Matt Nelson, Sanford’s Superintendent of Schools, held a “Return to School Family Information Night” on Monday, July 27 at the Performing Arts Center. Under the current restrictions, only fifty members of the public were allowed to attend, so free tickets were made available on a first-come, first-served basis. The presentation was streamed live on YouTube.
Nelson stressed that plans for reopening the schools are very much a work in progress, but that he wanted to share information about what is under consideration to help parents and students prepare.
He began by outlining the School Department’s goals and priorities to safely educate pupils, and displayed a flow chart for the decision-making process. He detailed the timeline for the Department’s activities between now and opening day on Tuesday, September 8.
In addition to planning for reopening, administration and staff are also challenged by the construction and reorganization of schools that is happening concurrently. School officials are meeting with contractors on Tuesday, July 28, to hear about progress at the new Middle School (formerly the Junior High). They will make a decision by next week on a date to move into that building. The newly expanded Margaret Chase Smith School is expected to be ready on schedule.
Nelson explained the Maine Department of Education system that will be used to categorize counties according to the risk of the spread of the Covid-19. A “red” designation means the county has a high risk of Covid-19 spread, and that in-person schooling should not occur. “Yellow” means that the county has an elevated risk of the virus spreading, and a hybrid model, incorporating both in-person and online learning, should be adopted. A “green” designation means that risk of Covid-19 spreading is low, and that in-person instruction for all students may be conducted if the school is able to adhere to the state-mandated required health and safety measures.
The county designations will be made by the Maine Department of Health and Human Services and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The initial announcement of county designations will be made on Friday, July 31. Designations may be revised every two weeks thereafter, if conditions change. These are recommendations only; the final decision about whether or when to conduct in-person or virtual instruction, or a hybrid of the two, is up to each School Administrative Unit.
The health and safety measures that all schools must adhere to for any in-person instruction include protocols for symptom screening before coming to school; physical distancing requirements; face coverings; hand hygiene; personal protective equipment; and procedures for returning to school following an illness. Nelson explained each measure in detail.
Face coverings will be required for all students, faculty and staff members. Anyone who cannot wear a mask due to a preexisting condition, will be required to wear a face shield that covers them from ear to ear and below the chin. Face coverings must be worn on school buses as well.
Detailed instructional plans are being developed for each of the red/yellow/green models. Nelson shared the current plans but stressed that they are drafts only, and subject to revision.
Under the “yellow” hybrid model, students in Pre-K to grade 4, special education and Occupational Technical Education students will attend school five days a week. Other students in grades 5-12 will be split into two groups, with one group attending school on Monday and Thursday, while the other group is in class on Tuesday and Friday. Wednesday would be an online day for all students in those grades.
Under both the hybrid model and the “green” totally in-person model, parents will be able to opt for fully remote learning instead. Students would be able to transfer from remote learning back to in-person or hybrid instruction, but only at the end of a marking period. Those wishing to transfer from in-person or hybrid to fully remote could do so at any time.
Plans for food service safety were outlined, and include improved ventilation, increased cleaning and use of disposable dishes and utensils. Transportation safety plans include having assigned seats on buses, and requiring everyone to sanitize their hands upon entering.
There were a number of questions from attendees to the presentation, as well as email questions from those at home. In response to a question about sports, Nelson explained that final decisions have not been made yet, but the department is working with athletic directors from across York and Cumberland counties to come up with a plan.
He also announced that the Lafayette School is being eyed as a site for an affordable daycare program for students, and that talks with Sanford Parks and Recreation and the YMCA about this are underway.
There was much more discussed than can be covered in this article. The full YouTube video of the presentation is available here. A pdf file of the Maine DOE’s Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction is here.