Virus Outbreak Maine

Portraits of graduating seniors at Telstar Regional High School are displayed May 22, 2020, near the school's athletic field in Bethel, Maine.

(The Center Square) – With Maine facing a budget shortfall due to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, Education Department officials have briefed lawmakers on funds that will be needed to help schools reopen this fall with appropriate safety measures.

“This is a time to invest in education, and not to defund it,” Education Commissioner Pender Makin said in the legislative briefing, Maine Public Radio (MPR) reported. “We are going to need more and not less, in order to make everybody safe and to move forward with learning.”

Depending on how the coronavirus evolves, individual districts are seeking to adapt a number of plans.

“We have a piece of this equation over which we are not in control,” Makin said. “That is the trajectory of this virus. We can control, to some extent, our capacity to manage it, and keep it at bay, and to mitigate the negative impacts. But we can't control what happens with the virus.”

Makin told MPR last week that to adopt the Maine Center for Disease Control guidelines, the cost for schools statewide could top $300 million; the department hopes federal CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act funding could potentially help pay for it.

The reopening briefing before the legislature's Education Committee outlined plans to reconfigure school buildings, a face mask requirement for staff, and installation of Plexiglass shields in various areas. Officials also discussed distance learning methods and the impact of those on students with developmental disabilities.

Rep. Victoria Kornfield, D-Bangor, spoke of concerns for how the model is affecting students with special needs.

“We also know that remote learning does not equal face-to-face learning, particularly for special ed. students and the very young,” Kornfield said. “I have a grandson at home who is a special ed. student, so I am seeing it firsthand. It does not work remotely. He's just not motivated by a screen.”

The state is looking into modifications for the fall, department officials said, and there also are plans to make further investments in online instruction.