Gorham school bus driver Cathy McKinnon will don a face shield and gloves on the job this fall. Robert Lowell / American Journal

GORHAM — School officials, teachers, parents, students and bus drivers were all waiting this week to learn when school will resume and under what model.

The School Committee will vote on a reopening plan Thursday, Aug. 6.

“We are expecting to find out the state’s rating for each county by July 31, which will help to inform the School Committee on our vote next week,” Chairman Stewart McCallister said.

The state’s color-coded school reopening system takes into account the coronavirus infection risks in each of the 16 counties and health and safety standards.

Measures taken under Gorham’s coding system could differ slightly from state guidelines, McCallister said.

Norm Justice, Gorham School Department transportation director, says buses are clean, sanitized and ready to go. Robert Lowell / American Journal

Three color-coded reopening options, red, green and yellow, are available. The red level would be distance learning with no face-to-face instruction. Under the green scenario, schools would open in a traditional manner but with stepped up sanitation and a face mask requirement for all students. Yellow is a hybrid option with only half of students allowed in buildings daily, with all students required to wear masks and social distance.

 “While at school (including on buses), students will be required to wear face coverings unless there is a medical reason why they can’t and in those circumstances they would be asked to wear a face shield,” Superintendent Heather Perry said.
“There will be ample times throughout the day during which 6-foot social distancing can be structured to allow for mask breaks for students. These will include times when students are eating (snack and lunch) and times in classrooms when a teacher determines it is safe to take a mask break,” she said.
Students would be divided into two groups, McCallister said. One would attend school on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other group on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Fridays would be a common flexible day of learning from home for all Cumberland County schools, “allowing our schedules to align with WRVC and Paths and allowing students to receive support and enrichment services in a coordinated manner on this day,” he said.
 “At this point, I would say that most schools in Cumberland County are following the same proposed format,” McCallister said this week. “I do want to add, though, that there is a lot that could happen over the next few weeks as most districts, including Gorham, have yet to officially adopt a specific plan.”

Transporting students to and from schools under the green or yellow models is “obviously going to be challenging,” said Norm Justice, director of transportation for Gorham schools.

Gorham has an “ample” number of buses for its 20 school routes and is in “pretty good shape” with drivers, but the number of students allowed on each bus will be limited for social distancing, he said. He has lined up a private school bus operator in the event a backup becomes needed.

“With the rules we have regarding transportation right now, we can only have one student per seat with an empty seat left behind the bus driver,” Perry said. “We are looking at somewhere between 22-28 students per bus at this point, which is a significant difference between the typical 70-75.”

The School Department is encouraging families to take their children to school.

Justice is waiting for the school board to make a decision as to which attendance model it will choose and then to hear from parents.

“There are huge unknowns,” Justice said, but the buses are clean and ready, having “been washed inside and out.”

New bus rules also await students. The first students boarding will sit in the rear and exit last, and all will be required to wear masks and sanitize their hands before getting on.

All drivers will wear masks or face shields and gloves. After every bus run, drivers will thoroughly sanitize the entire bus.

“Kids have a tendency to touch everything down the aisle,” driver Cathy McKinnon said Tuesday.

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