About 85% of students attending Regional School Unit 18 schools are expected to return to in-person instruction five days a week when district schools reopen for the 2020-21 school year.

RSU 18 superintendent Carl Gartley acknowledged the potential for change throughout the upcoming academic year, but said the district is moving forward.

“Every plan that every school has is changing and tweaking; as bumps come up, we try and figure out solutions,” Gartley said. “For the most part, the main structure of the plan has stayed pretty much the same.”

Regional School Unit 18 Superintendent Carl Gartley. Morning Sentinel file photo

RSU 18, which serves the towns of Belgrade, Rome, Oakland, China and Sidney, created a separate website for COVID-19 related policies and procedures. The district posted its reopening plan in late July, and not much as changed since.

Gartley is providing email updates to the district each Friday.

“I’ve been very pleased and impressed with the thoroughness the administration has addressed the restart of school,” said Dr. Andrew Cook, a school board member from Rome.

Vassalboro and Winslow schools are operating with cohorts of 50% of students, which will alternate days. RSU 18, though, has eight schools.

All grades, with the exclusion of pre-K, start school Aug. 31. Pre-K will begin the next day, Sept. 1.

Just “a few” of teachers requested to work remotely, Gartley said. The district is still accumulating data, and parents can still change their decision. There are no major trends of certain grade levels opting for one type of learning more than the other, school officials said.

The 15% or so of students who chose to learn remotely at the high school level will watch live classes that peers are attending in-person, which will be augmented by additional support from instructors working remotely. For younger students, the district developed remote classes that meet standards for a certain grade.

“We want our students and staff to be safe,” Gartley said. “We’d rather have people happy doing what they want to do as opposed to making them do something they don’t want to do.”

Megan Randazza, vice president of the China Schools Parent Teacher Organization, has one child in second grade and one in the pre-kindergarten program. Both will be attending schools in-person.

“From what I’ve heard, obviously there’s mixed reviews,” Randazza said. “What everybody’s really happy with is the communication from the superintendent, which is key right now.”

Randazza also commended the efforts of Darlene Pietz, principal of the China Primary School.

To accommodate social distancing guidelines, the schools in RSU 18 created outdoor learning spaces. Although they won’t be of as much use during the winter, those areas, made with tents and other supplies, will help ease the transition.

“I don’t think people making decisions right now are thinking they’re making yearlong decisions,” Gartley said. “There’s going to be a lot of checking and adjusting as the year goes on.”

Gartley also said some schools have recently updated ventilation systems, which allow more students to return to in-person learning respective to state health guidelines. Face coverings are required on buses and in schools. There will be some breaks for eating and drinking. Airflow concerns appear minimal.

For transportation, RSU 18 acquired two new vans and two new buses as a buffer. RSU 18 buses will operate at just over a 25% capacity. The district is encouraging parents to transport their kids to school, if possible.

“Transportation is one of the concern areas,” Gartley said. “Between what we’ll be able to transport on the buses and with incredible community support, I think we’re going to be all set.”

The RSU 18 school board next meets Wednesday at 7 p.m. at Messalonskee Middle School in Oakland.

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