FREEPORT — Regional School Unit 5 officials on Wednesday approved a hybrid reopening plan for September, with hopes that students will be back in the classroom for full in-person learning by mid-October.

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

Despite the recent “green light” from the state, Superintendent Becky Foley recommended last week that the board follow the “yellow” or hybrid protocol to further reduce risks 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 at the time. 

“Once we start in yellow and figure out (operations) safely then we will be ready to go to green,” she added Wednesday. 

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, with remote-learning geared toward independent learning, especially at the elementary school level, which principals said mirrors their current curriculum. 

At the middle school and high school level, some classes will pilot “synchronous” or live learning opportunities, with the goal that if successful, the district can offer more of such classes in the future. However, administrators said they will need time to test it and work out the kinks. 

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. 

This decision was met with some backlash from the public last week, with parents arguing that as essential workers, they needed childcare too, but Foley stood by her decision Wednesday. 

“I want to reiterate that our proposal is focused on supporting all of our students by having highly qualified staff members working with them each day,” she said, and if a teacher has to take two days per week off to watch his or her children, that cannot happen. 

Parents and students can choose a remote-only model if they wish, but will need to commit through Dec. 22. So far, according to Foley, about 11% of families have indicated they will choose the remote option.

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

The board did vote to add a ventilation plan to the proposal and Foley said the ventilation systems currently pose no problem to reopening and “all of our systems will be mechanically sound before the start of school.”

The board voted to push the start of school, initially slated for Aug. 31, to Sept. 8 to give teachers a few extra days to plan and set up. 

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