More changes for Portland schools as remote learning is extended

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Portland Public Schools has made changes to the school calendar, grading system, and year-end celebrations to reflect the extension of remote learning through the end of the school year.

Because the state in response to the coronavirus pandemic has waived the requirement for 175 days of instruction this year, the School Department will not make up snow days. The original school calendar had 176 days of instruction. With snow days the last day of school would have been June 18; instead the last day of school will be June 12, for a total of 170 days of instruction.

Teachers will continue working until June 19 to fulfill their contracts.

The School Board approved the changes in a remote meeting on April 28. 

The final two weeks of school, June 1-June 12, will be focused on addressing gaps in learning and helping students who have fallen behind because of the challenges of remote learning.

The board discussed giving students who have met the learning standards the option for May 29 to be their last day of school. Other proposals were for students who have met the standards to help tutor other students, engage in service-learning projects, or help with food distribution.  

“Traditional summer school is probably unlikely to happen but can we do some form of remote online credit recovery and things along those lines.”  Superintendent Xavier Botana said. “We are looking to devote those two weeks to every student that has not yet met standards. So it basically is a two-week summer school for those students.” 

For the remainder of the school year, one day per week will be devoted to providing targeted support for students who are most disengaged or farthest behind, who may need time to do revisions to assignments or work one-on-one with teachers during “office hours.” The catch-up day will be Fridays for elementary and middle schools and Wednesdays for high schools. 

Pre-kindergarten was canceled when school buildings were closed, but teachers will be providing online activities and distributing paper packets of activities to parents who want them. 

Spring sports seasons have been canceled, too.

Grading has also changed for the last quarter or third trimester, because of the inequalities some students face in remote learning. The grading scheme for students in kindergarten through eighth grade and at Casco Bay High School will be that they have either “met” or “not yet met” standards. At Portland High School and Deering High School students will be graded “pass” or “insufficient evidence.” For all high schools the final quarter or trimester grades will not be part of their calculated GPAs. 

Senior capstone project requirements have also been revised so that they do not have to be presented to an authentic audience. 

Regarding graduation, more than 80 percent of students surveyed by the schools indicated they prefer a graduation ceremony in the first week of August rather than a virtual graduation ceremony in June. Because of the continuously evolving social distancing recommendations, the schools are planning different versions of what those events might look like.

For high school graduations, if the restrictions on large gatherings are lifted, they hope to hold a traditional ceremony. But if not, they are considering other arrangements: perhaps in a drive-in format that would allow gathering while still maintaining physical distancing. 

For elementary and middle school graduations, the schools are considering “step-up” ceremonies held at the beginning of the next school year to mark the transition of students from elementary to middle school or from middle to high schools. 

Among additional support systems for students, Botana said the School Department will be opening health centers this month that will operate throughout the summer.

Correction: This story was revised May 6 to correct the dates of the last day of school for teachers and students.