STRONG – Maine School Administrative District 58 met on Thursday night to discuss final plans for the academic calendar, health and safety guidelines and to vote on an academic plan for the 2020-2021 school year. Superintendent Todd Sanders and board member Kimberly Jordan led the meeting and presented three academic plans for the board to vote on. While there was much deliberation and many questions raised by the public in attendance, Sanders and Jordan made it clear from the beginning of the meeting that a decision had to be made by the end of the night.
“I’m glad that we’ve waited until this time… because we got to learn from other’s mistakes, but it is a tough decision, people are passionate about it, we tried to work all of those things into our decision and we tried to address every one of those and come up with what we thought were the best options for furthering the safety and education of our students and staff,” Sanders said.
The meeting was not adjourned until a vote was taken and a new calendar, new guidelines and an academic plan were approved.
What was best for the children and staff in regard to their academic calendar was quickly decided upon. The school start date will be delayed to Sept. 8 to allow for the five days prior to that to be used as preparation days for the staff. During this time, staff will be given proper instruction on new technology, handling children that may return to school with trauma from the pandemic, and food preparation for the new safety guidelines. Extra funds from the CARES Act as well as the new CRF Act will assist in funding this training. Sanders also hopes that the money will go towards hiring more custodial staff and nurses to keep up with the new demands.
The proposed safety and health guidelines adhered to the six requirements set forth by the Maine Department of Education. A complete list of the initiatives proposed by the school district can be found on their website, but the key changes include increased cleaning, enforced social distancing, and minimizing opportunities for large groups to gather. This means that a new drop-off time of 7:45 a.m. will be instated, outdoor classes will be encouraged when possible, and classrooms will be cleared of excess supplies to adhere to social distancing standards of 3 feet between each child.
When the health and safety plan was proposed, most community members in attendance were concerned with the first step of the plan which involved mandatory self-checks by staff members on themselves or by parents on children prior to children arriving to campus.
One mother shared that when she went to purchase another thermometer to conduct such tests on her children, she discovered a tremendous price gouge that could potentially prevent some parents from having the proper equipment to test their children.
“We just have to have faith that people are going to do what is best for the masses,” Sanders said.
While three academic plans were proposed, the board voted on and approved the Yellow plan which is a hybrid model of education. According to the updated hybrid instruction plans a portion of the week will consist of in-person instruction while a portion will occur remotely.
Students will be divided into cohorts, each cohort attending school for in-person instruction on certain days of the week and completing other assignments from home on the other days to minimize the number of students on school grounds at one time.
The most apparent concern from the public was pertaining to class time on Wednesdays that was designated as a work day for staff but was left unaccounted for students on the original proposed plans. With many childcare facilities closed still, parents were worried about how they would manage all of the time that their children will not be attending their cohort’s class time at the schools. The board voted and Sanders announced the approval of the hybrid plan with the adjustment of Wednesday being an in-school day for the K-4 students.
The meeting ended by approving the final motion to spend the additional CRF funds immediately to start preparing for the return of the students.