With the news of Gov. Janet Mills lifting school coronavirus guidelines for the fall, central Maine districts are gearing up for what could finally look like a “normal” school year.

To adapt to COVID-19 restrictions, most schools in central Maine had a hybrid schedule and had to figure out ongoing challenges of school bus driver and substitute shortages, while trying to educate students in person and virtually.

Though some schools do not have a set plan for next school year, many officials have an idea of how the districts will handle the fall. And some central Maine school districts are testing the waters early through summer school options for students who may have fallen behind due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Starting July 1, public schoolsno longer have to require masks, but may recommend the use for people who are not vaccinated. Students under the age of 12 will still have to wear them because they are currently unable to be vaccinated.

There is no requirement, as of now, for Maine public school students to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

Social distancing guidelines were lifted, too. Maine’s 3-foot requirement was less stringent than the federal guidelines of 6 feet. Local school officials cited distancing as the sole reason in-person learning was not possible five days a week, due to space constraints in buildings.

Bri Harriman sings “Don’t Rain on My Parade” from “Funny Girl” on stage May 1 during the Chizzle Wizzle recording session at Cony High School in Augusta. The other performers were the only people in the audience. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA PUBLIC SCHOOLS

The Augusta Public Schools are preparing for a five day in-person return.

“The school will open to as close to normal as we remember it,” Superintendent James Anastasio said at the June 10 school board meeting.

The Augusta School Board voted to participate in pool testing and remains as one of the only schools in central Maine to participate in the testing process. The process requires 30% participation at each building within a given district and includes all members of the building, vaccinated or not. Anastasio said even though the distancing guidelines have been lifted, he still wants to have the ability to participate, if it becomes needed.

“My recommendation is to pursue people signing up, so we can have 30% with a good conclusion,” Anastasio said, “so if we are in school and settled and having cases, we can see if it will be valuable to the safety of the students.”

In order to catch some students up on their studies before the start of the school year, Cony High School is running a three-week summer program during the month of June, according to Assistant Superintendent Katy Grondin. There will be a similar five-week program in July for elementary school students. Grondin said there are approximately 105 students signed up to attend in total.

“We are excited to be able to offer a summer opportunity for our secondary students,” she said, “and to expand our elementary program to service more students through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds available to students.”

WATERVILLE PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Waterville Public Schools do not currently have a plan for the fall, according to Superintendent Eric Haley.

“We are still figuring out plans,” he told the Kennebec Journal Wednesday.

The Waterville schools consist of George Mitchell School, Albert Hall School, the Junior High School and Senior High School.

REGIONAL SCHOOL UNIT 2

To get Regional School Unit 2’s students back to school five days a week, school administration purchased portable classrooms for Marcia Buker Elementary School in Richmond and for Dresden Elementary School.

The portables will serve as extra space for either a classroom, or to move another area of the building out to the portable in order to create more space. Dresden will receive one and Buker will get two. The RSU 2 School Board decided against participating in pool testing.

Physical distancing was one of the main issues preventing RSU 2 from returning to school full-time, in person, notably at Hall-Dale Elementary School, which is preparing for more students from housing developments in the area. The district moved the 5th graders to Hall-Dale Middle and High School to open up space for other classrooms.

Superintendent Tonya Arnold said at the June 3 school board meeting students will still have to wear masks, as of now, and will start school in a “green model.” The district will prepare students with the tools they need to complete online learning if the green model shifts to yellow, or even red. Students will still have to undergo health checks, Arnold said.

“We have to be prepared and have a plan in place in case thing change,” Arnold said. “Our plan for the fall will start in the green and protocol information will stay the same.”

RSU 2 serves Hallowell, Farmingdale, Monmouth, Dresden and Richmond.

Teacher Raye Anne DeSoto, right, chats with a student in her classroom June 10 at Gardiner Area High School. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file Buy this Photo

MAINE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT 11

At the district’s special school board meeting June 17, Maine School Administrative District 11 Superintendent Pat Hopkins said the start of next school year will “look similar” to the start of classes in fall 2019.

MSAD 11 started to transition students back to school towards the end of the current school year, but cited spacing as the main reason keeping students from in-person learning.

“The intent is to return five days a week, without masks, without pool testing,” Hopkins said. “We will need a backup plan, should something happen or change and restrictions are in place, we will have to revisit.

“But as of today, in this moment in time, the start of the 2021 to 2022 school year should look similar to the start of the 2019 school year,” she added. “We are very excited.”

