Mt. Blue rolling out take-home packets, planning meal deliveries

8 mins read
Food Services Director Andy Hutchins talks about the district’s nutrition program at Tuesday’s school board meeting.

FARMINGTON – Regional School Unit 9 will be sending out packets of learning activities for students later this week, as a school nutrition program serving hundreds of meals looks to expand into home delivery.

Things have begun moving very quickly for school districts that did not expect until Sunday to be closed this week. Superintendent Tina Meserve said that as of Friday, March 13, RSU 9 administrators expected school to be in session Monday. It was on Sunday, March 15 that superintendents in the region began closing schools to students in an effort to be proactive against the spread of COVID-19. Later that day, Governor Janet Mills issued a recommendation that schools across the state end classroom instruction.

On Monday at 7:30 a.m., Food Services Director Andy Hutchins met with members of the district’s food service team and began putting together a program to deliver breakfast and lunch to students across the district.

“We served over 600 meals today,” Hutchins said, to widespread applause at Tuesday’s board meeting, “and expect to serve more tomorrow.”

Starting Wednesday, March 18, RSU 9 will begin home delivery of meals to children who aren’t able to get to a meal pick-up location. Orders must be placed before 10 a.m. for same day delivery by calling 207-779-9612 or emailing dnightingale@mtbluersd.org. Please leave a message if you call before 7 a.m. or after 4 p.m.

Hutchins said that churches and other volunteers had stepped up to offer assistance – school board directors at Tuesday’s meeting also volunteered – while some private donations had also come in. The U.S. Department of Agriculture would reimburse the district for costs as well, Hutchins said. Donations to the program can be made via checks to ‘Mt. Blue Lunch’ and sent to Mt. Blue High School. Funds not used for the program will be used to pay down outstanding meal balances.

While reserves of food and packaging material are good, Hutchins said, he was working to secure more. He anticipated further steps as well, such as having the district make its own bread.

The district has also been discussing what sort of remote education program it can provide to students during the closures. Roughly 90 percent of middle school and high school students have access to reliable internet – all of those students have laptops through the 1-for-1 program – and Curriculum Coordinator Laura Columbia said that much of the school staff was already familiar with Google Classroom. Paper take-home packets are being prepared by staff for other students, such as elementary school students that do not have their own laptops or Grades 6-12 students that don’t have access to reliable internet.

“That is our plan,” Columbia said. “It is week by week. Sometimes it feels hour by hour.”

Packets containing a few hours of learning activities are being prepared by teachers for all pre-K through Grade 5 students and Grade 6 through Grade 12 students without internet access. Parents or high school student are asked to pick up packets at their child’s school on Thursday, March 19 during the following hours:

  • MBHS from 7:30 a.m. – 5:30 p.m.
  • MBMS from 7:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.
  • All elementary schools from 8:30 a.m. – 3:30 p.m.

Staff will be stationed at the school for parents/students to pick up the materials. If anyone wants someone else to pick up packets for your child, we ask parents to send a signed note verifying this request.

There are a number of issues the district is trying to address. Some issues are short-term – Mt. Blue Middle School Principal James Black said that he still have 250 middle school laptops that needed to get back to students – while others are long-term questions without clear answers. There are 430 students in the district receiving special services, for example. Special Education Director John Jones said that it was possible that extended year programming during the summer would be necessary.

“It will be a long spring and a longer summer to meet those needs,” Jones said.

The district intends to ask a waiver from the Maine Department of Education for five days – March 16 through March 20 – and utilize its remote learning program to qualify as school days for as long as the closures last. Meserve and others noted that there was no way that the program would replace classroom instruction, and some students might have to utilize a extended summer program to catch up.

Seniors would graduate, Meserve said, in response to a director’s question.

“They’ve cancelled the SATs,” Meserve pointed out. “But kids will still get into college.”

During the public comment portion of the meeting, staff members said they had concerns, including their safety while working in the schools as well as some related issues, such as being asked to use personal leave/sick days, something personnel on probationary contracts didn’t have access to. Directors also raised that issue, asking administrators to prioritize staff safety.

Meserve said Wednesday she was disappointed by the thought that the district wasn’t looking out for the safety of staff, noting that RSU 9 had been following the advice of the CDC and had actually made the decision to close the schools prior to Mills’ recommendation late Sunday. While the initial plan had been to bring staff in through the week, Meserve said, starting Wednesday teaching staff would have more flexibility to work from home.

“Our goal is to find meaningful work for [the staff] and we want to pay them for their time,” Meserve said Wednesday. She said that she would be meeting with the teacher’s association today. Questions include staff that can’t work from home due to either a lack of internet access or a need for them to be at the school, such as custodians and food service employees.

The board voted unanimously to approve the remote education proposal. While no motions were taken after an executive session focusing on the bargaining agreement, Meserve said the board’s general instructions were to support as many staff as possible and provide staff with as much flexibility as possible to work remotely.

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