March 19, 2021
Dear Portland Public Schools families, staff and community members,
We want to close this week with our most recent updates about our planning to maximize in-person learning through the remainder of the year. Our continued success with our health and safety protocols, plans for additional testing capacity and educator vaccinations and the hope that our county will continue to maintain its current lower levels of COVID cases all lead us to believe that we can successfully close the school year with an enhanced hybrid learning experience at all levels. Please see our weekly COVID summary for the most up-to-date information about COVID cases associated with Portland Public Schools students and staff.
As we have shared, district data shows that most of our students are having a harder time this year. The ones struggling the most are our historically underserved populations, including students of color, English language learners, and students with special needs. For example, the district’s overall chronic absence rates have risen by almost 9% since this time last year, with the largest increases happening for these subgroups of students. 
We believe that if we provide more in-person learning opportunities, additional support, and re-establish more of a sense of 'normalcy,' then we will see reduced chronic absence, improved achievement, and improved mental health in the remainder of the school year.  We are working to have students in person as much as we can while staying diligent about our health and safety protocols. 
The following updates reflect our approach to working with educators at each grade span to determine the most effective path forward to improving our hybrid model for the remainder of the year:
High Schools
School leaders have worked over the past week with leadership teams and engaged staff on new proposals for increasing in-person instruction, based on the feedback from students and staff about the initial plans. Each school has drafted a revised plan that: 
  • Reflects a more traditional two-day hybrid approach like our other grade spans, and 
  • Focuses on providing students access to their core instructional blocks. 
Schools will communicate their school-specific updates at the start of next week, including their revised schedules, timeline for transition, and process to request to remain fully remote.
Elementary and Middle Schools 
School leaders have worked  with their staff to explore various strategies to increase in-person learning and improve our hybrid model. Each school has a unique context to consider. In an effort to maximize in-person learning when possible, we may need different approaches across schools, based on what’s feasible to do. We will continue to preserve our focus on students who are furthest from opportunity as we make these decisions. 
We are discussing with our collective bargaining representatives the physical distancing requirements for middle school to determine if it would be possible to increase the number of in-person days for all students. We anticipate that we will make a decision by the end of next week about the strategies to increase in-person learning at both the elementary and middle school level.
As you may know, the federal Centers for Disease Control today revised its physical distancing guidelines for school classrooms. The Maine Department of Education also put out a statement on the issue. We are using CDC guidance to inform our planning. However, space challenges remain at the school level, including the need to still maintain six feet of distance between adults in the school building and between adults and students; in common areas such as school lobbies and auditoriums; and when students can’t wear masks, such as when eating or drinking.
Our families also have a vital role in helping us realize plans for increasing in-person instruction. We ask families to be even MORE vigilant about following protocols of masking, social distancing and handwashing and communicating with us about any symptoms – not just at school but in the community, which is the source of most of the positive cases for students and staff. And please, do not send students to school if they are symptomatic or – if they have been tested for COVID – before they receive notice of  a negative result.  Finally, as April break approaches, please see the latest travel guidance

Xavier Botana

The Portland Public Schools stands in solidarity with Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) communities across the United States, condemning the hate crimes being perpetrated by white supremacist and misogynist ways of thinking and acting. We want our AAPI students and families to know that racism and xenophobia are not tolerated in the Portland Public Schools.
According to data released in March by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, hate crimes against Asian Americans in the largest 16 U.S. cities spiked by nearly 150 percent in 2020, while overall hate crimes dropped by 7%. Portland is not immune from such acts of hatred targeting Asian Americans, as demonstrated by this week’s incident in the city.
We acknowledge that these violent hate crimes did not begin with COVID-19. Anti-Asian sentiment has been going on in our nation for centuries. The United States history has many examples of government-sanctioned racism against Asian Americans, including the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Japanese Internment during World II. 

We recognize that condemning this act of white supremacist terrorism is not sufficient. Words are not enough. We must do our part to end the hate – of racism, marginalization, and invisibility of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. We commit to lifting up the voices of AAPI students, families, and staff in combating this wave of violence. There are multiple ways to demonstrate solidarity through education, action, and other means. Here’s where to begin: We share with you the following resources in efforts of stopping AAPI hate.

The Portland Public Schools puts out a weekly COVID advisory each Friday. It includes the number of positive cases associated with our schools during the past week and any outbreak declarations or building closures as a result. Staff, families and staff at impacted schools are immediately notified of positive cases and closings, but the weekly advisory is an effort to keep the broader PPS community informed. The advisory is posted at the end of the day on Fridays in the District Spotlight section of the district's homepage. Here’s the link to the March 19th update.

Gov. Janet Mills and the CDC recommend that people do not travel at this time. 

Currently, per the CDC, international travel still requires quarantine and testing, even for those fully vaccinated. READ MORE.

Donna Colello, the hardworking, dedicated head custodian at Ocean Avenue Elementary School, is one of the top 10 finalists nationwide in the annual Custodian of the Year contest run by the Cintas Corp. The Portland Public Schools community is now invited to vote online for "Miss Donna" to put her over the top and become the Cintas 2021 Custodian of the Year. Help her win a $10,000 cash prize and help her school receive more than $5,000 in products and more in training. Donna is the only finalist from the Northeast and one of only two women in the top 10. From now through April 16, community members are encouraged to vote for Donna using this link. Each person can vote once per day! Learn more.

Superintendent Xavier Botana presented his FY22 budget proposal to the Portland Board of Public Education on March 16. The Board referred the budget to its Finance Committee, which held an initial review of the budget on March 18. The Board Finance Committee will now hold a public hearing on the budget at a Zoom meeting on Monday, March 22, at 6 p.m.
The Zoom link is: 

Go to BoardDocs to view the agenda and get more information. The budget process is just beginning. There will be a series of Board and City Council meetings and additional public hearings before a budget proposal goes to Portland voters on June 8. View the FY22 budget calendar.
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