AUBURN — Mayor Jason Levesque has called a special meeting of the City Council on Tuesday in response to the School Department’s decision to alter its return-to-school plans.

Levesque called the special meeting Friday, roughly one hour after the School Committee removed the option for four-day in-person instruction, which stirred debate on his social media page.

On Monday, Levesque said he called the meeting to coordinate the municipal response to the changes — everything from after-school and day care concerns to restrictions on city recreation facilities.

“Primarily, it’s to make sure staff and elected officials are supporting the decision of the school board and make sure we’re not doing anything contrary to the (Maine Department of Education) best practices or anything that will put children at risk,” he said.

On Friday, the School Committee voted 5-2 during an emergency meeting to remove the four-day in-person option from its plan due to updated procedures on contact tracing issued by the state.

That means students can attend classes two days a week and learn at home the other three days or get fully remote instruction.


During Friday’s meeting, Superintendent Connie Brown said the four-day model had students in cohorts, or groups, as large as 20, under a 3-foot distancing guideline.

The updated standard operating procedure from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention requires contact tracing of all people within 6 feet of an infected person wearing a mask or not, leading school officials to determine that it would not be feasible for schools to trace all of the contacts of students if they were 3 feet apart.

“It became clear to me that the model we have adopted is not feasible to comply with the SOP,” Brown told the School Committee.

The agenda for Tuesday’s special meeting requests that Brown and School Committee Chairwoman Karen Mathieu “explain to us the rationale for the decision, and how the city can coordinate its actions appropriately.”

It then says discussion topics will include the possible “closure of before, during and after-school child care by the Recreation Department,” the “closure of all parks, recreation facilities and city sponsored events/programs in which children would be ‘mixing’ with other cohorts,” the “budgetary and staff impact,” the “affects on local businesses and working families,” and the “criteria for full reopening.”

When asked about the discussion on closing recreation programs and facilities, Levesque said it comes in response to concerns about “children co-mingling outside of school” in different groups than the cohorts they are paired with in the classroom.


Councilor Brian Carrier, the City Council’s representative to the School Committee, voted against the motion to drop the four-day model, stating he would ask Levesque to shut down parks and suggesting that the district cancel sports.

“If we are not contact tracing, as far as I’m concerned, I don’t think we should have sports,” he said.

Carrier did not immediately respond to requests for comment by the Sun Journal.

Levesque said the recreation program had about 85 spots to support “what we thought was a four-day option.” Now, he said, parents of hundreds more students could need sporadic care.

He said city officials have “a very good relationship” with the School Committee and superintendent’s office, and that he’s hoping Tuesday’s conversation can help them understand what would prevent the School Department from having a four-day model while meeting the CDC requirements.

“What do we need? Nobody’s told us that,” he said, adding that on the other side, “Are we set up to go full remote” if needed.


Following Levesque’s announcement of the special meeting, his Facebook post received more than 150 comments, many featuring a back-and-forth with Levesque.

One commenter said his post with the meeting’s agenda “was written in anger and sounds retaliatory.”

Others said rather than discussing the possible closure of Recreation Department programs, the city should instead be looking at how to adapt to the changes. While some supported the mayor’s backing of the four-day plan, some mentioned the fact that most major school districts in the state have settled on the same “2/3” model.

Levesque also responded to several comments regarding the school budget and earlier protests from school staff regarding the reopening plan.

He said Monday that “it’s a highly charged emotional discussion,” but that he’s hoping to have a “data-driven” conversation with school officials.


Asked about the special meeting, Councilor Holly Lasagna said she’s interested to see what the council’s role can be “in terms of telling the School Committee and School Department what they should be doing responding to the pandemic.”

“I also look forward to ensuring that the most up-to-date public health information from the state CDC informs any decisions that are made in regards to plans for starting school,” she said. “It is important to respect teachers’ opinions in this matter.”

Levesque said if the council arrives at a consensus on specific actions, those items would be addressed during future meetings. He said the discussion could lead to actions during the next School Committee meeting Wednesday.

The meeting will begin at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday in the Council Chamber at Auburn Hall, and also broadcast live on YouTube.

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