HOLLIS — Following a tour Thursday of an elementary school, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins advocated for more funding for schools and said decisions to reopen them should be made on a state or district level.

Collins’ visit to Hollis Elementary School comes amid a nationwide debate over whether to reopen schools in the fall and how to do so safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

President Trump has called for schools across the country to fully reopen and has threatened to revoke federal funding for schools if they don’t do so. He has pressured the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to reissue guidance for school reopening, saying a CDC recommendation for 6 feet of spacing for students was too restrictive.

Collins said the decision to reopen schools should be made at the state or even the district level. “In some areas of the country – like Texas, Arizona, Georgia and Florida – where we’ve seen an uptick in the number of COVID cases, decisions may be very different than those that are made in rural Maine where the incidence level is low or declining,” she said. “I don’t think you can have a one-size-fits-all approach. You have to look at the metrics for a particular school system.”

U.S. Sen. Susan Collins at Hollis Elementary School after touring the school Thursday morning and meeting with SAD 6 leaders. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In an email later Thursday, Collins reiterated that point in response to a question about whether it could be confusing for schools to be presented with guidelines from the CDC that the president has contradicted.

“The experts have somewhat differing views on the reopening of schools,” Collins said. “The American Academy of Pediatrics’ guidance focuses on the significant impact of lost instructional time on students, particularly for those with disabilities. The CDC takes a more cautious approach to reopening schools. As I have said, the circumstances are different for each state and even for each school system.

“I have confidence in local officials to evaluate their circumstances, and I hope that many Maine schools will determine that they are able to reopen safely for most of their students. Since the circumstances are so different from state to state, the President should defer to local decision makers.”

Collins also said she is opposed to withholding federal funding for districts that choose not to reopen and supports additional school funding in another coronavirus relief package. Maine has already received close to $44 million in federal aid for direct reimbursements to school districts for virus-related expenses.

“We’re going to need additional funding so that schools can reopen safely or adopt a hybrid system,” Collins said. “I think we need more funding, not threats to withhold funding.”

Collins met Thursday with School Administrative District 6 Superintendent Paul Penna, Assistant Superintendent Lori Napolitano and Hollis Elementary Principal Clay Gleason. Reporters were not allowed inside the building for the visit.

The district is one of the largest in Maine and like others around the state is in the midst of planning for what the fall will look like. Penna said further details about what reopening will look like for his district will be released later this summer, but officials are currently considering a number of safety precautions and are working with other districts in Cumberland and York counties to make sure they have the best available information.

The costs of reopening are myriad and could include a need for additional staff, personal protective and cleaning equipment, and transportation. The district has already budgeted an additional $500,000 in its proposed $51.2 million budget to help cover COVID-related expenses.

“Do we have enough to do all the things we need to do in this condition of a pandemic?” Penna said. “I would say certainly we don’t. That’s the message I hope she takes back with her.”

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