Hall-Dale school counselor Tara Kierstead and teacher Tim Soule package food July 24 in the Middle School gym in Farmingdale. School districts across Maine are formalizing plans for reopening to provide classroom teaching and food security for at-risk students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Kierstead and Soule collect, organize and bag enough items for several meals each week before delivering it to students in the communities Hall-Dale serves. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Green means go, right? Not necessarily.

While the Maine Department of Education on Friday released its color codes for Maine school districts — all were given green, which means full in-person learning is allowed with safety precautions set by the state — some central Maine school officials are still sorting out their plans.

Still others are set to proceed with a hybrid approach that will include some remote work, or the option of full remote learning.

Here’s a roundup of how some schools in the region planned a return to school as of Friday.

AUGUSTA 

Augusta Public Schools are among those not preparing for a full in-person student experience.

“The requirements for social distancing and the precautions that must be implemented to reduce the risk level have eliminated the ‘all students’ in school option until some of the safety requirement/guidelines are relaxed,” Superintendent James Anastasio wrote in a July 24 letter. “Health and safety of students and employees is at the forefront of all discussions and committee work.”

According to the letter, 50% of students will be in school for classroom instruction on Monday and Tuesday, the other 50% will be in school on Thursday and Friday. Wednesday will be for educators to prepare materials and virtually contact students as needed.

The school buildings will be cleaned daily, and deep cleaning will take place Wednesday and on the weekend.

In his letter, Anastasio said four committees — focused on physical health and safety, social, emotional behavioral and mental health, academics and student learning, and expectations for hybrid and remote learning models — are developing Augusta’s reopening plan. He said they were expected to have completed the “first phase” of their work by Friday, and hopes to present the proposed plan to the school board at its Aug. 5 meeting.

 

GARDINER AREA

Superintendent Pat Hopkins said School Administrative District 11, which encompasses the towns of Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner, said the school board will consider approving the draft plan Thursday. She said three models have been developed for each of the color designations, and the district will provide a “remote online learning academy” for families that would prefer their children learn at home full-time.

Even with the green designation, MSAD 11 may not automatically open with five days of in-person instruction at its school buildings. They would still need all students and staff to wear masks, be able to properly social distance and follow the rest of the criteria for in-person learning.

“We cannot open if we are not sure we’re meeting the CDC guidelines,” Hopkins said. “We want to open, we want students back. But we can only do so if we are meeting those guidelines.”

She said the hybrid model that would come with a yellow designation would see half of the students learning in-person Monday and Tuesday, the other half in-person at their schools on Thursday and Friday; the cohort not receiving in-person instruction would take part in online learning those days. All students would be home on Wednesdays, while teachers offered office hours and had planning time, and the school buildings underwent a deep cleaning.

“Wednesday would be an opportunity for students to reach out to get some support, work on assignments from class and would allow for deep cleaning,” Hopkins said. “We’re trying to keep the same students in the same cohorts.”

Hopkins said she planned to recommend the district push back its start date from Aug. 31 to Sept. 8.

“That will give teachers and staff more time to make sure classrooms are prepared to meet physical distancing requirements,” she said, “and practice new routines staff and students must abide by to make sure we’re meeting CDC guidelines.”

 

HALLOWELL AREA 

When asked what Regional School Unit 2 — which serves Dresden, Hallowell, Farmingdale, Monmouth and Richmond — had planned for its school reopening, Acting Superintendent Mary Paine offered her most recent update on the district’s website as what she could say.

“I may have more details early next week,” she wrote in an email.

In her update dated July 26, Paine said when the state released its reopening criteria it meant the RSU COVID-19 Response Team had to make some changes in its plan to “ensure they are in alignment” with those guidelines.

“The main question we must answer is ‘Under which return-to-school scenario will we be able to meet and enforce the safety criteria?’ Paine wrote. “At this time we are finding that the new safety criteria present significant barriers to a 100% return to school, and we are considering options, which include a hybrid model that would reduce the number of students in our schools at one time and allow us to provide a high quality experience, both in-person and remotely.”

She plans to present a finalized draft of the district’s proposed reopening plan to the RSU 2 Board of Directors this coming week.

