Augusta Schools Superintendent James Anastasio is seen during a Board of Education meeting in 2017. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

AUGUSTA — Having enough staff in the event of an illness is among the top concerns for the Augusta School District, the superintendent told the Board of Education during a special meeting Wednesday night.

Augusta Superintendent James Anastasio addressed the board about updates and concerns over the start of the academic year, which is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 8, as schools across Maine and the country reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“If we don’t have enough backup for people that are sick, such as regular subs, it would be difficult to cover people that are out,” Anastasio told the board. “The third day that we were in, we had six people out sick. If we had students on that day, we may not be able to cover (the teachers).”

The district currently has 19 ed tech openings and five teacher contracts that have not yet been filled. Some interviews have taken place and will continue next week.

School officials hoped that with money received from the coronavirus relief fund, or CARES Act, Augusta could have hired enough staff. They were planning for two social workers, two more school nurses and additional custodians. One technology expert was hired to help students and teachers with remote learning, but more are needed.

Meanwhile, the school board voted in two new staff members to the Augusta Public School System: Karen Kirr and Chad Strout. Kirr will work with kindergarteners. Strout will be a guidance counselor.

The district is planning on conducting classes with a hybrid model for kindergarten through grade 12. Students will be split into cohort A and B, rotating between in-person classes and remote instruction four days a week. Wednesday will be a day for a virtual check-in with the student’s homeroom. Students that choose remote instruction will be in Cohort “C,” which will take place fully online.

Maine is currently in the “green” zone for the coronavirus, which according to the Maine Department of Education, is decided on population density and the number of COVID-19 infections.

Anastasio explained that even though Maine may be “green,” a school district can turn “red” if there aren’t enough teachers to fill in for those that may fall ill. He talked about hiring permanent substitute teachers and originally planned to have five in each building, but reduced the number to three.

Plexiglass has been installed on desks and masks are required to be on, all of the time, Anastasio said, to make sure students are as safe as possible from contracting COVID-19. However, students will receive a couple “mask breaks” throughout the day. Breaks are in line with the Center for Disease Control guidelines, as long as students are all facing the same direction, stand completely still and preferably, have the window open.

“Masks are necessary,” special ed teacher Susan Walters said about her students. “We are working with families to make sure that this is possible. Face shields have to have a note from a medical doctor.”

For students who rely on free and reduced lunch but opt for remote learning, lunch bags will be available to be picked up at their school on Mondays and Wednesdays to last throughout the week, according to Maureen Thompson of the Augusta School Department.

Bus routes will be established in a way that does not require students to transfer buses. Kathy Casparious, a director at the Augusta Public Schools, believes that 21 kids at most will be allowed on the bus at a time under social distancing guidelines. 

“Bus drivers will have a list of names of the students on the bus, so they can’t have students jumping around or deciding to go to a friend’s house after school,” Casparious said.

A bus that went out Wednesday to the houses of students that have not yet returned their Chromebook laptops was able to collect 12 out of the 45 devices that are missing, officials said. School staff hope the number of devices the district has is sufficient to give one to each student.

However, the exact number of devices needed for the upcoming school year won’t be known until the devices that were collected undergo repair. The district has looked into replacing the devices with iPads, and in some cases, with new Chromebooks.

The Board of Education plans to hold its next meeting in-person Wednesday, Sept. 9, school at the Augusta Civic Center.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

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.