WINSLOW — School officials in Winslow are grappling with how to bus students to and from school this fall given the need for social distancing brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said the state’s recommendation is for 28 to 34 students per bus, about half the normal capacity.

Winslow schools Superintendent Peter Thiboutot Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

“If that’s the case, it causes some pretty serious problems,” Thiboutot told the Winslow Town Council on Monday night.

Prior to the meeting, Winslow Public Schools officials posted a 13-page reopening plan on the department’s website.

Finding bus drivers is another issue as Winslow sorts out its plans to reopen schools for in-person learning. Thiboutot said he expected to advertise soon for drivers.

The district has also secured an additional school bus, bringing its fleet to 10.

“The thing with Winslow is that we have a lot of routes that go out into the country, so it becomes difficult to plan how you’re going to do double runs because of the time it takes to go out and come back,” Thiboutot said Tuesday.

“One of the other things that we will do, is we will meet with the bus director Ashley Pooler and we will meet with the bus drivers so we can look at our routes, our families and make adjustments as necessary in order to make the best transportation possible.”

Pooler, the town’s transportation supervisor, said she is working on her own plan before they meet, too.

“I’m doing socially distant spacing on the buses — one child per every other row,” Pooler said. “Everyone from the same household must sit together in the same row.”

Winslow school officials said there are three possible learning scenarios available to town schools: fully in person, fully remote or a hybrid model that combines both.

Winslow Public Schools will use a phased approach, with certain dates later in the year scheduled for evaluations of how to proceed based on health and safety standards and concerns, according to officials.

Thiboutot said he emailed a survey to parents Tuesday morning asking if they plan to send their children to school or to keep them home and utilize the remote learning option.

The survey, which is to be returned by Friday, also asks whether parents plan to utilize school buses and, if so, in the morning, afternoon or both.

“The parents have been extremely responsive, extremely helpful,” Thiboutot. “I am very, very pleased with the input we are getting from the parents and the feedback.”

Students and their parents will be required to self-evaluate for symptoms before boarding school buses and entering schools. Face coverings are required on buses, as is the use of hand sanitizer for anyone boarding or exiting a bus.

“Some of (the drivers) are really nervous,” Pooler said, “but some are OK, as we have PPE (personal protective equipment) for their safety.”

The first day of school is set for Monday, Aug. 31, as a hybrid model, where students will be split into two cohorts. Cohort 1 includes students whose last names begin with A-La, while Cohort 2 includes students from Le-Z.

The cohorts will alternate days of in-person instruction for the first four weeks of school.

The plan has been “conceptually approved,” Thiboutot said, meaning some details are still being finalized but the overall framework is set.

The days where students are not in school will be different than remote learning from the spring. Students will be working independently on assignments received during in-person instruction. Each student will receive a school-issued laptop.

The district has scheduled an in-service day for Sept. 18 to evaluate and decide the next phase of the school year. The School Board is set to meet Sept. 21 to consider and approve the next steps of learning. The district has left open the possibility of fully in-person, fully remote or hybrid instruction.

Thiboutot said an unnamed school district has expressed interest in using some of Winslow’s classroom space at the old junior high school. Winslow might also use four or five classrooms at the old junior high school for the sixth grade and three classrooms for child care.

“All in all, as your superintendent, I’m feeling pretty good … knowing that the teachers, the administrators and the crew are working together for the students of this community,” Thiboutot told town councilors Monday night. “I feel quite confident that we have a good plan in place to get the year started.”

The School Board is scheduled to meet at 6 p.m. Monday at Winslow High School.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

Kennebec Journal & Morning Sentinel news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.
  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.