BRUNSWICK — Brunswick school officials pitched a draft reopening plan Wednesday that has most students back in the classroom for at least one day per week, but leaves 10th-12th graders at home to learn remotely. 

Shanna Crofton, director of curriculum, assessment, instruction professional development presents the Brunswick School Department’s reopening plan to the school board on Wednesday.

The hybrid plan has kids in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade attending school two days per week, with three online. Classes will be divided into cohorts — one will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays, the other will attend Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays will be reserved for deep cleaning school buildings.

Students at the junior high school will also be grouped into cohorts, with the same two-day in-person learning schedule, but instead of the students changing classes, officials plan to have teachers move from room to room throughout the day to limit the risk of exposure for students.

At the high school, freshmen will be divided into four cohorts and will attend school in person for one day each week. Sophomores, juniors and seniors will learn remotely. 

The discrepancy, according to Shanna Crofton, director of curriculum, assessment, instruction professional development, is partly due to the ninth grade’s importance as a transition year from middle school to high school. Research shows that the right supports for freshmen are reflected with increased graduation rates, she said, and coming off a stressful eighth-grade year last year, it will be even more important. 

Otherwise, there are simply too many people and too many schedules (including mixed-level classes) to be able to safely follow the recommended guidelines, and bring everyone back, she said.

There will be some exceptions for students with special needs, Region 10 vocational students, English for speakers of other languages and a select few others. 

All families will also have the option to pursue distance-only learning, but are asked to commit to doing so until December break. 

Many of the details for the reopening plan are still being worked out but officials said they are working quickly and will get information out as soon as possible. 

The school board will vote on the finalized plan on Wednesday.

Remote learning plans will be significantly improved from the models used in the spring.

“We recognize that we can do better than we’ve done,” Superintendent Phillip Potenziano said. 

Moving forward, there will be consistency between learning platforms, consistent expectations, regular virtual connection with teachers, standard grading practices and more social and emotional programming/resources for students. There will also be substantial professional development for teachers and online training for parents and students. To accomplish this, officials are recommending the first day of school be pushed back to Sept. 8. 

Like other school departments, Brunswick students, employees and visitors will be required to wear masks at all times, personal hygiene and facilities’ cleaning practices will be enhanced and social distancing protocols will be enforced. 

However, unlike other districts, which recommend three feet of distance between students, Brunswick officials are requiring at least a six-foot distance for everyone, including children.

This is the recommendation of the district pediatrician, Dr. Alyssa Goodwin, who has been working with Brunswick, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the Maine chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Maine Department of Education to help develop a plan. 

The three-foot recommendation is made with the expectation of full-time personal protective equipment, Goodwin said, but children will likely still be eating and drinking in the classroom, and even with the reduced separation, they would not be able to safely have all the students in the school. 

Plus, she added, kids don’t exist in a “3-foot bubble.” 

“I don’t know about your kids, but it’s not going to happen with mine,” she said. 

That level of separation, coupled with the space restrictions in some of the facilities, helped guide the framework.

There are still a lot of questions to be answered and protocols to be worked out, but Crofton and Goodwin said school officials are waiting for more guidelines from the state. More information is expected Friday. 

The plan may seem extreme, but these are really “baby steps into the unknown,” Goodwin said, calling it a “thoughtful and conservative” plan.

Still, Amy Voisine is concerned that her daughter, a sophomore, will struggle academically and emotionally under the proposed plan. 

“Having grades 10-12 included in the hybrid learning is crucial,” Voisine said in an email. “These students are taking high-level courses to prepare for college. They will be missing extremely valuable time that simply cannot be made up … . I will not allow this to happen.” 

“Under normal circumstances, my daughter is and always has been, an Honor Roll student, involved with choral arts and a sport every season and over summer,” she said. “This year she ended up choosing to quit chorus (which she has done since second grade), because doing chorus digitally stressed her to the point of tears.”

Other districts, such as those in Falmouth, Bath and Topsham, have plans that allow at least some access to school buildings for all students, and “surely, if they can figure this out, then Brunswick can too,” she said. 

Even one day on campus, like the freshmen are allowed to have, would allow students to touch base with their teachers, get hands-on help and gather materials, she suggested. 

Teresa McKearney, a resource educational technician at the high school, shared Voisine’s concern that some students might struggle to self-motivate. 

I worry about the disengaged students, that if we’re not there to be their cheerleaders that they may not succeed,” she said in a phone interview. 

McKearney works primarily with students in the special education department, and while there will be some exceptions for students with additional needs, “there is quite a concern that some of the kids just can’t engage online,” she said, and “this is the most vulnerable group of students to not engage.” 

That being said, she has confidence in the teachers and saw how for some students in the program, like those with attention deficit disorders, remote learning worked well. 

If students needed to take a break for a drink of water, take a short walk or just pause for a moment, they were able to do so without missing any instruction.

“We will have some students that will thrive” under the new plan, she said. 

For now, McKearney is just waiting to hear about staffing and student placement. She doesn’t know exactly what her job will entail next year, “but I think it’s going to look very different than in the past,” she said. 

For more information on the proposed plan, visit the school’s website. To provide feedback or ask questions, email [email protected]

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