“Never in my wildest dystopian dreams have I envisioned a school opening like this,” Mark Tinkham, principal of Hall-Dale Middle and High School, told the school board Thursday night during a Zoom meeting. “It’s been a test.”

Tinkham, along with Hall-Dale Elementary School Principal Kristie Clark, updated the Regional School Unit 2 board on changes in school procedure, as the district prepares to reopen Tuesday.

Among the changes are some classes taking place outdoors, mask-wearing requirements and desks replacing tables in the cafeteria.

Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold, seen Thursday during a Zoom school board meeting. Image capture

Schools statewide have been closed since March. RSU 2, like its counterparts, is grappling with new requirements to ensure schools are best equipped to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

RSU 2 includes the communities of Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Richmond and Monmouth.

All Maine counties except York are designated “green” on a red, yellow or green scale that determines a district’s safety. With a green designation by the Maine Department of Education, parents have the ability to choose in-person classes or fully remote learning for their students.

York County is in the “yellow” designation.

The DOE will reevaluate the zones every two weeks, and as long as schools are in the green zone, in-person instruction will be able to continue per state education department and Center for Disease Control guidelines.

The district’s cohort system offers all students two days of in-person instruction, while the remainder of the week will involve remote learning.

“Cohort A will start on (Tuesday) with around 167 students, and Cohort B will start on Thursday with 110 students,” Clark said.

Throughout the district, some parents have chosen to keep their students home for full remote learning rather than risk exposure to COVID-19 by sending them into the schools a couple days a week. Still others have opted to home-school their children outside of the system.

“We are going to be checking how things go and adjusting as we go,” Tinkham said. “As soon as we get comfortable, it’s going to flip.”

On Aug. 28, Superintendent Tonya Arnold announced that in compliance with DOE guidelines, students must be screened every morning for the coronavirus. Students are also required to wear masks while at school.

“Mask breaks,” a safe time to take a mask off, will be added into all the school schedules, according to Tinkham, who added that the teachers have to be a leading safety example for the children.

“As we become more comfortable at school, boundaries may break down,” he said of mask and social distancing guidelines. “We need to have constant reminding.”

On the topic of remote learning, RSU 2 teachers were trained on using Google Platforms and other software to aid with remote teaching.

Teachers did experience anxiety about returning to school, Tinkham said, adding that he believes once they and students are back in the building, that feeling will fade.

“If we can maintain optimism, there is always an opportunity to be had,” he said. “We need to be finding the opportunities and grabbing onto them so we aren’t bogged down with negativity.

“There is opportunity out there,” Tinkham added. “If we can’t find it, we have to create it.”

A sample of the artwork approved for installation next summer in the new Monmouth Memorial School. The new prekindergarten-8 school is preparing to welcome its first students next week. The Mustang is the mascot for Monmouth schools. Image capture

The school board voted unanimously to approve installation next summer of three art pieces in the new Monmouth Memorial School. The artwork was commissioned through the Percent for Art program, which dictates an amount equal to 1% of the construction budget on all new or renovated building projects receiving state funding be used to purchase original artwork to be installed in public spaces.

In this case, the new art would not cost the RSU 2 any additional money. Monmouth Memorial School is replacing the aging Henry L. Cottrell elementary and Monmouth Middle schools.

In addition, the board approved the appointments of Elizabeth Bellegarde and Ben Boukley as a librarian and teacher, respectively, and assigned them to Hall-Dale High School.

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