The Vassalboro Community School seen through an archway Wednesday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

Lockers for the older Vassalboro Community School students are no longer a rite of passage. Families are encouraged to transport students to and from school. Students will not travel to teachers’ classrooms, rather teachers will come to them.

Those are some of the many modifications the Vassalboro Community School made to its plans for this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic. In a letter to parents, students and staff, superintendent Alan Pfeiffer and principal Dr. Megan E. Allen outlined the school’s hybrid learning plan to commence Sept. 1.

An 18-page reopening plan was updated Tuesday on the Vassalboro Community School’s website.

“I think we’ve had to reach a comfort level with it; it’s not ideal,” Allen said in an interview. “We want our students to return to us every day, we miss them. Given the mandates that we have to follow, we believe we’re offering the safest environment possible.”

Like districts around the state, Vassalboro developed three different plans. A green plan is fully in-person learning, yellow for a hybrid model and red for fully online. Guidance from the state designated every county a “green” rating, so as to reopen schools with safety precautions.

Jessica Clark, a school board member and treasurer of the Vassalboro Community School’s Parent Teacher Organization, has a fourth-grader in the school. She said the overall of consensus with parents and teachers is that they are pleased with the plan, and noted that there is room to change in response to varying health standards.

“I know that the school and administration has spent a lot of time with parents, schools, teachers and staff …,” Clark said in an interview. “It’s certainly appropriate for the situation, and they’re definitely trying to make sure that kids get an education, and are also trying to do so safely.”

Students will be split into two cohorts. Families will learn which cohort their student is in after receiving a registration packet, which will be mailed out Monday. The current enrollment is 394 in prekindergarten through grade eight.

Families can also opt for all remote learning, a choice that is binding for the first quarter. Any students registered on or after Aug. 24 will be learn entirely online for the first quarter.

Prior to leaving their homes in the morning, students and families are expected to perform a health screening. Students may not arrive before 7:55 a.m., and will only be allowed into the school at 8 a.m.

The district is planning on putting out a survey about remote learning and transportation plans in the next couple of days.

“The data changes every day for all of us,” Pfeiffer said Wednesday. “We just put our plan out yesterday. It’s early. We’ll continue to reach out, and parents can reach out at any time.”

The district is encouraging families to transport students themselves to help with the stress on socially distant buses. There is also a detailed section in the plan for pick up and drop off. Staff members will communicate with vehicle drivers for the student to be sent out. For students taking buses, teachers will walk them out by grade.

The district sent out a transportation survey earlier this summer, but having only half the population in school each day eliminates any busing problems.

The front entrance to the Vassalboro Community School on Wednesday. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“The way that this works out with the hybrid model, we can provide busing for anyone who needs it,” Allen said.

Students are required to wear face masks at school, except for when eating or drinking. Meals will be eaten in the students’ respective wings. Students will also get an hourly “mask break,” where they will be outside or socially distant.

“It was just an essential piece that we be cognizant of our student population,” Pfeiffer said. “We’re following Maine CDC, Maine Department of Education framework that we have in place.

“It’s been a tsunami of information all summer.”

Other important parts of the plan include hand hygiene, social distancing, using outdoor space, enhanced cleaning and disinfection, restriction of non-essential visitors, limited classroom sizes, and limited sharing of classroom materials. Students in grades six through eight will be allowed to have their backpacks all day on the back of their chairs, instead utilizing lockers.

Classrooms will have an average of 10 students per classroom at a time. “That’s why we’re going with the hybrid model, so half of our population can be there at a time and we can accommodate for them,” Allen said.

Should a family choose a fully remote option, the Vassalboro Community School will provide devices and internet assistance.

“It’s been incredibly tough times, but we’re just trying to do the best for everyone,” Pfeiffer said.

The Vassalboro School Committee next meets Tuesday at 6 p.m. The meeting will be livestreamed.

“We’ve definitely been getting a ton of public comment,” said Clark, the school board and parent teacher organization member, “but we’re heading in the right direction.”

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