SKOWHEGAN — Students at Skowhegan Area Middle School will soon be able to participate in after-school basketball split up by their cohort groups.

After monitoring other nearby districts, students at Skowhegan Area Middle School will be able to participate in after-school basketball, separated by cohort, Maine School Administrative District 54 Superintendent Jon Moody announced at the board of directors meeting Thursday.

Beginning Monday, students can practice within their cohorts, sorted by last name. After two weeks, students can play alongside other cohorts as a group. In four weeks, games with other schools can happen. Students need transportation to the school for the practices.

Moody added that in watching fall sports at the high school, he saw no significant transmission of COVID-19 within athletics in the district and far less transmission among sports teams than within school. When the decision was made to move forward with high school winter sports, the discussion opened up to include the middle school.

“It feels reasonable to me based on what other schools are doing, and it’s moving us closer to where we want to be, which is normal. We’re taking a methodical approach to get there.”

Additionally, after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday weekend, changes will be made in the way grades six and seven transition around the middle school, Moody said Thursday.

Students in prekindergarten through sixth grade are learning in-person five days a week, while grades seven through 12 are learning under a hybrid model divided by last names. What’s different at the middle school compared to the high school is that students grades six through eight are learning in the same classroom every day with the exception of certain classes to minimize traffic throughout the hallways.

Moody said the plan is to have students switch classrooms to get them moving during the school day, but this does not include the sixth grade, which is large. Allowing them to switch would cause crowding in the hallways exceeding covid safety protocols.

At Thursday’s meeting Moody said there have been up to 15 positive cases of COVID-19 within the district, nine additional cases outside of school as well as a student at Somerset Career and Technical Center.

On Wednesday, he reported in a letter on the district’s website that a member of the Skowhegan Area Middle School staff has tested positive for COVID-19.

The case was a result of contact that occurred outside of school. Students and staff who are considered “close contacts” based on CDC guidance have been identified, and as of Wednesday afternoon were contacted directly by the school.

What’s changed since the beginning of the year, Moody said, is the way direct contacts of positive cases are contacted. Previously, Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention would call as well as school administrators to notify families if their child has been identified as a close contact with a person who has tested positive for COVID-19.

Because of the influx in cases, the protocol has changed and the district administrators are the ones primarily making those calls.

“I feel good about it at this point,” Moody said.

MSAD 54 serves the towns of Canaan, Cornville, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Skowhegan.

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