BIDDEFORD — Biddeford, Saco and RSU 23 have each announced back to school plans that feature a hybrid mix of in classroom and remote learning. The plans are a bit different in each community and each school system has stressed that the plans are subject to change.

Schools in all three communities will open for students on Sept. 8 but instruction will be different than it has been in past years.

The Maine Department of Education has developed a color code for the state that advises school districts, based on the county they are located in, whether in-person instruction is advisable. A red categorization suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction is not advisable, yellow means there is an elevated risk and schools could consider a hybrid of in-person and remote learning for students and green suggests that the county 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. As of Friday, Aug. 14 all counties in Maine fall in the green category, however local schools will all adopt some form of hybrid learning.

In Biddeford, students in Pre-kindergarten through grade eight will have in classroom instruction Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, some in leased space, because social distancing requirements means fewer students in classrooms.

Biddeford High School students will be split into two groups — the first attending in school classes on Mondays and Tuesdays and the second, on Thursdays and Fridays, with remote instruction the rest of the week.

Biddeford Superintendent of Schools Jeremy Ray said the school department learned last spring that high school students have more ability to work independently, and there just aren’t enough high school classrooms to bring students together and still provide social distancing.

On Wednesdays, the school buildings will be cleaned and sanitized.

“This is our plan now,” said Ray. “As a parent of two, I understand that changes to school functions affect working parents. Any substantive changes moving forward will be dictated by the Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention. Thankfully, our state’s epidemiological data is moving in the right direction, but as we know, this can change in an instant.”

Ray pointed out that to make provision for social distancing, some John F. Kennedy School PreK and kindergarten students will begin the year in leased space at New Life Church. Grades one and two will attend Biddeford Primary school; three and four, Biddeford Intermediate School; five through seven, Biddeford Middle School, and the rest, Biddeford High School.

At the BHS Regional Center of Technology, there could be some flexibility. He said some of the COT classrooms are bigger and might be able to allow more students, but right now, that isn’t definite.

“We’ll continue to look at what the science is telling us and what the public heath situation is,” said Ray, “and adjust as necessary.”

Decision on Biddeford school athletics and co-curricular activities will be determined by Aug. 24.

In Saco, students in PreK through grade eight will be divided into two groups, with one group attending classes Mondays and Tuesdays and the other, Thursdays and Fridays.

Superintendent Dominic DePatsy told the Saco School Board the decision is in collaboration with Thornton Academy, a private school which serves as the public high school for Saco, which he said is also using a hybrid model.

The situation will be reviewed every two weeks, said DePatsy. If York County is plunged into the Maine Department of Education’s “red” category, which indicates a high risk of CIVOD-19 spread, families will get three days’ notice to switch to remote learning. He said distance learning kits will be sent home with students early in the year, for storm days or changes due to the pandemic.

“It’s a fluid document and will continue to change,” DePatsy told the school board.

In RSU 23, Superintendent of Schools and Old Orchard Beach High School Principal John Suttie said the school buildings, which housed 1,000 students in 2005 and 2006, had a 720-student enrollment last year, and the building are big enough to house all students at once, every day. However, RSU 23 is also taking a cautious approach, and offering in person classes four days a week, with remote learning on Wednesdays.

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