LEWISTON — The school district will ask the state to waive the minimum requirement for 175 school days in light of concerns about the rise in COVID-19 cases.

The School Committee voted unanimously Monday to allow the superintendent to apply for a school day waiver.

If granted, Lewiston schools would be excused from the Department of Education’s requirement.

Lewiston Public Schools Superintendent Jake Langlais. Sun Journal file photo

Before the pandemic, waivers were granted for school districts which had an exceptionally large number of snow days, or similar difficulties, Superintendent Jake Langlais said.

However, when the pandemic began to hit Maine hard last year and schools began to close or switch to remote learning, the governor issued an emergency order waiving the school days requirement. As cases in Maine continue to rise in recent weeks, Langlais said those concerns are ongoing and remote learning is not an ideal option.

“I’ll say upfront that I have very, very strong feelings about remote education,” Langlais said. “I think it may work for very few students; it does not work for most, if not almost all. The idea that we could see a spike in things and have to go remote as a solution, to me, feels like a bad one. If we don’t have the staff, we should call it a day.”

At present, these days would need to be made up in June. The school calendar already stretches into the third week of June.

“I can’t look a teacher in the eyes right now and say that if we have a disruption now, we’re going to extend the school year,” Langlais said. “It’s really late in the year, our buildings are hot, the kids are done, the staff, and I love them, they’re done.”

Last year, the state waived the requirement for all school districts as part of Gov. Janet Mills’ emergency order, Langlais explained. The emergency order has since been lifted, but Langlais believes the disruptions caused by COVID-19 and staffing shortages should merit waiving the requirement for a second year.

“What I’m asking tonight is for your vote, your permission, to apply for a wavier in a way that has never been done, to my knowledge,” Langlais said. “We’ll be asking the state of Maine to grant us a waiver for days that we just don’t have control over, so we can make the right decisions … I think if there were ever a time to preserve (summer break) for our staff and our kids, now is it.”

With the approval of the School Committee, it will be up to the state to decide whether to grant Maine’s second largest school district’s request.


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