AUGUSTA — Augusta’s elementary schools will be starting a couple of days later than initially planned.

The delayed start, Sept. 10, was approved by the Augusta school board Wednesday night.

An initial proposal by school board member Kevin Lamoreau was to delay the start of school until Sept. 14, but after discussion, the decision was made to push the date back two days, to Sept. 10.

Two weeks ago, on Aug. 19, the school board rejected a request from Superintendent James Anastasio to move the start date to Sept. 14. Anastasio had said the district needed more time to continue preparing to reopen its schools that had been closed since March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Lamoreau said he was moved to propose the delay after co-workers and friends who have children in the elementary schools raised concern teachers would not be ready for the planned start Tuesday. That concern was echoed by other administrators that spoke at Wednesday night’s meeting.

“Yes, we have anxiety as educators, but the anxiety this year is different,” Director of Special Education Susan Walters said. “We have to respect what these teachers are telling us. We can’t move forward in the same way we have every other September.”

Principal Kim Silsby talks about having to arrange classrooms for social distancing recently at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Augusta Public Schools are following a hybrid learning model that splits students into three cohorts: A, B and C. Cohorts A and B rotate throughout the week between remote learning and in-person learning, where cohort C is reserved for students that are choosing to learn entirely remotely.

It was discussed at the Aug. 26 school board meeting that even though Augusta Public Schools are in the “Green Zone” for re-opening, distinguished by the Maine Department of Education, Augusta as a district could fall into “Yellow,” or even “Red,” if there aren’t enough teachers or subs in the event of illness across the schools.

School board member Pia Holmes advocated for reopening as planned, saying she didn’t think it would make a difference. In addition to concern parents may not know about a delayed reopening, she also felt people would understand there may be kinks in remote learning that will need to be worked out.

“Unless my superintendent is saying we have a real problem, I think that (we should) just (be) getting in there and soft roll it out,” Holmes said.

School board member Kati McCormick was worried about parents counting on schools for child care and food.

“I’m thinking about the kids that have counted down to Aug. 31, then Sept. 8,” she said. “School is a safe place to kids; we haven’t been feeding them since Aug. 14. I think we need to get them in the building.”

Amanda Olson was another school board member who felt educators would benefit for more days to prepare, and suggested Sept. 10, which was approved unanimously.

School board member Christopher Clarke also suggested that Cony High School should be included in the delayed start, but that amendment did not receive a majority vote. Clarke, Lamoreau, Staci Fortunato and Jan Michaud were the only school board members to support that; board members Holmes, McCormick, Olson, Edward Hastings and Jennifer Dumond were opposed to including Cony.

These rows of single seat tables in a large hallway will be the socially distanced lunch room setup at Cony Middle and High School in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

Elementary school principals spoke Wednesday night in favor of moving the start date.

“Teachers will hear that they were heard and supported,” said Teresa Beaudoin, Farrington Elementary School principal. “This is what buses are going to look like,” what lunch is going to look like, what class is going to look like, Beaudoin said. “All these schedules have changed. They can have the long weekend, relax, have the week to prepare. I think it will do wonders.”

Sarah Landry, Gilbert Elementary School principal, said teachers have had to reinvent most of their curriculum, adding that it’s “not a normal school year.”

“It would allow teachers time to work with teams and grade-level partners to make sure they have the materials ready, information (ready) to go out to parents to help … make them feel more confident in sending their kids to school, knowing they get a top-notch education,” she said about a delayed reopening. “(It would) calm anxiety and fears of teachers on bringing students back into a building no one has been in since March.”

Being prepared for remote learning was another concern relayed about starting Tuesday. The district’s teachers went through extensive training in the past week for online learning platforms, including Google Classroom and SeeSaw.

Lincoln Elementary School Principal Heather Gauthier said teachers received “14 hours” of training in the software.

“Now they are creating a brand new curriculum, on a brand new platform,” school board member Dumond said. “If they have students in their classroom, they don’t have the extra time to put it together, asking them to put it together after the workday.

“It’s like asking them to do a hundred hours of work,” she added. “All the work has to get done somehow.”

As for remote learning access, devices are expected to be given to students Wednesday. Anastasio noted that only students in grades two through 12 would be receiving devices due to a backorder of Chromebooks across the country.

Anastasio also noted 44 students in the Augusta school district have chosen to home-school this year, opting to not take part in in-school education or a remote learning option through the city schools.

The school board will meet again at 6 p.m. Wednesday in the Augusta Civic Center.

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