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School Board approves general pandemic plan for reopening schools in the fall

On Tuesday, July 28, 2020 Superintendent Donna Wolfrom presented the School Board with a framework for opening the schools this fall.  Over 80 people were in attendance for the Zoom videoconference meeting. Using guidelines provided by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Education, a committee comprised of administrators, teachers, and parents met six times since May to develop potential reopening plans. 

The most restrictive plan is referred to as the Red Model and entails remote learning at all times.  The second and most likely, the Yellow Model, is a hybrid of remote and in-school instruction.  Under the Yellow Model students would be divided into two groups and alternate with two and half days each of in-school instruction and remote learning per week.  The least restrictive models are Green: one model allowing for 100 percent of students to attend school following state guidelines and the last model allowing for 100 percent of students to attend school with no restrictions or guidelines.  Wolfrom emphasized that flexibility and adaptability is required in all models.  Anticipating a hybrid model, administrators are striving to place students from the same family on the same daily schedule, while maintaining a balance between gender and student needs.

At this point, the school department has been told to expect further instruction from the Maine Department of Education on July 31st.  Updates and changes will be provided every two weeks and will be based on data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.  In the meantime, families, students, and staff will be required to follow several guidelines upon the beginning of school.

Families, students, and staff will be asked to commit to daily safety measures in order for students to ride school buses and/or attend school.  Each day prior to arriving for in-school instruction, students and staff will be required to self-assess for symptoms related to COVID-19.  Should symptoms be present, school nurses must be contacted in order for them to determine if that person should remain at home.  Once a student or staff is cleared to arrive on the school campus, all people must maintain a distance of three feet while indoors.  Lunch will be delivered to students in their classrooms.  Students must keep a six-foot distance while eating.  Hand hygiene protocols and materials will be available throughout the schools. Everyone entering the buildings must wear masks.  Employee handbooks and Parent/Student handbooks, currently in draft format, will include a complete list of daily guidelines that must be adhered to.  Furthermore, families will be given the option of choosing 100-percent remote learning for their children if they are at a higher risk of infection or have other reasons that would require remote learning.  Families may switch from remote learning to in-school learning on a semester-by-semester basis.

While everyone is attempting to establish best safety measures, school nurses Jill Young and Erin Taylor stressed the importance of everyone following protocols in order for any success.  Young stated, "We don't stand a chance against this virus if we don't all do our parts."  Several teachers shared their concerns with following the hybrid model, in particular those with young children who would have added stress in trying to both provide in-school instruction and childcare for their own children.  While the majority of the teachers in attendance stated that the ideal is always to teach in person, they asked that the School Board and administrators remain open to further input in developing plans.

The School Board voted unanimously to approve the pandemic plan presented by Wolfrom in order to allow administrators with a general framework from which to continue their preparations.  School Board Chair Heather Altenburg requested that families and staff continue to share their ideas, concerns, and feedback with her via email.