Dr. Ted Sussman of Houlton speaks during the local school district's board meeting on Aug 24, 2021. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Good morning from Augusta. 

QUOTE OF THE DAY: “Today after hours of deliberation with our administrative team, it is very obvious that we have a significant outbreak in our schools,” RSU 29 Superintendent Richard Lyons said. Three-quarters of middle schoolers in the Houlton-area district may have to quarantine due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

What we’re watching today

Recent examples in Maine show the threat only a few recorded cases can pose to continued in-person learning. More than a dozen Maine schools have already seen COVID-19 outbreaks in the first few weeks of classes, the Maine Department of Education said last week. Others that have not reached outbreak status have still required students to quarantine and switch to remote learning due to possible virus exposure.

The start of the school year here coincided with the rise in COVID-19 cases due to the spread of the delta variant. That has posed a challenge for Maine schools that planned to bring back all students five days a week and have fewer remote options planned compared with last year, when some at-home learning was expected in most districts.

The striking factor so far in the relatively small number of cases ending in-person learning in certain schools across the state. With eight active cases, the Houlton school district is switching to remote learning as of Tuesday after determining that 75 percent of middle school students would have to quarantine as well as 25 percent of high schoolers.

The Madison school district is another example. It did not have to go remote last year and operated on a hybrid model where half of students attended at once, said superintendent Bonnie Levesque. But the district is going remote for the rest of the week after just three cases at the elementary school, one case at the middle school and one at the high school meant about 100 children would have to quarantine. Then, a set of cases at a daycare where several teachers send their children meant those teachers had to stay home with their children. 

“It’s very frustrating,” Levesque said. 

Even more federal money is on the way for schools after the approval of Maine’s $137 million plan for recent stimulus funds. But the year is starting with great difficulty. The Legislature’s education committee will be meeting at 9 a.m. for a briefing from the Maine Department of Education and the university system on how things have gone so far. Follow along here.

The Maine politics top 3

— “Maine is among the 5 states where COVID-19 cases are expected to keep rising,” Jessica Piper, Bangor Daily News: “The reproduction rate refers to the number of people, on average, to whom each person with COVID-19 spreads the virus. If it dips below one, cases will begin to fall, while cases increase if it remains greater than that. Maine, with an estimated reproduction rate of 1.06, is one of five states where the rate is currently above one, according to the model’s estimates. Researchers caution that such estimates are preliminary and subject to revision.”

— “Feds approve Maine’s plan for spending new child abuse prevention money,” Lia Russell, BDN: “The state plans to use its federal funding to expand the reach of a range of family therapy programs, as well as investing in a statewide program that sends trained workers into the homes of new parents to provide parenting education. It also plans to start funding a new program aimed at families whose children are at risk of being sent to foster care or inpatient psychiatric treatment, or are just returning home from those circumstances.”

— “Private eye denied license over Facebook posts asks Supreme Court to find Maine violated his freedom of speech,” Judy Harrison, BDN: “Joshua A. Gray, whose firm NSI Surveillance & Investigation is based in Boston, claims the Maine Department of Public Safety, which licenses private investigators in Maine, violated his right to free speech under the First Amendment when the agency denied him a license.”

The public safety department said the investigator’s Facebook posts about a fatal police shooting showed he did not have the “good character” to be a private eye. The Maine Supreme Judicial Court upheld the agency’s decision not to issue Gray a license earlier this year. 

Today’s Daily Brief was written by Jessica Piper, Caitlin Andrews and Michael Shepherd. If you’re reading this on the BDN’s website or were forwarded it, you can sign up to have it delivered to your inbox every weekday morning here.

To reach us, do not reply directly to this newsletter, but contact the political team at mshepherd@bangordailynews.com, candrews@bangordailynews.com or jpiper@bangordailynews.com.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...