MSAD 75

TOPSHAM — Maine School Administrative District 75 officials are planning a “crawl, walk, run” phased approach for reopening schools in the fall, Superintendent Shawn Chabot told the board of directors in a virtual meeting Thursday. 

Reopening the schools will take a “Herculean effort,” he said, and while “there’s no way we can make everybody happy,” the school district is prioritizing safety for students and staff, as well as maximizing in-person learning where possible. 

“We know students learn best when they’re in their seats,” he said. 

MSAD 75 covers Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham. 

According to a draft plan released late last week, parents will have two options: Send their children to school with the understanding that there will be a phased reentry and an initial hybrid education model, or keep their children home for remote-only teaching for at least the first trimester or semester of the year, depending on grade level. 

The school year will start slowly, Chabot said, with students only attending for half days, two days per week, through the first week. In the afternoons, teachers will regroup and meet to discuss what went well and what might need to change. 

Group A will attend school Monday and Thursday and Group B will attend Tuesday and Friday, meaning that only about half the students will be in their school building at any given time. The other three days, students will learn remotely. Wednesdays will be reserved for cleaning. 

Following the first week, students will return for full days, but maintain the same alternating schedule. Students within the same family or household will be in the same group. 

After week four, Chabot said he hopes schools will be able to return to full, in-person learning all week but added that coronavirus is a “moving target” and that “nobody has had success yet in corralling this virus.” 

If conditions worsen, the district may retreat to an earlier phase or to remote-only instruction. 

At all stages of the plan, which officials estimate will likely be in place for the entire school year, all students older than age 2 and staff will be required to wear masks at all times, including on the bus. For individuals with medical or behavioral needs that prohibit wearing a mask, a plastic face shield will be required instead.

According to Chabot, the district has ordered enough personal protective equipment to last through December, with students and staff each receiving at least two masks.

Adults will keep at least 6 feet from each other and from students, and students will be required to stay at least 3 feet apart. Cleaning protocols will be enhanced and gatherings of more than 50 people in a room at a time will be prohibited. 

As it stands, the draft plan offers a broad view of what’s to come, but there are still details that need to be worked out, Chabot said. For example, how will schools set up lunches so that students aren’t all eating in the same room or how will students change classrooms at the high school so everyone can move safely from class to class? 

Officials also are trying to work out how to safely increase ventilation on the school buses. Current plans stipulate that the windows need to be kept open, but that will not work on rainy days or in the winter months. Parents are encouraged to drive their kids to school if possible to limit the number of students on the bus. 

Protocols surrounding exposure are still being worked out and the district hopes for more guidance from the Maine Department of Education soon. 

The alternative plan, in which families will have to commit to remote-only learning, was created after a parent survey showed that at least 10% of families do not plan to send their children back to school in the fall. 

Families are asked to fill out a form identifying which option they are planning for by July 31. Parents can attend a virtual Zoom informational meeting at 5:30 on Tuesday. The sessions will be recorded. 

School is scheduled to start Aug. 31, and Chabot said a more comprehensive version of the plan, with more information on policy, procedure and scheduling, should be available Aug. 13. 

“All I can say is that as we work through this, we are going to work, learn and grow together,” he said. “We just have to give each other grace and patience for this as we develop these plans and implement these plans.”

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