RSU 14 has not been spared from the recent increase in COVID-19 cases that have been experienced across the country and in our state. Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen an upward trend in the number of cases within our district. While our overall case number has been smaller than other districts our size, the presence of cases has certainly made an impact on our district.

Chris Howell is the superintendent for Windham and Raymond schools.

It is important to emphasize that the case numbers are people. They are the kids in our community and the staff members who serve them. I have not come across a single COVID case in our district where someone willingly sought out this virus. It is usually the opposite and the individual feels a tremendous amount of guilt for impacting the school community. We must never forget that COVID-19 is a life threatening illness that has claimed the lives of thousands of people during this pandemic.

We have observed and experienced COVID cases with our students who attend in the hybrid model and with students who access our programs remotely. Additionally, we have experienced cases with teaching staff and with staff who work to support our students. The process of researching each and every case can be time consuming as district staff work to determine all of the possible close contacts to the infected individual. There is a common theme that has developed throughout the cases that we have examined. Transmission of the virus is not taking place within the walls of our district. Instead, it is taking place out in the community in small gatherings where people think that they are safe. RSU 14 has quarantined hundreds of close contacts over the past two months. We are not observing new cases out of the quarantine groups.

The Maine CDC has confirmed that schools are safe when you compare them to the community at large. The level of safety is due to the strict implementation of the safety guidelines that have been put into place by the Maine CDC and the Maine Department of Education. I am proud of our students and staff for how they have embraced the safety protocols that have been assigned to them for in-person instruction. Through their efforts, they have endeavored to create one of the safest public sector work environments.

I have received questions regarding whether or not the district will continue to remain open in light of recent cases. The question comes naturally as the community hears about shutdowns that are taking place in neighboring districts. Schools play an important role in the academic and social emotional growth of our students. I believe that we need to do all that we can as a community to work together to keep this important resource open for our students. Additionally, it has been shown that the closing of schools in the absence of a complete shutdown of the community does little to stop the transmission of the virus. School shutdowns are only effective as a public health strategy when all aspects of a community are locked down. With this being said, a large quarantine of staff may require a building to transition to remote learning. As we work through this process, we will continue to rely on our close working relationship with the Maine CDC to make decisions.

The community plays an important role in the health and safety of our schools. As we enter the celebrations of the holiday season, I ask that you please do all that you can to follow the safety guidelines that have been put into place in our state. The actions of the community will ultimately determine whether or not we can keep our schools open.

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