There just isn’t enough space at Winslow Public Schools.

Winslow schools Superintendent Peter Thiboutot Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

Even as some other area districts increase in-person learning, it’s highly unlikely Winslow will follow suit. In light of the coronavirus pandemic, the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention requires 3 feet of spacing between all students and 6 feet of spacing between school staff and students.

“There’s a major barrier for us, and that is still the social distancing requirement,” Winslow Public Schools Superintendent Peter Thiboutot said at a school board meeting Monday evening. “And I use the word requirement, that we must adhere to in school.”

Thiboutot acknowledges that everyone — students, staff and parents — wants students back in school full-time.

“This has been a tough one for us,” Thiboutot said at a special Winslow Schools board of directors meeting Monday. “I don’t think there’s anyone … who would say they don’t want their kids back in school full-time every day.”

Because of the pandemic, Winslow Public Schools operates in a hybrid model. Since the start of the year, the approximately 1,1000 students enrolled in the district alternate in person and remote learning days. There is a group of students learning entirely from home. The district initially thought about a more comprehensive in-person offering in the fall, but announced an indefinite extension of the hybrid learning model a few weeks into the year.

The last day of school for students is June 11 and June 14 for teachers. Thiboutot said school administration is working to find other options. There are options to bring certain groups of students back.

The Winslow Public Schools operate in two buildings. Winslow Elementary School is located on Benton Avenue, while Winslow Junior High and High schools are located on Danielson Street.

Winslow Elementary School Principal Erica Grower said students who are struggling with remote learning especially need additional in-person learning. Bringing large groups of students back would not work, but Grower is working on a plan to support specific grade levels and pool resources to provide support. Reading is one of the most important subjects. Extra interventions on in-person days are on the table, as are remote sessions during remote days.

“If there are situations we feel like there is a need for a student to come back full-time, we will consult with the teacher on a plan,” Grower said. “Our goal is to always help students grow and learn.”

Winslow Junior High School Principal Jason Briggs said 11 students in grades six through eight who were previously fully remote recently transitioned to the hybrid model. Winslow Junior High School is offering extra support with educational technicians and substitutes. Winslow High School students have volunteered their time to offer support.

“That has been super effective in the short term and intermediate,” Briggs said.

Winslow High School Principal Chad Bell echoed Grower and Briggs, in that administrators and staff are constantly communicating on how to offer more support. At the high school, Bell focused on identifying a small group of eight to 10 students who need in-person learning the most. They are now coming in every day. If space runs out, the high school may operate “learning centers” where students can learn from another space inside the building.

“There’s a lot of individual troubleshooting,” Bell said. “There hasn’t been anything that we’ve troubleshooted so far in the eight to 10 students that we haven’t overcome.”

Conversations with the Maine CDC and Department of Education resulted in a common theme, the spacing will not change. Winslow Public Schools are working to make the most of the rest of the year, summer and the 2021-22 academic year.

“We’ve realized the situation that we’re in is the situation that we’re in for the remainder of this year, as are many school districts who are like us with space,” Thiboutot said.

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