COVID-19 looks to be in the rearview mirror for many school districts as students return to classrooms this week.

Districts in Androscoggin, Franklin and Oxford counties, like much of the rest of the state, are following the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance for schools, which no longer recommends a masking mandate, social distancing or quarantine for students or staff exposed to COVID and asymptomatic. The CDC also ended its recommendation that schools conduct routine screening testing. Most schools ended their pooled testing programs in the spring.

Many superintendents did not even mention the pandemic in their welcome back letters to students, a far departure from the start of last school year when many districts were dealing with the complicated logistics of staggered schedules, drawing up new bus routes to allow for more distancing and requiring masking indoors.

“It has certainly been refreshing to be able to focus attention on topics much more appropriate for the educational realm versus those associated with a pandemic and all the steps we had to take in an attempt to decrease the spread of COVID-19,” Todd Sanders, superintendent for Phillips-based Maine School Administrative District 58, said in a letter to the community.

“I am truly hoping that this is the only time I will need to reference that this school year.”

Also in keeping with CDC guidelines, most districts have dropped the requirement that students or staff who previously tested positive for COVID must test negative in order to return to the classroom. Instead, individuals can return after five days of isolation and wear a well-fitting mask for another five days. If they test negative twice 48 hours apart, they can remove their mask before day 10.

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“State and Department of Education language really grounds itself in treating COVID like other illnesses,” Lewiston superintendent Jake Langlais said in an email to the Sun Journal.

At least one district will offer as-needed rapid tests for students if they develop symptoms during the school day. Regional School Unit 16 will offer Abbott BINAX Now rapid antigen tests for students who become symptomatic while on campus so long as they have a signed consent form on file. RSU 16 serves the towns of Mechanic Falls, Minot and Poland in Androscoggin County.

“Masking is a personal choice. We are not able to provide testing, etc., as we do not have the resources. We are not (conducting) pooled testing or contact tracing. We encourage vaccination but that is a family decision,” Langlais said. The Lewiston school district is the largest in the tri-county region, with about 5,200 students enrolled for the 2021-22 school year.

Also unlike last school year, vaccinations are now widely available for all age groups and individuals five years and older are eligible to receive at least one booster dose.


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