Winslow Public Schools is planning to offer in-person education every day this fall, regardless of whether the state alters physical distancing guidelines. Winslow High School, above, has 384 of the district’s roughly 1,100 students. Morning Sentinel file photo

WINSLOW — After committing to finish out the 2020-21 academic year in its hybrid model amid the coronavirus pandemic, Winslow Public Schools will plan to offer in-person education five days a week this fall.

Winslow School Superintendent Peter Thiboutot Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

Winslow Superintendent Peter Thiboutot’s letter to the community Wednesday afternoon announced the district’s intention to offer a full complement of in-person learning, regardless of whether the state alters its physical distancing guidelines for schools.

“I think everybody wants to have their students back for in-person learning,” Thiboutot said in an interview. “I think we all know that is the best mode we have to deliver instruction to students. Having said that, we need to do so with abiding by the guidelines.”

Winslow Public Schools serves approximately 1,100 students across its three schools: 555 in grades K-6 at Winslow Elementary School, 158 in grades 7-8 at Winslow Junior High School and 384 students at Winslow High School.

Most area schools are operating in a similar hybrid model, save for Oakland-based Regional School Unit 18, which has offered fully in-person and fully remote models for the entirety of the school year. Maine school leaders have urged the state in recent weeks to move quickly on guidelines for the fall.

Kennebec County, meanwhile, was among a handful of Maine counties moved from green to yellow status by the state Department of Education’s color-coded system, meaning there’s an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and schools can consider using a hybrid model.

Thiboutot said the district is taking a proactive approach.

“Why we’re making this decision now is we can’t anticipate what happens in the fall,” Thiboutot said. “Everyone hopes we’ll be in a situation that’s more back to normal, but many school districts will still have to operate in some hybrid fashion if distancing guidelines are not modified in some way.”

From the outset of the school year due to the coronavirus pandemic, the district split students into two cohorts by last name. A third cohort of students learns fully remotely. After initially considering moving to more in-person learning in September, the district opted to extend its hybrid model indefinitely.

During a school board meeting last month, Thiboutot said there is not enough space in the district to meet the distancing requirements of the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention and Maine Department of Education, which include 6 feet of separation between students and staff and 3 feet of separation between students. Despite opening a new junior high school, the district is still utilizing the old Winslow Junior High School building for the sixth grade so it can comply with physical distancing requirements. The draft plan will continue with the sixth grade at the old junior high school and perhaps more classes, but that has not yet been set in stone.

“The old junior high school is a huge asset, so to speak, in order for us to make this happen,” Thiboutot said. “It would just be the continued use of the junior high.”

In his letter, Thiboutot wrote the district is drafting a plan requiring additional space and funding. The Winslow Town Council and town manager are in support of the schools continuing to use the space at the old junior high school, and funding to keep it in operation, along with additional staff with funding support.

“The goal for Winslow Public Schools is to provide in-person learning five days a week starting in the fall of 2021, regardless of whether or not the current distancing guidelines are modified,” Thiboutot wrote.

The administrative team plans on sharing a draft of the proposal at the May 17 School Board meeting.

“The school board is very much in support of bringing all students back to school for in-person learning, so they have charged us with looking at a way in which to make that happen,” Thiboutot said. “This draft we’re going to propose is a way in which this can happen for Winslow.”

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