SOUTH PORTLAND—Students at South Portland schools will begin the school year on Sept. 8 under a partial remote-learning plan.

That was the decision of the school board at a special meeting Wednesday night, following the presentation of the district’s plan for how to conduct learning for the 2020-2021 school year during the coronavirus pandemic.

School Superintendent Ken Kunin presented a plan based on three scenarios. The first assumes it will be too dangerous to have any in-person interaction at all, and requires the district to prepare for a remote-learning environment similar to what happened beginning in March, when the pandemic first broke out.

The second scenario assumes the exact opposite, that it will be safe enough for schools to allow students to return to school entirely in-person, as they would in an ordinary school year.

The third scenario, which Kunin recommended, assumes certain orders to stay at home will remain in place, but be loosened. Students will attend classes in person, but only for two days per week. The rest of the time they will be engaged in remote learning. Teachers and staff will continue to operate out of the school buildings as normal.

All scenarios bringing students and staff into the buildings, Kunin said, followed the state Department of Education’s requirements, which include maintaining social distancing, wearing masks, instructing parents on how to screen their kids for symptoms before they come to school, washing hands or using sanitizing gel, mandating staff members wear additional equipment such as face shields and ensuring sick staff or students remain at home.

Kunin said he recommends the hybrid approach even though the department issued a statement statewide on July 31 indicating it classified Cumberland County as a “county that has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that schools may consider in-person instruction, as long as they are able to implement the required health and safety measures.” Kunin noted the department also indicated school districts may use remote learning or hybrid models if they feel it is prudent. With the health of 3,000 students and 600 staff to think about, Kunin said proceeding with the combined scenario was prudent.

“We really feel strongly that we still need to proceed with caution,” he said.

Kunin acknowledged that some details still remain to be worked out, such as how to handle extracurricular activities. He said he wasn’t sure yet if it would be safe to actually hold fall sports, and that the district would defer to the guidance of the Maine Athletic Association and the Maine Principal’s Association.

“If we can proceed safely, we want to proceed,” he said.

Some, such as Sarah Connors, president of the South Portland Teachers Association, voiced concern about a lack of other details. While she didn’t speak to which details were missing, she said some teachers had asked the district specific questions relating to their classrooms and not received straight answers.

Board member Mary House also expressed concern about going forward without finalizing some details, though she also did not say which details she wanted addressed. She did say overall that she approved of the plan, saying, “I think this is a good place to start.”

Sean Murphy 780-9094

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