MSAD 11 Curriculum Director Angela Hardy said the district will have a two-week summer program of individualized support for students of all grade levels. The program will focus on literacy and numeracy, as well as a program to help 8th grade students with the transition to high school.

Hardy said for students with individualized education programs, there is a yearly meeting to decide if they need to participate in the Extended School Year program, which is “not new, but the program will be larger and include more staff and hours than years in the past.”

MSAD 11 represents Gardiner, West Gardiner, Pittston and Randolph.

REGIONAL SCHOOL UNIT 38

Superintendent Jay Charette said at the June 16 school board meeting Regional School Unit 38 will open “back for a normal year,” five days a week, with a full day.

He doesn’t think the district will have to participate in pool testing, saying that though it’s “optional,” school administration “won’t be asking parents” to have their student undergo the process of testing. He also said along with state guidelines, masks will be optional, based on parent preference.

“We are working on making sure whoever wants to wear a mask, feels comfortable wearing a mask,” Charette said at the meeting. “There is no shame or blame on anyone’s part weather you wear a mask or not, we don’t want anyone to feel bad about that.”

RSU 38 covers the towns of Readfield, Manchester, Mount Vernon and Wayne.

WINTHROP PUBLIC SCHOOLS

Students in the Winthrop Public Schools will return to five days a week in-person learning, with no remote learning option.

Superintendent James Hodgkin and the school committee will discuss and vote on an exact plan in August, after more guidance is given by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Department of Education. The School Committee opted against taking part in pool testing.

The school committee and Hodgkin decided to leave the exact plan to be talked about and voted on later in the summer after more changes are expected to come from the Maine CDC and Maine Department of Education. The school committee decided in a previous meeting against participating in pool testing.

At the June 16 school committee meeting, Hodgkin said he thinks Winthrop Schools will be in a place where they will be mask-free, with the exception of busing and walking through the hallways.

“The School Committee will address other considerations for the fall in August,” he said. “This would include masking and distancing recommendations (if any), building use by the public, and hygiene recommendations including hand washing, sanitizing, and bussing and cafeteria guidelines.”

The school committee also has resumed in-person public meetings and is no longer offering online participation.

RSU 18 choral director Kevin Rhein leads choir practice outside at Messalonskee High School in Oakland on Dec. 9, 2020. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel file

REGIONAL SCHOOL UNIT 18

In his weekly newsletter, Superintendent of Regional School Unit 18, Carl Gartley said he will meet with school officials throughout the summer to come up with a plan for the fall, but is hoping to have school “look as normal in every way possible.”

RSU 18 represents China, Rome, Belgrade, Sidney and Oakland.

Gartley said with recent trends, there is “no way” it wouldn’t be possible for RSU 18 to be in school five days a week, especially since one of the biggest challenges for the district was the spacing requirements, which has now been lifted.

“One lesson I have learned this year is that trying to plan three months ahead is difficult, if not foolish,” Gartley wrote in his June 6 newsletter.

MAINE SCHOOL ADMINISTRATIVE DISTRICT 54

The Skowhegan-area school district is planning on returning at full capacity in the fall and will only recommend that students who are not vaccinated to wear a mask.

Maine School Administrative District 54 represents Skowhegan, Caanan, Mercer, Norridgewock, Smithfield and Cornville.

REGIONAL SCHOOL UNIT 12

Regional School Unit 12 has been in-person five days a week since the beginning of the school year, however, Superintendent Howie Tuttle said the school board will discuss further back-to-school plans in August.

Though students have been in school, they have been unable to participate in groups and working together, he said.

“It will be good to get to be near each other, lunch will be easier, that was a pretty big relief,” Tuttle said at the June 16 school board meeting. “I look forward to next year.”

RSU 12 represents Palermo, Chelsea, Alna, Westport Island, Somerville, Whitefield and Windsor.

ERSKINE ACADEMY 

Erskine Academy is hoping for a school year similar to the start of the 2019 school year, according to Headmaster Mike McQuarrie.

McQuarrie said it will depend on current transmission and COVID-19 rates closer to when the school year starts in the fall, but Erskine is “hoping toward opening in the fall with little to no restrictions.”

“We are hopeful, but will have contingency plans in place should it go in a different direction,” he said, “but we will continue to assess and reassess through the summer.”

Spacing was one of the biggest challenges for Erskine in the past year — for the most part students had a hybrid schedule and there also was a virtual learning option. McQuarrie is hoping there will not be a need to have the virtual learning aspect, but Erskine will be “prepared to pivot on a dime.”

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