HALLOWELL — The Regional School Unit 2 board has unanimously approved a plan to send all students back to school in person, for five days a week.

Superintendent Tonya Arnold presented the framework at Thursday night’s board of directors meeting for bringing the students back is similar to the district’s plans last fall, with a green, yellow and red model to outline the guidelines. Except this fall, all schools will start in the “green,” versus the “yellow” designation. “Yellow” is the hybrid model and what the students have been in throughout the fall. Students will also return to five days a week, where as in hybrid model, students had Wednesdays off.

Students will still have to wear masks and will still have to be screened for COVID-19 symptoms before heading to school. The Maine Department of Education has from nearly the beginning of the pandemic allowed students to be 3 feet apart, rather than the nationwide guideline for students being 6 feet apart. The country has since changed their guidelines to 3 feet, but for Maine, it has stayed the same and spacing has remained an issue for the elementary schools in RSU 2.

“It has been a real struggle for all of us,” Hall-Dale Elementary School Principal Kristie Clark said at May’s School board meeting when the portable classrooms were announced. “I take it seriously and I want to make it happen for my families and students are we are going to make that happen for the fall.”

To combat the issue of spacing, RSU 2 moved Hall-Dale Elementary School fifth graders to Hall-Dale Middle & High School to make more space in classrooms. School administrators bought, using coronavirus relief money, portables for Dresden Elementary School and Marcia Buker Elementary School.

Dresden will receive one portable classroom and Buker will receive a two-room portable structure.

School Board Member Mark Pearson asked what will happen to the portable classrooms if guidelines change and students are allowed to be closer together in the classroom. Arnold said the district can still use them for storage and extra space.

It’s unclear how the education department’s guidelines will hold up in the fall, but schools across the state, and Augusta in central Maine, have decided to participate in COVID-19 pool testing, where if 30% of a building decides to participate, social distancing guidelines along with quarantining can be omitted.

Arnold said the district’s participation in pool testing depends on the response of parents and guardians within the community.

“We sent permission slips home, and (we are) going to see how many we get back,” Arnold said. “If we get 10% back, we don’t know if it will be an effort, but if we get 80% of parents, then it may make sense to do all of the extra steps for planning and potentially perusing.”

Assigned seating will still take place in the classroom, on buses and in the cafeteria, mainly because the school still has to do contact tracing in the event of a positive COVID-19 case. Arnold said the schools within RSU 2 would still use the online platforms of Google Meet and SeaSaw in the event of a positive COVID-19 case and to allow flexibility and consistency.

Arnold said sports will follow Maine Principals’ Association guidelines.

The school board discussed whether or not they will continue meeting over Zoom, or if meetings will move to in person. The majority of the board was in favor of meeting in person, but agreed how community participation changed drastically with the use of Zoom. School Board Member Dawn Gallagher said the state is considering the continuation of having virtual school board meetings

In a regular year, the school board would meet in a different municipality school building, and the board is unsure if they would be able to continue this practice if meetings move to in person. Arnold said it depends on technology in the building and discussed possible options such as having a central meeting place or having school board members meet in their municipality and attend the meeting via Zoom.

“It’s easier for some people to meet in person, but we have seen the numbers go up to the 100s,” School Board Member Chris Asch said. “We learned there are tremendous values for Zoom; it’s more accessible.”


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