MILO — Via a 7-1 school board vote in favor of the “Return to School Plan,” SAD 41 students will be heading back to the classroom four days a week under the current green designation and a reduced number according per grade level should the status change to yellow. Regardless of the district color status, full-time remote learning will be available for families requesting this method of instruction.
Return to School Plan information will be posted at https://sites.google.com/msad41.us/msad41.
The Return to School Plan was formally approved during an Aug. 5 board meeting held over Zoom. As part of the plan the first day of school will Thursday, Sept. 3, adjusted with some scheduled teacher workshop days moved up from later in the school year to provide additional time to plan for the reopening.
Assistant Superintendent/Curriculum Director Darcie Fournier provided a PowerPoint on the plan saying, “This is a draft and it needs to be a flexible working document as things change. We will update it as we need to.”
She explained the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) has a trio of stoplight colors for school districts, based on COVID-19 outbreaks and other factors and updated every two weeks, to provide guidance for districts. “Green allows us to be in-person as long as we can maintain all six required measures,” Fournier said.
These include symptom screenings conducted at the very start of the day, physical distancing to keep those in the buildings six feet apart, masks or face shields being worn under most circumstances, limiting the number of students on the bus to 24, staggered starts and finishes to the day across the three district school campuses and hand hygiene protocols for all.
Fournier said under the green designation, “The in-person model is 4:1 for all students.” SAD 41 would have in-person classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would consist of remote learning for all while the buildings undergo a deep cleaning, which would also be carried out over the weekend.
Should the SAD 41 designation be changed to yellow, there would be two options for students. One would be a switch to full online learning and the other is a 4:1 model for elementary students and 2:3 for middle and high school with half coming in Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half attending Thursdays and Fridays.
Under the elevated risk of the red designation, everyone would be online.
“We knew from the beginning there is no perfect plan and I think it will be a work in progress as long as we continue to do it,” Superintendent Michael Wright said.
Board member Russ Carey cast the vote against the Return to School Plan and during discussions before the motion he said, “I still don’t understand our rush to get back to school.” Carey said his objections stemmed from the timeline, suggesting October as an alternative following a month of online learning to allow SAD 41 officials to monitor what is going on elsewhere in the state with students starting in-person learning.
“We are taking a chance I don’t think is warranted on our students and staff lives with this disease,” Carey said.”Until we have a vaccine or medicine we are not going to be sure people walking in the building or getting on the bus are safe.”
“I’m just thinking why do we have to go in September, that’s the question,” he said.
“The weather is nice now, kids can go outside now, classrooms can go outside, bus rides will be nicer,” Brownville Elementary Principal Carol Smith said. She said instances of student sickness will likely be fewer than in years past with all the new health and safety measures to be in place.
“I don’t think we’re rushing, we have spent a lot of time on our plan,” she said.
Wright was then asked about staff who will be working remotely and he said “there are currently five people who have given us medical notes.”
“I’m in 100 percent agreement with Mr. Carey,” Penquis Valley High School science teacher Katie Joyner-Roberston said. “It simply isn’t safe in the way we are all pretending it to be.”
She also brought up inevitable discipline issues that will arise from students not following the health and safety protocols.
Smith mentioned that Brownville and Milo recreation programs have been held without problems. “We also are not saying to parents you have to send your kids back,” she said.
“It was extremely, extremely hard to communicate with my children on the Internet and online learning,” Brownville special education teacher Betsy Bessey said. “I don’t think delaying the start is the magic answer.”
“If we were to delay I think it would make it even harder on the kids and we would see an even bigger deficit academically,” Milo Elementary counselor Sarah Mower said. She mentioned children have struggled after not seeing their friends and this has taken a toll on their families as well.
“I think delaying will not benefit the kids and parents,” Mower said.
“I just want to say all the colleges in the area are having these same issues,” Board Chair Roberta Trefts said before the directors took the vote, mentioning some struggles her students at Husson University experienced last spring with remote learning.
In their reports, building principals each mentioned they have been busy planning for the fall.
Penquis Valley High School Principal Michael Rollins said staff have been “extremely busy planning for the fall in the hope we could adopt something soon in order to get to the finite details of the schedule.”
In his board report Rollins wrote that once a plan has been approved, “We here at Penquis Valley High School will work on creating a schedule that will enable all students to get the credits they need, while taking into consideration some staffing needs. This will be quite a challenge with the complexity of our schedule. We will also develop a plan for the physical layout of classrooms, traffic patterns, etc. Signs will be ordered for walls and floors to ensure safe social distancing. We will also be sure to communicate in detail to parents/guardians, students and staff all necessary changes and new procedures we will be following moving forward.”
In the public comment portion of the meeting, former board member Marie McSwine mentioned there are several volunteers willing to make and donate masks for students. She said this would likely be an on-going need in the months to come.
Trefts also asked the board to think about having its meetings in-person with students and staff returning to their buildings. The possibility of having remote capabilities for directors and others unable to attend for health reasons was also brought up.