King Jr. Day. The Augusta School Department already has made that decision, he said, adding that Androscoggin County has a higher number of cases than Kennebec.

“Closing schools is the last resort, but I think we’re there,” he said.

Three teachers spoke in favor of the motion.

Rachel Nadeau teaches at Lewiston High School, which closed recently because of an outbreak of the virus. An outbreak site is designated by three or more cases within 14 days.

“It would be better to have a few days to prepare students for it, instead of having another surprise and having to close schools” without notice, Nadeau said.

But families need to have their children in school, committee Vice Chairman Bruce Damon said.

“We’ve finally managed to get parents and day cares and this hybrid model to where families have a clue what’s happening,” Damon said.

“Families are suffering, and they need the structure of kids going to school and that needs to be sustained,” he said. “We have a responsibility to the entire family unit to try to get back to some level of normalcy.”

He noted that Maine has 180,000 students and fewer than 200 have tested positive for COVID-19.

Member Ron Potvin said he had heard from friends working in hospitals who are “enormously nervous” about the rise in cases.

He has dealt with outbreaks at the jail where he is a corrections officer and at other sites around the county, he said.

“Schools have been the safest places in the cities,” he said. “I would want to revisit this after the holiday break if something else is going on. Now is not the time.”

Damon, Potvin, Chairwoman Megan Parks, Tanya Whitlow, Elgin Physic and new member Paul Beauparlant voted against the motion. Majerus-Collins, Lynnea Hawkins and City Council representative Alicia Rea voted in favor.

Majerus-Collins has attempted twice before to get the School Committee to move students to fully remote instruction.

He has stressed that he is concerned about the health and safety of staff and students.

“There is virtue in keeping people alive,” he said Monday. “There is virtue in being proactive.”

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: