NORTH ANSON — Students in Regional School Unit 74 are slated to start in-person classes Tuesday under a hybrid model as the district seeks to follow procedures for a safe opening after learning a student tested positive for the coronavirus.

Superintendent Mike Tracy sent notice Monday to families in the district delaying the start of the school year by a week after being notified of the student’s test result.

Tracy informed the community Wednesday that four tests have come back negative in addition to the one positive case. District administration said they did not have any numbers or estimates on how many students, if any, are quarantined.

 

THE PLAN TO OPEN

At Wednesday night’s meeting of the RSU 74 board of directors, several school officials provided updates on where each building within the district stands as educators plan to welcome students back.

Beginning Tuesday, students will return to district school under a hybrid learning plan.

Within the next week, the district, which serves Anson, Embden, New Portland, North Anson and Solon, is expecting 300 of the 600 laptops to arrive. By next Wednesday, it expects to have 400 of the laptops in hand.

Students in grades six though 12 will receive new laptops, while older laptops already in the district’s possession will go to other grades.

All students learning remotely are set to go with proper technology by the start of classes.

Hotspots have been given to families that do not have internet access at home. Teachers and administration in each of the district’s schools have been working around the clock to prepare facilities for the students’ return.

To questions raised regarding attendance in a case where a student is working at home and his or her internet or hot spot is not working, Tracy said student would be considered present until the issue is resolved.

The district nurse, Laurie Hanson-Hiscock, provided the board with updates on the schools’ health and safety protocols.

Each staff member, like other districts across the state, has gone through all required reopening trainings, where several different items were discussed, including handwashing, sanitizing, developing routines, mask coverings, social distancing and best ways to keep staff members and students safe.

A team of responders is at each school, composed of secretaries and volunteer staff who have had additional training on how to respond to the virus if a student shows symptoms. A link is available on the district’s website — www.carrabec.org/public-health-resources — that directs families to resources.

Each school has an isolation room set up, should it be needed. The rooms have the necessary equipment and guidance for observing a child displaying symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

 

BOARD CONCERNS

Some board members raised concerns about how the student who tested positive was handled by administrators. One board member said the notice sent Monday evening was misleading and a concern to many families.

Additional questions were raised by board members on how the communication was made to families related to the person who tested positive. Tracy did not comment on this following the meeting.

Mike Tracy, superintendent in Regional School Unit 74. This week Tracy defended the decision to delay the start of school until Sept. 8 after a student tested positive for COVID-19. Morning Sentinel file photo

Tracy defended the process that led to his decision to close school facilities districtwide.

When administrators were made aware of the positive COVID-19 case, Tracy said, his team was not able to gather enough information to isolate and quarantine specific individuals who might have come in contact with the student.

Working alongside the chairman of the RSU 74 board and with the information available to them, the decision was made to shut down schools for a week.

“Right now, the guidance is to isolate and quarantine,” Tracy said. “The quicker you can isolate and quarantine, the quicker you can move to operational capacity.”

Tracy outlined the process of handling a situation like this:

1. The family contacts the district that its child has been tested for COVID-19 and the results came back positive.

2. That information goes to the school administrator and district nurse.

3. The district nurse reports directly to the state’s nurse liaison — the direct line of contact for schools to the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention.

4. The district nurse reaches out to families that may have come in contact with the student who tested positive, educating them on symptoms to look for, what to do in the interim and recommending getting tested. Getting tested is not mandated.

5. Those in close contact are asked to quarantine for 14 days. Even if results from coronavirus testing come back negative, they are still expected to quarantine the entire 14 days.

“We are not trying to ostracize them from school,” Tracy said. “Students will be moving to remote learning for the duration of quarantine.”

Close contact is defined generally as someone with exposure to a confirmed case, meaning someone within 6 feet of the confirmed case for more than 15 minutes inside or outside, masked or unmasked.

“These systems work on an honor system,” Tracy said. “We are anticipating that everyone is honest with the nurse and Maine CDC. I have to operate the district on what’s known.”

 

STANDARD PROCEDURES

Tracy also went over the standard operating procedures that have been provided by the Department of Education. The version that is available online now is a draft and subject to change. RSU 74 has shifted some of these policies to align more with their staff.

One clause under this procedure states that school staff members, including teachers, nurses and bus drivers, are considered essential workers.

The procedure says school staff members who have been in close contact with confirmed cases of COVID-19 infection may return to work while in quarantine, if no substitute staff members are available.

School staff members must take appropriate precautions, including the use of personal protective equipment and remaining in quarantine outside of work, the procedure says.

Tracy said Wednesday that contrary to this procedure, all SAD 74 staff members will finish their 14-day quarantine before returning to classrooms.

In the document procedures, an outbreak is defined as occurring when a school reaches three cases within 14 days.

The district has opted for a hybrid reopening that includes students being dismissed at 12:30 p.m., according to the district.

Students in kindergarten through eighth grade will be at school on a two-day-per-week schedule on either Tuesdays and Thursdays or Wednesdays and Fridays.

The news of the student testing positive in the Carrabec district came as schools across the state began opening classrooms or are preparing to open in the coming weeks.

State education officials last week said all 16 Maine counties still have the “green light” to resume in-classroom instruction. The state plans to update the color-coded assessment every two weeks.

Schools that have a green designation still have to abide by a long list of health and safety protocols to resume classroom instruction.

Tuesday’s memorandum from the RSU 74 superintendent read, “After assessing potential exposure issues in collaboration with the School Department physician and CDC, the School Department chose to delay the beginning of the school year until September 8, 2020 to protect the students and staff.”

Carrabec’s delay of school is among a string of postponements as school officials and parents in Maine and nationwide grapple with whether students should be returning to classrooms and engaging in sports or other extracurricular activities.

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