North Yarmouth Academy’s small class sizes, compared with public schools, has helped facilitate its planned campus reopening in September. Courtesy Mike Krakowka

YARMOUTH — North Yarmouth Academy is prepared to welcome all students back in September on a full-time schedule as the coronavirus pandemic maintains its grip on the nation.

The private school serves about 360 students ranging from toddlers to 12th graders. With an average 14 students per classroom in the school’s seven academic buildings, academy Head of School Ben Jackson is confident there’s enough space for safe social distancing to avoid spreading the virus.

“We’ve gone through a full analysis of what every classroom can accommodate,” he said.

Precautions the school is taking, based largely on state safety guidelines, include health screenings. Students will be asked to determine whether they’ve experienced any COVID-19 symptoms and the school will reinforce self-screening before people enter the school, likely through daily temperature checks, Jackson explained. Additional measures like plastic screens might be used, too.

Students “can expect the use of masks,” required to be worn by pupils and teachers alike, Jackson said. Cleaning and disinfecting will be increased, entry and exit points will be designated to create one-way foot traffic through buildings, and capacity will be regulated in gathering spaces like the learning commons, dining area and gym.

The school has nearly 80 full-time staff, which includes 50 faculty members, for a 7-to-1 student-teacher ratio, Jackson said. The 148 Main St. campus sits on 25 acres.

Although he has yet to know exactly how many students will return, “we expect to have about 360 students this fall,” Jackson said. Some families, he said, “certainly have apprehensions about that, and we’re looking for ways to accommodate them as well, through hybrid experiences.”

Those experiences would be available for students who might need a temporary shift to remote learning due to health risks or concerns about the virus. Jackson said the school is “prepared to transition back to remote learning for any length of time if it is required of us,” and it will be ready to change course should Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention guidelines call for it.

Academy students, who live as far away as Scarborough, Auburn and Edgecomb, were already on a two-week break in mid-March, when schools across Maine shuttered their classrooms and switched to remote learning; NYA staff had about a week to prepare for that transition, Jackson said.

The school’s response to the pandemic did much to back up Danielle King’s confidence in sending her children back to campus this fall. The North Yarmouth woman has two teenagers entering their freshman and junior years, and also was a host parent to one of NYA’s international students, who graduated this year.

“I felt the communication (from the school) was really good, and it’s been really good straight-through so far,” King said. “… And there’ve been a lot of surveys, so I feel like as parents we have a voice.”

She agreed with Jackson that given the school’s size, the students can be safely spread out. “At a bigger school that would certainly be much harder, and if we were in a city … I’d have much bigger concerns.”

Across town, the Yarmouth School Department is “developing a multi-tiered approach” to returning to school, with options ranging from 100% classroom-based learning to 100% remote instruction, and with two blended choices, according to Superintendent Andrew Dolloff.

He said he hoped to present “the core framework of those options” to the School Committee on July 16, with an eye toward choosing the model it deems most appropriate, based on guidance from the CDC and Maine Department of Education, early next month.

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