Amber Eliason Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal file

LEWISTON — McMahon Elementary School Principal Amber Eliason has received her first COVID vaccine and is scheduled to get her second on April 10.

That means when she returns from the April break, “I will be fully vaccinated.”

Once a school worker is fully vaccinated, he or she does not have to quarantine if exposed to someone with COVID-19.

There are no numbers, but school administrators and the Maine Department of Education report that school staff are finding vaccine appointments; several principals estimate a majority of their staff has had their first shot.

That’s resulted in a definite “noticeable shift among staff. It’s like we can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel,” Eliason said.

“We are cautiously optimistic. Vaccinations are an important first step, but we have a ways to go before we are out of the woods.”


Her school is teaching with the hybrid model, two days a week in person, the remaining days remote. Exceptions are when COVID cases emerge which can prompt an entire school to go fully remote.

“We have had two extended closures,” Eliason said. “One in December into January for a total of four weeks, one in February for one week.”

The Maine Department of Education points out that unlike other states, Maine schools have been open all year. Most schools offer in-person learning two days a week or more, except when there is exposure to COVID and they must go fully remote. 

Pender Makin, commissioner of the Maine Department of Education, Andree Kehn/Sun Journal file

In-person learning is important for a child’s social, emotional and educational growth, Education Commissioner Pender Makin said in a prepared statement, but remote learning and hybrid learning has been essential at times to keep students and staff safe.

School staff have responded in resourceful ways, Makin said, redesigning “hundreds of years of public education this year while keeping students safe.”

With no playbook or time to prepare, teachers “are reaching students in-person, virtually and creatively. Amazing innovations have blossomed out of this experience, many of which will help to redesign education in the future for the better.”

Schools and teachers have taken classes outdoors, reconfigured gyms, libraries and other spaces, “even tents and yurts have been procured” to create room to social distance students.

Schools with more space have been better able to keep students physically in school and 3 feet apart. “Other already cramped schools needed to adopt a hybrid model to meet distancing requirements,” Makin said.

The state’s school protocols of universal masking in schools, and distancing of 3 feet are working, Makin said. “This is demonstrated week after week as new case rates in schools remain lower than those of the general population.”

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