Schools across Maine are opening this week, and for the first time in three years, they are doing so without the COVID protocols that have disrupted learning since the spring of 2020.

But the school year won’t exactly be a return to normal. If we are going to get the most out our schools and students, it can’t be.

The pandemic not only put unprecedented stress on students and staff, but also revealed shortfalls and inequities that had been present in our schools for years, and made a lot of them worse.

Now our school districts have an opportunity to reassess what they’re doing and figure out what’s holding them back from providing a place of learning, friendship and discovery for every student.

They can’t do it alone. To overcome longstanding challenges and reverse the losses of the last two-plus years, they’ll need the help of parents and taxpayers, whose funding and support can make or break a school system.

Educators themselves understand the problems better than anyone. They’ve watched for years as schools were asked to do more and more for students, particular those with learning and behavioral challenges, without the resources necessary for such a demanding and important job.


And they’ve spent the time since early 2020 dealing with the fallout from the pandemic, including learning loss, health scares and an increase in disruptive behaviors.

So it should be worrying to everyone that teachers and school staff are leaving the profession in unprecedented numbers. Even for people dedicated to the work and talented enough to do it well, it’s been too much.

There’s no doubt it will affect students. For example, many school systems are struggling to hire enough education technicians, who provide extra help to students who are falling behind. Peter Hallen, assistant superintendent for Waterville schools, told the Morning Sentinel what happens if a spot goes unfilled: “Each one is a potential opportunity lost for a student or requires another person, who likely already has a full plate, to take on additional responsibilities.”

And that’s just one way the lack of educators will keep students from catching up. If it continues, the students who need the help the most will miss out. The same goes for schools, too, as richer districts beat out others for workers from a limited pool.

There were already significant inequities in Maine K-12 schools, based largely on the income levels of the community they are in. The lack of teachers and other school staff will make them worse, widening the gap between the haves and have-nots.

At a time when so many students have fallen behind, there may not be anyone around to help them catch up.


Maine has made progress in this area. The state is now funding the highest portion of K-12 education costs in history, and minimum teacher pay of $40,000 a year, also funded by the state, comes into effect this fall. Both will help less affluent districts.

Let’s not stop there. Let’s give every student what they need: a well-resourced school full of teachers who are allowed to focus on teaching, and dedicated staff to support them.

That also means supporting students’ families, whose circumstances go a long way toward determining a student’s success in school.

Failure in those areas led to problems before the pandemic, creating inequities that had students in low-income communities behind their counterparts in more affluent areas.

Now, as we enter the fourth school year of the COVID era, there are an unprecedented number of students who have fallen behind.

It’s going to take quite an effort to get them back on track. Schools must have the resources they need to meet the challenge.

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