 

MARANACOOK AREA

Superintendent Jay Charette said Maranacook Area Schools/Regional School Unit 38, which serves the communities of Manchester, Mount Vernon, Readfield and Wayne, is still developing its plan.

“Over the course of the next week, we will be looking to finalize the details ahead of a presentation to the school board on August 12,” he said in an email. “Lots of tough decisions to make in that time frame as my teams look to reopen with student and staff safety being the number one priority.”

 

OAKLAND AREA

In RSU 18, which includes Belgrade, Rome, Oakland, China and Sidney, Superintendent Carl Gartley previously planned on a green designation as “meaning all of our students are going to be in school,” while students also have the option of remote learning.

The school district also planned to provide a disposable mask for every student every day of school, he said.

The district has 1-to-1 technology and has recently acquired around 100 mobile wifi hotspots to give to any households that don’t have internet access.

 

SKOWHEGAN AREA

In MSAD 54, which includes Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan, Superintendent Jon Moody said that parents and students will “absolutely” have the option to begin the school year in-person or opt for remote learning. He added that additional updates on how the district will proceed in the fall will be presented at the Aug. 6 board of directors meeting.

At the board’s July 17 meeting, Moody presented a plan that emphasizes safety for students in school with priority given to younger students and communication and coordination between buildings.

Making these decisions, Moody said, was done in-part by working closely with other school districts to see how others are planning.

“Superintendents around our region have worked very closely together,” Moody said in an email on Friday. “This includes regular weekly or bi-weekly meetings since April and has continued throughout the summer.”

He added that locally, the district’s Regional Service Center, which houses Lawrence, Messalonskee, Skowhegan, Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow students, and the Tech Center region, which includes Bingham, Carrabec, Madison, MCI and Skowhegan, have also met regularly to talk, plan and share.

“There are some things that (make it) an exciting opportunity,” Moody previously said about the back-to-school planning. “…these are cool opportunities to rethink the way we provide an education for our kids.”

SHEEPSCOT VALLEY

According to a July 30 letter to parents from Superintendent Howard Tuttle, Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12 — which serves students from the towns of Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island, Whitefield and Windsor — a draft plan was approved by the Reopening Schools Safety Planning Committee, which still needs approval from the district’s Board of Directors.

The RSU 12 school board will review the plan at its Aug. 13 meeting, Tuttle said, and “hopefully, approve it.”

In his letter to parents, Tuttle said it is anticipated that all counties served by the district will fall into the green category for the start of the school year and “therefore will most likely be returning to in-person instruction.” According to the letter, RSU 12 is still expecting to start Sept. 1.

Like other districts, RSU 12 will be required to meet the state safety precautions to open for in-person instruction. They also will offer the hybrid learning model for a yellow designation, with half of the students attending Monday and Tuesday, the other half on Thursday and Friday. All students would have remote learning on Wednesdays and on the weekdays they are not scheduled for in-person instruction.

RSU 12 is asking parents to pick between two options: In-person learning to the fullest extent possible, with the understanding the district may have to switch between plans during the school year, or remote distance-learning full online option.

Families that choose the full online option are required to commit to it until at least Jan. 2, 2021; they could switch to the in-person option at that time. It is also recommended that families choosing Option 2 have high-speed internet, a computer and support from adults at home.

WINSLOW

In Winslow, Superintendent Peter Thiboutout previously said that the district’s back-to-school plan was inspired by a set of guidelines released by lawmakers in Georgia, where safety, transportation and food service are the main priorities.

“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,” Thiboutout said on July 21.

The main concern, school administrators previously said, is how schools will operate if facilities reopen when considering sanitation, social interactions and education. A big challenge that educators presented in Winslow is that like other students and teachers, remote learning does not allow the same level of engagement as learning inside of a classroom surrounded by peers.

In preparing for remote/hybrid learning, Thiboutout said on Tuesday that the district has purchased $52,000 worth of Google Chromebook computers and that the district is still considering using the old junior high school as extra classroom space if needed. A plan to close down the junior high school went into action in May 2019, when town officials decided to add a wing onto Winslow Elementary School for sixth-graders, and a wing onto the high school for seventh- and eighth-graders, after which the junior high would be closed.

Morning Sentinel staff writer Taylor Abbott contributed reporting. 

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