SOUTH PORTLAND — The South Portland School District held a community forum on July 20 that presented a drafted plan for reopening schools in September, which will need school board approval in August.

Parents and family members asked questions about issues, such as the plan for if COVID-19 is found within the schools, what extra childcare options would be available, and what school would look like for students as they head back into the building.

According to the district’s current drafted presentation, and based on the US CDC Considerations for Schools as well as the Maine Department of Education’s Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction, there are three levels of the plan: Red, which is in the event that the Maine Stay-At-Home order is in place, Yellow, for if the order is modified or loosened, and Green, if the order is lifted and schools may return to a more normal operation with greatly revised health protocols.

“Green is certainly where we want to be,” Ken Kunin, superintendent of schools, said. “That’s where we’re hoping for. That’s what we want, but we’ll only end up there when public health guidance and advice leads us there. Maine certainly has been going in the right direction but various states around the country were in a much better place two months ago and are not in a better place right now. So we’re hopeful but we’ll continue watching and monitoring and looking at the state metric, which will come out on July 31.”

The metric will be updated every couple of weeks, Kunin said.

Whichever level is in place, Kunin said, the district needs to have a plan that provides equitable access to all students and is flexible and safe.

“We will be in Yellow if public health advice continues to stress need for social distancing and other preventative measures to limit spread of the coronavirus,” the presentation said. “We can have students in schools, but not all students all of the time.”

In the Yellow level, grades K through 12 would have alternating dates at school, in two groups, with Group A on Monday and Thursday, and Group B on Tuesday and Friday, Kunin said.

Special education students would have a self-contained plan and would be in the building for four days a week, he said. There will also be full-time distance learning options in place for a student who cannot return to the buildings.

“We really felt, as we read the surveys, that we had to have a distance learning option at each level,” Kunin said. “Because we have a significant number of families who, either because they have someone who is immunocompromised in their families or living with them, or for whatever reason, just really feel that they could not, at this time, until there is a significant advances in dealing with the pandemic, send their child back to school. So we’re working hard to provide quality distance learning options for Pre-k up through grade 12.”

Andrew Wallace, director of technology, said that while parents of young children do not need to go out and purchase technology for their children, he recommends iPads or any kind of tablet with a touch screen as a way for kindergartners to learn through technology. The district will also be providing technology.

The school district is also meeting weekly through the summer with South Portland Recreation to create a childcare plan for families who need one, Kunin said.

“We also see that we’re really going to have to look for the next several summers and when we’re back to normal, after school programs to really provide additional to students who are losing out during this period,” he said. “Families who may not be able to stay home to help support the distance learning or may not have all the English or school skills to be able to do that, we have a responsibility to provide it, so we’re thinking of that in terms of what programs we’re running after school when we’re back to normal, what programs we’re running in the summer of 2021 and 2022, but it is an issue that has our attention and we’re very concerned about.”

Parents who attended the July 20 forum questioned what schools would do if a child or staff member caught the virus.

Kunin said that the Maine CDC will be releasing protocols for school districts to use in the case of closing schools if a child tests positive for COVID-19.

“We’re really going to take our guidance from the CDC on once a child’s identified, what steps we’ll need to take, and really, that’s consistent with what we’ve done in the past with infectious diseases,” he said. ” … Rather than me, who’s an educator, making those decisions, we’re really going to be looking to the protocols that the epidemiologist and public health professionals put in place to help us make those calls. We don’t have that protocol yet from the state but it’s something our nurses are in touch with at the state and are looking at carefully.”

Schools will depend on and stress consistency with everyone screening before coming to school and not coming to school if they don’t feel well, the use of face coverings, hand hygiene, coughing and sneeze etiquette, and cleaning or sanitizing, Susan Heeschen, Dyer Elementary’s school nurse, said.

“A lot of what we’re doing, not to say we guarantee that no one will get it, but we’re hoping to cultivate an environment of healthy compliance with all of the strategies that we know work,” she said.

“In my school, if there is a case reported to me and I call public health, they will be asking me some key questions about the cohort the student or the staff member is in, and how diligently have we been practicing all of these other strategies, and from that they will determine how many people need to be quarantined, and what other strategies we need to do,” Heeschen said.

The school nurses and administration are still working on the final plan, Kunin and Heeschen said.

“We’re trying to build on and develop a better understanding of current guidance and then wait to hear their final protocols to determine what we’ll actually do if there is a positive case in our community,” Heeschen said.

Each school in the district will have a full-time nurse, Kunin said, and even in the Green level, everyone in the school building would need to wear masks. The district has also purchased new sanitation equipment.

In the presentation’s timeline, the school board would approve the 2020-2021 school plan in August, and the plan will be implemented, assessed, and adjusted in September. For more information on the full plan and presentation, visit  www.spsd.org.

The district also hosted the same presentation and second public forum on July 22 for those who could not attend the first one.

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