NORTH ANSON — Members of Regional School Unit 74 board of directors voted Wednesday to adopt phase two of the Carrabec schools’ soft-launch, meaning that for the next three months mandatory temperature checks will be discontinued and students will be grouped differently and dismissed at new times.

RSU 74 began school on Sept. 8, having delayed the start date after a student tested positive for COVID-19. The administration provided the board and community with updates on the beginning of school, but did not provide an update on that student during Wednesday’s meeting.

On Thursday afternoon, Superintendent Mike Tracy confirmed in an email that the student who tested positive for COVID-19 remained non-symptomatic throughout quarantine and he is back to school, along with all of his close-contacts.

Tracy said that six students chose to get tested, and all results came back negative. With guidance from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the student has been released from quarantine and is considered to have recovered, though he observably did not have symptoms to recover from.

There are no other confirmed cases of COVID-19 within the district, Tracy said.

Mike Tracy, superintendent in Regional School Unit 74.  Morning Sentinel file photo

“It’s been going very smoothly,” Tracy said about the district’s reopening. “I think it’s mirroring what the staff’s able to do. You have some frustrated parents that want their kids here every day. So do I.”

One parent brought up concerns during the meeting that the school administration is not doing enough to provide an adequate education for the students. Some districts around the state had budgeted for and hired staff to help specifically with remote learning, but RSU 74 did not choose this route in their reopening plan.

Tracy defended the district’s decision, citing that their philosophy has been to have the district staff be the ones working with students.

“We are asking (staff) to do more than some other districts. Others have hired (staff) solely for remote learners, but we have felt that it is important that our teachers teach our kids,” Tracy said. “There’s a lot of us that want to get students back into schools every day. That is how I feel and I want that for us, but we can’t move any faster than the staff is ready for.”

RSU 74 serves the towns of Anson, Embden, New Portland, North Anson and Solon.

Others at the meeting suggested utilizing teachers who are not teaching on Mondays to help with this, but Tracy said that just because they are not necessarily teaching students in the classroom on those days does not mean that they are not working at all.

“I can’t support that approach,” Tracy said, citing the presentation given by staff members at the beginning of the meeting on how to create, use and utilize online learning platforms.

Teachers district-wide have had to scale a learning curve to know how to use the new online platforms. Many are still learning and adapting to using them.

The second phase in the district’s reopening plan runs from Oct. 13 to Dec. 22. Under this second phase:

• Kindergarten through grade five will attend Tuesday through Friday with the exception of students that are entirely learning remotely. Students will be dismissed at 12:30 p.m. Mondays will remain a day for teachers to prepare, check-in with remote students and clean the facilities. Cohorts will no longer be in place for these grades when this phase goes into effect.

• Grades 6-8 will attend Tuesday through Friday, with 50% of the student population hybrid, which is the current structure. Dismissal will be at 2:30 p.m., and cohorts will meet Tuesdays/Thursdays and Wednesdays/Fridays. Mondays will remain a teacher prep/home learning day and cleaning day.

• Grades 9-12 will attend Monday through Friday with 50% of the student population working under a hybrid model, which is the current structure. Full day dismissal will be at 2:30 p.m.

Under this new phase, the morning bus runs/arrival patterns remain the same. Afternoons will have an elementary bus run at 12:30 and middle and high school bus runs at 2:30 p.m.

Mandatory temperature checks will be discontinued under this plan. If the governor’s at-risk level for the area remains the same, the plan under the third phase is to start dismissing all students at 2:30 after the December break.

All other aspects of this plan will likely remain in effect for the remainder of the school year, unless physical distancing guidelines change, which will be evaluated at a December board meeting.

“The spirit is that we can pull this off,” Tracy said.

“I am grateful for the hard work done by the people around here,” Tracy said at the meeting. “We are off to a great start. Things continue to change, and I thank everyone for continuing to be patient.”

The district, like others statewide, uses Seesaw and Google Classroom platforms for online learning. SeeSaw is used for students in grades K-3 and provides a platform with icons and pictures, whereas Google Classroom is more text-oriented. All teachers have received training on how to use the platforms and have an online classroom.

The district’s website also has tabs for online learning materials and public health resources. School officials are working on setting up evening meetings to teach parents hands-on how to use these platforms.

“(The teachers) are working their tails off,” Tracy said. “I threw them all up in the air, I gave them new tools that they’ve never used before and I told them to build an airplane to bring those kids back to school. They’re doing it; it’s just taking some time.”

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