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Sanford’s School Committee held an emergency meeting on July 26 to vote to accept a federal grant which couldn’t wait until the next regular meeting in September.

The Distance Learning and Telemedicine Grant Program, which actually predates the Covid-19 pandemic, offers assistance to rural school districts in a partnership arrangement. The larger districts provide some matching funds, which allows the smaller districts to also benefit. The program is administered through USDA Rural Development.

The full amount of this phase of the grant is $945,637, of which Sanford will get the largest share, $353,056. Kittery, Bonny Eagle, Dexter, Harmony and Athens school districts are the other partners in this phase. The 15% matching funds can include other distance learning equipment that the Department has purchased, for example, Chromebook computers.

Technology Director Joan Wright explained that the first phase of the grant, authorized in 2018, provided for special computer equipment for schools to set up “Zoom rooms” to enable remote learning opportunities. The technology can be installed on a wall or put on a mobile cart to move wherever it is needed. That equipment was purchased for Sanford High School/SRTC, Sanford Middle School and Sanford Community Adult Education. The 2021 round of the grant program will enable the Department to purchase enough “Zoom room” equipment for the rest of the schools in the district.

Ms. Wright told the Committee that the grants are very complex, and the paperwork and ordering take considerable time. The equipment purchased with the 2018 grant money will be installed this year and teachers will be able to learn about the system before the second round of equipment is delivered.

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