SKOWHEGAN — Meeting Thursday night via Zoom, the Maine School Administrative District 54 board of directors discussed ways to keep schools safe in the time of COVID-19 and the ongoing process of selecting a new team nickname and mascot for Skowhegan Area High School.

Assistant Superintendent Jon Moody said the goal for fall is to have students at schools for in-person instruction.

Moody acknowledged some students and parents in MSAD 54, which includes Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Skowhegan and Smithfield, will not be comfortable with schools reopening.

He said administrators are working to make the district’s schools “as safe as we can, knowing the risk to students is minimal relative to others in our society.”

Assistant Superintendent John Moody briefed the MSAD 54 school board on Thursday on the district’s efforts to have students back in school this fall, noting that the risk to students posed by coronavirus is less than it is to other demographics. Morning Sentinel file photo

Moody said this can be done by minimizing transitions, improving hygiene, limiting interactions and getting students outside.

“There is also work being done about how to approach learning and grading with kids,” he said.

If school were to extend remote learning into the 2020-21 school year, Moody said, they would need systems for grading and providing feedback to students through a two-way platform, such as Powerschool or Google Classroom.

In other matters, Moody presented an update on the process for selecting a new school nickname and mascot. The process has been stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced administrators to focus on other concerns, including distance learning and meals for students.

The MSAD 54 board voted in March 2019 to retire the “Indians” nickname.

The process of selecting a new nickname and mascot began earlier this year, when community members were able to submit suggestions for a new mascot through an online platform as well as paper submissions. The district received more than 1,600 suggestions, which was then whittled down to 305.

Moody said Thursday the next step is for administrators to further trim the list and present it to the Support Services Committee and the Education Policy and Programming Committee. The two panels will then review the suggestions, with each committee bringing five options forward for students to consider.

Moody said he hoped to deliver the trimmed list to the committees in late July or early August.

From there, students in grades six through 12 will be asked to provide feedback, which will go to the MSAD 54 board, whose members will then make a final decision.

The goal, Moody said, is to have the process completed as early as possible in the fall.

“This is what feels realistic,” Moody said. “With everything going on, our focus has been on the budget and the transition (to remote learning).”

During the public comment section of Thursday’s meeting, community member Allison Dorko questioned a comment made during a previous meeting by a board member concerning the retired nickname.

“A board member commented that (students) came in Indians and they’re graduating Indians,” Dorko said. “This comment is evidence of systemic institutionalized racism in SAD 54. The board member who made the comment certainly knows the ‘Indians’ mascot symbol was retired and chooses to ignore that fact.”

Dorko said the MSAD 54 board is part of the school system, “which is why such comments indicate racism on an institutional scale in addition to an individual one.”

“Not having a mascot allows this racism to continue,” she said. “Choosing a new one will help this community move forward.”

Another community member asked what the board has done to improve education and raise awareness during Pride Month (June), when the world’s LGBTQ communities come together to celebrate the freedom to be themselves.

The original organizers chose June for Pride Month to pay homage to the Stonewall uprising in June 1969 in New York City, which helped spark the modern gay rights movement. Most Pride events take place each year in June, although some cities hold their celebrations at other times.

Moody said the district’s civil rights teams have worked to get information online about social issues, gender inequality and LGBTQ+ issues.

“We were the first in the state to have this information online for our students,” Moody said. “We posted a statement districtwide that came from our civil rights teams. In a normal year, we use the month of June to focus on this topic.”

In other matters:

• Superintendent Brent Colbry said the district had provided more than 400,000 meals to students in the community since school buildings were closed in March.

• A public hearing is planned for Tuesday to allow community members to ask questions and make comments about the budget proposal. The meeting will take place on the Zoom videoconferencing platform.

The board also discussed the smaller-scale graduation ceremony planned for Saturday at Skowhegan Area High School.

Following state guidelines, the school will have six families at one time inside the gymnasium. Each student will be allowed to bring six family members, the same as in previous years.

To comply with social-distancing recommendations, graduating students and their families will enter the facility through the lobby entrance and exit through the gymnasium. Each group of six graduates will have about 15 minutes in the gymnasium before being ushered out.

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