Remote learning week set for early January
MILO — Penquis Valley High School basketball players and cheering team members will start the 2020-21 season on Monday, Dec. 7, as the SAD 41 school board gave approval to winter sports during a Dec. 1 meeting conducted over Zoom.
Penquis Valley Athletic Director Jason Mills, who also coaches the high school boys basketball team, said the Maine Principals’ Association has provided more guidelines since he spoke to the board at the November meeting. He explained the first day of the high school season will be “skills, drills and conditioning for winter sports,” with team competition such as tryouts starting a week later and the first games against other schools set for Jan. 11.
Mills said similar to the fall, the high school basketball teams would only face schools from the same small group of fewer than a half dozen members. “We are still developing pods, I don’t know all our opponents yet,” he said.
For soccer, Penquis was in a pod featuring schools from northern Penobscot County including Lee Academy, Mattanawcook Academy in Lincoln, Schenck High School in East Millinocket and Stearns High School in Millinocket. Mills said this likely would change in the fall as these other schools are all in Penobscot County and should this county’s designation be changed from green to yellow then that would leave Penquis without any opponents.
“Masks are now required for players, games and practices,” Mills said as the coverings did not need to be worn during fall competition and in the winter will also be required of coaches, officials and everyone else in attendance. He said per the MPA, there will be no fans in the gym, which will have 50-person capacities, but “games will be streamed — we do have a camera in the gym” and varsity, JV and middle schools will be broadcast from the Walter “Eddie” Oakes Gymnasium.
Mills said some basketball rule adjustments include a coin flip to determine who gets the ball first rather than a jump ball, referees will be six feet away when giving players the basketball for in-bounds plays and foul shots, all timeouts will be 60 seconds to allow for mask breaks and hand sanitizing, players will sit six feet apart on the bench and nearby bleacher space and teams will not use the locker room as they show up to play in uniform.
He said for cheering there will be some limits on what can be included in a routine and the teams will not be performing at basketball games. Cheering squads will tape their competition routines to have these be judged off site.
When asked Mills said, “The plan is to have middle school as well because they missed out on the fall.”
“I still have difficulty thinking of how you can play basketball with a mask but they say it can be done,” Superintendent Michael Wright said while recommending the board approve winter sports play.
“I talked to some of the kids. They’re not thrilled about it but said if that’s how they can have a season they would wear it,” Mills said.
“I think it’s a good idea for kids to get as much normal as they can and the masks, they will wear them,” board member Chris Hamlin said.
After discussing the concept for two meetings, the board approved a plan that would have all students take part in a week of remote learning from Monday, Jan. 4, to Friday, Jan. 8, with the option of the following week (Jan. 11-15) being remote should there be a post-holiday uptick in COVID-19 cases in the region.
“Maybe a planned time out of the school building might prevent a bigger time later,” Wright said. He said over vacation families may end up gathering with other relatives including some from other states and this could lead to an increased risk of spreading COVID-19.
The superintendent said he felt as much advance notice of the change as possible should be given. He said remote learning poses challenges for families but should there be an uptick in cases then SAD 41 might not have a choice in how lessons are presented.
District administrators polled staff to see how they felt about a week or two of all remote learning to start the new year.
“For middle school we’re all for it I would say,” Penquis Valley Middle School Principal Tina Dumond said, mentioning teachers would prefer to be in the building to instruct their students remotely. She said after Thanksgiving some families who may have been at an elevated risk opted to have their children learn at home, but other families may not have done likewise despite also getting together with relatives from out of state.
Brownville Elementary School Principal Carol Smith said staff there were split 50/50, with those opposed expressing concern over the remote learning challenges and how some students may see the week or two as an extended vacation.
“The great majority of our faculty was in full support of it,” Penquis Valley High School Principal Michael Rollins said. “The basis is to be proactive and avoid the spread.”