Gov. Mills: Decisions about returning to classrooms must be based on public health data and not on politics

Fri, 07/17/2020 - 6:30pm

The following is a transcript of a Friday, July 17 radio address presented by Governor Janet Mills: 

As the daughter of a woman who taught in the public schools in Maine for nearly thirty-seven years, and as someone who brought up five daughters who attended and graduated from public schools in Maine, I am very sensitive to the needs of families and faculty and staff in our schools in this extraordinary time.

Hello, this is Governor Janet Mills and thank you for listening.

For the sake of Maine children, and our families and our futures, and for the livelihoods of Maine families, a safe return to classroom instruction must be our goal. Like many parents and teachers, I worry in particular about the kids who are being left behind and the inequities that have been exacerbated during this pandemic.

But the goal of returning to classroom instruction cannot come at the expense of peoples’ health and safety either, regardless of what the President says.

I believe strongly that decisions about returning to the classrooms must be based on public health data and not on politics. That is why my Administration is providing public health guidance and financial support to help local officials as they determine what is best for their communities, students, and staff.

The Maine Department of Education, along with Maine CDC, has updated our “Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction” to include health and safety precautions that have been developed by public health experts.

These science-based protocols, which follow national best practices, include the use of face coverings and physical distancing, and they’ll be supported by up to $165 million in Federal CARES Act funding to be distributed to school systems across Maine.

I recognize that more is needed, but this is just a start-up amount – funding to help them get going for planning for the fall - and I am certainly hopeful that Congress will support additional funding to support the safe-operations of our schools.

This week I also announced we will provide schools with public health guidance in the form of a three-tiered health advisory system, helping them make decisions about when, whether and how to bring students back to the classroom.

This new tiered system will take into account public health metrics on a county by county basis and it will translate them into three color-based categories: red, yellow, and green. This is what several other states have also done.

A red category says that a county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that remote learning, rather than in-person learning, is preferred.

A yellow category indicates that a county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that hybrid learning models should be adopted, so some at home and some in classroom.

A green category indicates that a county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread so in-person learning can fully be adopted.

This public health status of each county will be updated biweekly starting July 31 and will be available publicly.

Support for child care is also important along with school support. That is why we have also targeted another $8.4 million in federal CARES Act funding — on top of $11 million we previously announced — to child care providers, making sure that parents can go to work, and make sure they know their kids are safe. That funding will support our youngest children and their working parents, and the dedicated providers and their staff.

We know that in order for our economy to fully recover, Maine parents need to be able to return to work when they feel comfortable and knowing that their children are safe.

The actions we took this week are a big step in that direction.

This is Governor Janet Mills. Thank you for listening and please stay safe.