Members of the Portland Board of Public Education postponed a vote on school reopening plans Tuesday after spending more than five hours hearing how a proposed hybrid model would work and questioning administrators and experts.

The board was expected to vote and hear public comment on the hybrid model following the workshop, but instead voted 7-2 to recess the workshop and readjourn at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Board Chairman Roberto Rodriguez and board member Emily Figdor dissented.

The wide-ranging workshop covered administrators’ reasoning for returning under a hybrid model, feedback the district has received on the plans, how health and safety guidelines will be met, scheduling and academic programming.

Other aspects of the plan are expected to be discussed Wednesday, including staffing, which Portland Public Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana said will be a “gigantic part of this equation” and likely to generate many questions from the board.

“We do believe in-person instruction is superior to remote instruction for most students,” Botana said in opening the workshop. While he is recommending a hybrid reopening, Botana said it is likely schools could be remote at various times this year either because of the prevalence of the coronavirus or other specific circumstances.

“If and when that happens, our teachers and staff will work tirelessly to make it the best it can possibly be,” Botana said. “They did that in the spring and I think we learned a great deal and will be better, but the fact remains I think in-person instruction is preferable.”


The plan as proposed would bring most students back for some in-person learning. Elementary school students would be taught in-person two days per week and would learn remotely two days per week with a goal of bringing all pre-K through fifth-grade students back in-person five days per week by mid-October.

Peaks Island Elementary and Cliff Island School are exceptions and would be returning in-person five and four days per week, respectively.

Middle school students would follow a hybrid schedule similar to that of most elementary students and attend class in-person two days per week. Cohorts at both the elementary and middle school level would be identified based on last name and students would attend a shortened school day of five hours on in-person days.

At the high school level, freshmen would attend three hours of class in-person two days per week in two different cohorts. Upperclassmen would take classes remotely in a “learning center” model with access to in-person supports or virtual office hours with teachers.

There would be no instruction district wide on Wednesdays, which would be designated for student outreach, catch-up and teacher planning.

During Tuesday night’s workshop the board heard from administrators and experts including Patricia Patterson, the district’s medical officer; Tina Veilleux, the district’s head nurse; and Gita Rao, a pediatrician with Greater Portland Health.


Patterson was questioned on whether surveillance testing would be recommended for schools and what the strategy will be for testing students or staff who are symptomatic.

She said there are still many unanswered questions around what COVID looks like in children, especially young children, and that the district’s focus right now is on trying to identify students who might be sick and getting them access to a rapid return test.

“What we’re focusing on is kids who have one major symptom or a couple minor symptoms or have somebody home that’s sick with a fever or cough, to be able to try and get them tested before they exit,” she said. “Maybe they go from one school to an outside tent at another school on their way home. That’s what we’re envisioning.”

The board also heard from Chris Reiger, director of clinical services for the district; Deb Mullis, director of special education; and Derek Pierce, principal of Casco Bay High School, who all spoke in support of returning in a hybrid model.

“No students are impacted more by school closures due to the pandemic than our students with disabilities, especially our students with significant disabilities,” Mullis said.

Pierce also said he deeply supports the hybrid model, saying that while students already had established relationships with their teachers when they transitioned to remote learning last spring, those relationships would be hard to establish starting the year remotely.


“The in-person time, it’s connection time,” Pierce said. “It’s the antidote to the disconnection that too many students and too many staff feel too often when learning online.”

The board also heard updates Tuesday on the feedback the district has been getting from students and staff, ventilation of school buildings and what scheduling will look like.

Assistant Superintendent Melea Nalli said the district is expanding its outdoor classroom capacity from a target of two outdoor classrooms per building to the maximum number that can be supported. District-wide professional development on teaching outdoors will be required.

Nalli did not have final numbers per building on outdoor classroom space, but said the district is committed to maximizing outdoor space to the extent possible.

Families that are considering the district’s fully remote option for the first trimester have until Aug. 24 to make that decision. The board also received a sample schedule for students who will be in full remote.

The proposed plan calls for the start of school to be delayed until Sept. 14, although students would have an opportunity to return for a “sample day” the week of Sept. 8 to see what school will look like.

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