West Bath School Board of Directors approved a reopening plan that will bring all students back to the classroom during an online meeting Wednesday. Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

WEST BATH — West Bath school officials approved their proposed reopening plan Wednesday, which will bring all students back to the classroom rather than a hybrid distance education model seen in other area districts.

All families have the option to do full-time remote learning if they’re uncomfortable with the school’s in-person learning plan. Students who opt for remote learning will receive a laptop and will watch lessons in real-time. Families are required to commit to either the school’s plan or remote learning by Aug. 21.

Emily Thompson, West Bath School principal and superintendent, said when the school was developing its reopening plan, it found a hybrid plan wasn’t necessary because class sizes are small enough that “we could meet all our distancing guidelines and have everyone in the school.”

The school has just over 100 students in kindergarten through fifth grade, according to Thompson.

Only kindergartners will have a hybrid option available if parents want to ease the transition into school for them. Kindergartners can either attend school full-time, or families can choose a half-day model. Students will come to school in the morning, and their parents will be responsible for picking them up after lunch.

Responding to a survey sent to parents in the spring, 81% of families said they’d send their children to school if Maine Center for Disease Control guidelines were followed.

“I suspect there will be some families who feel a remote-only option is best,” said Thompson. “This is a time of really hard choices families have to make. We want to offer them all the options and support them in whatever decision they make.”

Ashleigh Randall, board member and parent of two West Bath School students, said she’s relieved to send her two daughters back to school full-time.

“During a time when so much is up in the air, being able to go back to school every day will give us that sense of normalcy,” said Randall.

Randall said she feels safe sending her children back to school because their classes have about 15 students, allowing students to spread out, and trusts the school will follow all the necessary health precautions.

“My kids have said, ‘I don’t care what I have to do, I just want to go back to school,’” said Randall. “If hand sanitizer and a mask is what I have to put in their bags now, I will do that.”

“It’s going to be an adjustment, but we’ve had to adjust so much already,” said Randall. “I think our kids are more resilient than we give them credit for. I think we need to follow their lead.”

Dr. Amina Hanna, a pediatrician at Mid Coast Hospital who has been guiding West Bath School through the reopening process, said sending younger students back to school full-time is beneficial both because it helps their mental health and because young children have a low risk of spreading and contracting COVID-19.

“In my practice, I’ve never seen more kids who have emotional and mental health concerns than I have seen [since COVID-19] and I’ve been practicing for 21 years,” said Hanna. “Having kids have that contact with their teachers, the guidance counselor and seeing their peers is so important.”

While in school, all staff and students wear a mask, as required by the Maine CDC and the Maine Department of Education. A face shield may be an alternative for students with medical, behavioral or other challenges who are unable to wear a mask.

Adults will be required to stay 6 feet away from others, and students must keep 3 to 6 feet of distance between one another. Frequent hand washing will also be required.

The school will continue to provide breakfast and lunch, but students will eat in their classrooms.

The Department of Education also mandates all students, teachers and staff must conduct “self checks” before entering school or boarding the school bus. If they’re experiencing symptoms, they cannot go to school.

Ida Beal, who will teach third grade this year at West Bath School, said she feels fortunate to have all 11 of her students back in the classroom because “I feel much more effective as a teacher when I’m with kids in a classroom rather than through a screen.”

She said she feels safe returning to in-person learning, though it will be tough teaching through a mask, especially on hot, humid days, but the most difficult part will be keeping her distance from her students.

“I’m a hugger and kids know that about me, so it’ll be hard to know I can’t give them a hug every day when they come to class like I could before,” said Beal.

Should the DOE require remote learning, the school will pivot to its “red plan,” in which all students will receive a laptop and revert to remote learning, Thompson said. A wifi hotspot can also be provided for any family without reliable internet access.

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