Winslow School Superintendent Peter Thiboutot says a committee is deciding how town schools will operate in the upcoming academic year. The district still lacks specific information from the state to formulate a back-to-school plan. The committee is scheduled to meet again Tuesday. Above, Thiboutot speaks in May 2018 during a school budget meeting at Winslow High School. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

WINSLOW — Although Gov. Janet Mills has announced guidelines for school reopenings this fall, members of the Winslow School District’s back-to-school committee feel they need more information before moving forward with a plan to return students to classrooms.

Superintendent Peter Thiboutot told the committee Tuesday that because the Mills administration has not released specific details regarding its “three-tiered system,” the committee would have to continue formulating plans for remote, hybrid and in-person instruction for the upcoming school year.

The tiered system will designate counties as green, yellow or red, based on the risk of the spread of COVID-19. Using this system, school districts will be able to plan their school years. A specific breakdown by county is expected to be released July 31.

“Since the last time that we met, there was a conference on Friday,” Thiboutot said. “They talked about the released framework. They talked about updates to that framework. But something we were all waiting to hear was what is the metric? What is our zone?

“Are we red? Meaning we have to go back to remote learning because there are too many cases. Or are we yellow? Yellow means we have some sort of hybrid model. Or are we green? And that means we’re good to go, but we need to have some safety pieces.

“That has been put off until July 31. So, in the meantime, we are encouraged to continue what we’ve been doing, which is to plan for three different models. So that’s where we’re at.”

Winslow Public Schools initially implemented distance learning in mid-March, when the coronavirus began to increase in severity. The district announced in April it would maintain remote learning for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year, as had been recommended by Commissioner Pender Makin of the Maine Department of Education.

In the meantime, Thiboutot said, the district has been looking at a similar set of guidelines released by lawmakers in Georgia.

“The Georgia model is a model we think is going to be somewhat aligned to what Maine is saying we should be doing,” Thiboutot said. “And it has different components, such as safety, transportation, food service.

“So what we did is we took that model and changed some of the wording on it to make it the Maine model, and we started to look at what are the components that the Maine Department of Education says we need to have in place compared to what Georgia has in place. We started to fill in the blanks in terms of what we felt needed to be done.”

After the district analyzed this model, administrators presented it to the faculty at the elementary school, junior high and high school.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the committee heard from the district’s principals after they met with their staffs.

Erica Gower, assistant principal at Winslow Elementary School, said the school’s staff asked many questions about how the school day would operate if schools return to in-person instruction.

“There are a lot more questions than ideas,” Gower said. “But I think these questions help us sift through some of these ideas that we’ve had and talked about as we’ve come along.

“They really are thinking about how we can get back here, while being thoughtful about who is going to be cleaning the desks, how often they need to be cleaned, what recess will be like. …”

Gower said the goal is to get back to in-person instruction, but only if students and staff members are kept healthy and safe.

Jason Briggs, principal at Winslow Junior High School, said his faculty is most concerned with being able to form relationships with students if they continue with remote learning.

“A big piece in our level is concerns of how we’re going to engage and build relationships with the kids,” Briggs said. “It is pretty clear with our group that community is important, and getting to know the kids and the parents.

“We were OK at that because we already knew the kids when we shut down, but a whole new group is coming in so to build that connection — how do we do that?” 

Briggs also said the junior high school faculty has discussed the need for more training on how to teach remotely if that is the route the district follows.

Chad Bell, principal at Winslow High School, shared thoughts similar to Gower’s and Briggs’.

“You can definitely tell that there’s a lot of questions out there,” Bell said. “We had a brainstorming session and discussed things like cleaning the desks, how often we need to clean them, who will clean the desks, busing.

“We had conversations about face coverings versus shields, so there are a lot of these other questions that we need the state to provide more guidance on.”

The committee also discussed how it will administer personal protective equipment, such as face shields, gowns, cloth face coverings and hand sanitizer.

Sarah DeWitt, the district’s nurse, told the committee many concerns were voiced during Monday’s Association of School Nurses board meeting.

“There was a lot of angst discussed by school nurses worried about how to keep school communities safe and how we do this on the nurses’ end,” DeWitt said. “How do we isolate? Do we have proper space to isolate these kids we think might have COVID? And what’s the liability of the nurses if something is missed. So on the nursing end, there is a lot of concern with how do we do this.

“How do we keep masks on kids? Some of our more-minuscule work, if you would, (provides) Band-Aids for minor things, bloody noses. Some of those things are going to have to not come to the nurse’s office while we have more-infectious things going on. And is the staff going to be OK with that? There was a lot of discussion.” 

Thiboutot said there is possibility the district could receive additional funding from the national Coronavirus Relief Fund.

“From what we’re hearing, this could impact schools greatly,” Thiboutot said. “There’s more to come on that. We’re hopefully going to hear something on Friday.” 

Thiboutot said if the district were to receive this funding, it could be used to hire more staff members for child care or additional substitute teachers. Or it could be used for additional sanitation at town schools.

The committee is scheduled to meet again next Tuesday, when Thiboutot hopes to create a draft of a back-to-school plan.

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