FREEPORT — Regional School Unit 5 officials on Thursday presented a draft reopening plan that they hope will keep students and staff safe while getting them back in the classroom, but some parents think the plan to needs more work to be successful and equitable. 

Despite the recent “green light” from the state, Superintendent Becky Foley recommended the board follow the “yellow” or hybrid protocol to further reduce risks of the COVID-19 pandemic to students and staff. 

A green plan would include a full reopening with some safety restrictions in place and a red plan would mean remote-only instruction for students. 

“Of course we all want … our kids back in school full-time, we just do not believe that right now is the time to do that,” she said. 

Foley added that data from parents and students made it clear that “remote is not working for our students and we need to get them back in school.” 

The hybrid plan, a “cautious and measured approach,” helps accomplish both aims, she said. 

Regional School Unit 5 includes students from Freeport, Durham and Pownal. 

Becky Foley is superintendent of schools in Regional School Unit 5 (Freeport-Durham-Pownal). Times Record file photo

The hybrid plan will divide K-12 students into two cohorts, with one group attending school on Mondays and Wednesdays and the other on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Cohorts will alternate on Fridays, meaning students will have three days of in-person instruction every other week. 

The plan focuses on the kids who are learning in the classroom.  Remote-learning days will be geared toward independent learning, with assignments being made the day before while students are at school.

Some students will be allowed to have five days of in-person instruction, including those with physical, developmental, learning or behavioral disabilities. Children of RSU 5 employees will also be allowed to attend school in-person for five days per week. 

Parents and students can choose a remote-only model if they wish but will need to commit through Dec. 22. 

If all goes well, Foley said the district may be able to transition to a “green” or full in-person plan sometime in October.

As stipulated by the department of education, the school will require masks, social distancing, increased cleaning and hygiene protocols, symptom self-screening at home and a plan for reentry after illness. 

Foley is recommending the first day of school be pushed back to at least Sept. 2 to give teachers a few extra days to plan and set up. 

The plan raised questions regarding equity from parents, teachers and board members alike, with advocates for both green and yellow plans asking for more synchronous or “live” learning opportunities during the remote days instead of self-regulated work. 

Many were concerned that students were realistically only getting two to three days of education per week and that it not only puts the burden on families to teach, but also without a better thought-out virtual learning plan, students will fall behind.

“I urge you to require real-time virtual instruction,” parent Karen Greene said. “I am not a teacher and I am not qualified to educate. We cannot allow public education in our school system to fall further behind.” 

Board member Valy Steverlynck asked the administration to find out how much it would cost to install cameras in every middle school and high school classroom to facilitate synchronous learning and said she was “concerned about the independent work at home for all levels.” 

Across the board, parents also asked for clearer metrics surrounding switching to green or even red plans. 

Tim Kieger, a proponent for a green reopening, said his 6-year-old daughter is not able to work independently, and will need to be in daycare during the days she is not in school. She would likely be safer with full-attendance at Durham Community School than in a large multi-town childcare center, he said. 

Several parents agreed that they would need to arrange childcare for the remote days. 

“I realize it’s a big ask, a nearly impossible task, but there are a lot of parents who are working full time” parent Nicole Goodrich said, asking the board to consider providing alternate care options for students. “I don’t wrong you for wanting to provide care for (teachers) … but it’s also an essential need for the rest of us.” 

The board of directors is expected to continue the discussion and vote on the plan on Wednesday. 

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