The Sanford School Committee met Monday, October 4, 2021. Committee member Jonathan Mapes was not present.
Public Comments: Leah Pelletier said her children who go to Sanford Pride Elementary are enjoying school, and the teachers are working hard to get the students outside so they can take frequent mask breaks. But she said her kids still have a lot of anxiety and confusion around mask wearing. She complained that the outdoor family fun night that had been scheduled in September was cancelled due to a Covid outbreak at the school, but that Homecoming went ahead at Sanford High School despite an outbreak there. She objected to the Superintendent of Schools making decisions to cancel voluntary events. “These inconsistencies make it really hard for some of us to take the mask mandate serious. Is it really for our health and safety, or is it for that $12M Covid Relief Fund grant?…There should be a revote on this.”
Chair Don Jamison said that while the Committee doesn’t normally respond to comments, he wanted to clarify an inaccuracy: “The Covid relief money has zero tie-in with any sort of mask mandate.”
Communications: Superintendent of Schools Matt Nelson announced Carl J. Lamb School has been recognized for its participation in the Let’s Go obesity prevention initiative.
Construction: Mr. Nelson said a walk-through is scheduled for Pride this week with School Department Personnel, the architect, contractor and Maine Department of Education representatives. He said there have been some issues with backups and flooding in some bathrooms, which was partly due to the building having sat idle for a year. A big wad of paper towels in the sewer line was also found to be a contributing factor. He is concerned about a sagging section of drain pipe under the concrete floor that may also be an issue. The playground for kindergarten and first grade is almost finished and the grade 3 and 4 playground is being installed this week.
At Sanford High School, there will be a meeting with contractors and other necessary personnel on October 13 to try and resolve the HVAC tripping issue that has been a recurring problem since the school opened.
Schedule Advisory Committee: Mr. Nelson reported that the Committee will meet next on October 12 to talk about Spartan Time. It was meant to be an intervention period, but has morphed into other things.
Student Representatives: Grace Davie reported on a Spartan Super Snack meeting she attended. The group puts together snacks available to any student attending after school sports and other activities. The snacks are offered at a kiosk in front of the cafeteria, and no advance sign up is required.
Field Trip: Mr. Nelson reported on a field trip for state officers for nationals. They met in Bangor in mid-September. All indications are that it was a very successful trip.
Safe Return to Schools Update: Mr. Nelson said there have been 59 cases of Covid in Sanford schools to date. SHS, Sanford Middle School, CJL and Margaret Chase Smith School are all in outbreak status. He thanked Ms. Pelletier for her comments, and acknowledged the frustration due to inconsistencies in decisions made. He said the School Department is being asked to act as an arm of public health, and has to collect and report data, which other organizations do not. He reiterated that the Department’s goals are to keep all students in school five days a week, and to limit quarantining, especially for younger kids whose parents might have to miss work to stay home with them. He is not trying to prevent students from connecting with each other or having fun.
Pooled Testing: Pooled testing for Covid was implemented last week at the elementary schools. About 80 people (students and staff) were tested at CJL, and about 30-40 at Pride, all of which came back negative. About 80 were also testing at MCS, and three of the pools there came back positive. The follow-up BinaxNOW tests identified the positive people in two of the pools, while the third was inconclusive.
This week, over 150 people were tested at MCS. SHS began testing Monday as well, and more than 100 students and staff were tested there. SMS started testing Tuesday, with about 150 people signed up so far.
The Department has had to hire CNAs from a staffing agency to assist with the pooled testing, but is hoping to get staffing from Concentric, the company that provides the tests.
On Monday holidays, including Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11, the schools that normally do pooled testing on Mondays (SHS and MCS) will skip that week.
Vaccinations: Mr. Nelson said although some school districts are requiring staff to be vaccinated or to get tested weekly, he is not considering mandating that at this time. When the federal OSHA requirement for employers with over 100 employees to mandate vaccinations or testing goes into effect, Sanford will have to comply, but he said there is no timeline yet as to when that will happen. When OSHA releases the ruling, the district will have 30 days to comply.
