NORTH ANSON — Superintendent Mike Tracy has withdrawn his recommendation to shift the school to the third phase of reopening, citing the recent increase in COVID-19 deaths in Maine and the need for more time to hear from families and staff members.

No action was taken at Wednesday night’s meeting for School Administrative District 74 board of directors, and discussion on the third phase of the district’s reopening plan was postponed.

At the meeting at Carrabec Community School, board members discussed the quality of the educations students from Anson, Embden, New Portland, North Anson and Solon are receiving, and the mounting stress on teachers and staff members.

The board of directors held a special meeting Nov. 17 at which members discussed the current language of the Phase 3 reopening proposal, which includes having students in kindergarten through fifth grade attend school full time, four days a week, giving them about two extra hours a week at school facilities.

“It’s been a rough ride, I won’t deny that. But as a community, we have made it through a lot of things together,” Tracy said. “I want to express with extreme sincerity how grateful I am to our staff. There are things that go unseen within our district that staff are doing.”

Somerset County remains “yellow” under the Maine Department of Education’s reopening advisory system, meaning there is a moderate level of community risk and schools should consider precautions.

Tracy reminded the board the third phase of the reopening plan would only be applicable if the county designation improved to “green.”

“With all of that said, I am going to withdraw my recommendation and not make one at this time,” Tracy said.

Instead, a special meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday, Dec. 16, for the board to continue discussion on the reopening plan. Tracy said he did not expect to have a recommendation for the board until January.

Tracy said his decision to withdraw his recommendation was based on the recent increase in COVID-19 deaths in Maine, with another 20 reported Tuesday. Additionally, he said, he would like to hear more from families and staff members.

“There have been 20 (COVID-19 related) deaths reported in the newspaper. I don’t think the timing is right. I don’t think right now is the time for us to go through with this recommendation,” Tracy said.

“We will have a special meeting to discuss Phase 3 options. I would like to have some more time to see survey results from families, and time to engage with my staff.”

Under Phase 3, as currently written, grades six through eight will operate under a hybrid model, with the middle school matching what the high school is doing.

As of the special meeting in November, Tracy had not spoken to teachers to get their thoughts.

Carrabec schools are operating under the second phase of their reopening plan. Under this plan, students in kindergarten through fifth grade are in their classrooms Tuesday through Friday, and dismissed at 12:30 p.m. On Mondays, teachers prepare lessons, connect with remote students and clean their classrooms.

In grades six through eight, one cohort meets Tuesday and Thursday and the other Wednesday and Friday, with 50% of students under a hybrid model. Students are dismissed at 2:30 p.m.

Grades nine through 12 attend school five days a week and are dismissed at 2:30 p.m.

Discussions also continued Wednesday night on how to utilize staff members as the district continues with hybrid and remote learning.

One board member expressed concern about the educations and experiences students are not receiving because of hybrid and remote learning.

In other matters, Tracy said he intended to convert Dec. 21 and 22 to professional development days for teachers and staff members, giving students those days off.

“(Teachers and staff) have exhausted themselves, and they’ve worked very, very hard,” Tracy said. “When I asked them if they needed time or money, they usually would like more time. I’m giving them the gift of time before the holidays to prepare for the new year.”

He said the plan had been to have a remote learning day Dec. 21 and half day Dec. 22. Instead, students will have no academic requirements those days.

“We are bringing staff in for professional development days,” Tracy said, “so they can have a full vacation.”

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