In the next week, the School Department will be reaching out to all staff members who indicated in the last survey that they were unvaccinated, or who didn’t respond, to find out their vaccination status. As of mid-September, only 74.9% of staff confirmed that they had received the Covid vaccine. Committee member Amy Sevigny called that number “disappointing,” noting that 88% of eligible Sanford residents have been vaccinated. Among students, only 50-54% are known to be vaccinated.
Ms Sevigny said she would like to have a goal for vaccination rate or positivity rate, to encourage people to get vaccinated and do the pooled testing. She added she feels strongly that outdoor school events should be allowed.
Mr. Nelson noted that the positivity rates in Massachusetts and New Hampshire are trending in the right direction, and that Maine usually follows close behind.
Enrollment: The School Department’s official enrollment figures, which are tabulated on October 1, show that SHS has 1,093 students this year, an increase of 40 over last year. SMS enrollment is exactly the same as last year at 958. Enrollments are up at all three elementary schools, while Pre-K has dropped slightly. Overall, the district as a whole has 150 more students enrolled this school year than last. Mr. Nelson said that was a very positive development, as that is a big driver and metric for funding the Department receives from the state.
Positive News: See separate story.
Advertising: Mr. Nelson went over some of the efforts his office has used to attract employees, and showed a video put together by Sarah Schnell at WSSR-TV. He said flyers have been posted at local colleges and a social media campaign is also underway.
SPAC: Brett Williams gave a report on the Sanford Performing Arts Center. See separate story.
Pre-K: Assistant Superintendent Steve Bussiere gave an update on Pre-Kindergarten. The Department currently offers two half-day programs at the Sanford Regional Technical Center, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, with a limit of 16 students in each. A teacher and ed tech work with each class. He said it was a great setup because students in SRTC’s Early Childhood Education program also worked with children, gaining valuable field experience.
There is also a Head Start program in Sanford, contracted by the School Department to York County Community Action. They offer full-day (6 hours) classes, and income qualification is required for enrollment.
Mr. Bussiere said the goal is to have a Pre-K program at each of the elementary schools, with two full-day classes in each, in addition to the SRTC program. He will be going to a meeting about grant funding this week to discover what resources are available.
Mr. Nelson pointed out that the Pre-K expansion was planned in the redesign of the elementary schools. The Pre-K classrooms are currently being used to reduce class sizes so students can recover from the learning loss of the past year, but as students catch up, class sizes can begin to return to normal, freeing up those spaces.
Johns Hopkins survey: Curriculum Director Bethany Lambert gave an update on a survey that will be sent out to the school community in the next couple of weeks. Parents, all staff who interact with students, and students in grades 6-12 will receive the survey, which is voluntary. The survey will take about 15-20 minutes to complete, and the results will be available after it closes. The results of the survey will be used in crafting new vision statements and missions for the school district.
Resignations, Appointments and Transfers: Mr. Nelson thanked Richard Martineau, 2nd shift custodian at Pride Elementary, for his years of hard work for the School Department, and wished him the best of luck in his retirement. Mike Pepin was congratulated on his promotion from 1st shift custodian to head custodian at SHS.
Policies and Procedures: Mr. Bussiere said the Department’s policy and procedure on the use of physical restraint and seclusion had to be updated to reflect changes in Maine state law. Under the new definitions, if a student swings out to hit someone, and a staff member blocks their arm, that is considered a restraint. Restraint may now only be used if there is “imminent risk of serious physical injury or harm.” Students may not be restrained from committing property damage or minor injury. The new law goes into effect on October 18. He said the amount of paperwork would increase due to reporting requirements.
Calendar: The next School Committee meetings are scheduled for October 18, November 1 and November 15.
The full School Committee meeting video may be viewed here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfKYRGEtLiE&t=4543s.