WESTBROOK — Students will start the the new school year during the week of Sept. 8, attending in-person classes two days a week and working remotely three days a week.

Half of the students will attend school on two consecutive days, with the other half attending on two other days that week. All schools will work remotely on Fridays under the reopening plan approved 4-2 by the School Committee on Tuesday. Members Beth Schultz and Jessica Mosinski abstaining.

Superintendent Peter Lancia outlines the three models for returning to school, all of which he says can come into play throughout the year depending on COVID-19 cases and transmission in the county. Courtesy photo

Exact start times and dates for students are still being figured out, Superintendent Peter Lancia told the American Journal Wednesday, with more details to be released after the newspaper’s deadline. The first full week of school will be the week of Sept. 14.

The remote learning will be similar to that implemented last spring when schools across the state shut down abruptly to stem the spread of the coronavirus, but more “accountability” will be in store for students, Lancia said.

Students will have check-in times and more live meetings with peers and teachers. Middle and high school students will still have some amount of schedule flexibility, he said.

Along with the approved hybrid model, the committee also approved full-return and fully remote models so Westbrook schools can more easily make a switch if needed, Lancia said. The School Committee and administration will reevaluate the hybrid model at the end of September.

Ventilation tests are being conducted at the schools, Superintendent Peter Lancia said.

“Say those come back poorly, I will come back and say that school is opening remote,” he said.

School Committee member Suzanne Salisbury read from a letter from an anonymous teacher.

“How will you feel when one staff member or student gets COVID, perhaps dying?” the teacher wrote. “Will you chalk it up to the necessary risk, offer condolences and push forward? Or will you acknowledge it was preventable?”

Administrators say while they understand concerns about in-person instruction, it will be safe. The schools will be operating under state pandemic guidelines and social distancing will be adhered to because the buildings will be operating at half capacity.

“Either it is too unsafe to open the schools and they should be closed; or it is safe and they should be open,” parent Kurt Smith said in an interview with the American Journal.

The state has allowed all Maine schools to reopen for in-person learning.

“The state has gone into green, however the state is expecting us to follow all regulations, which prohibits us from being fully in-person because of spacing requirements,” Lancia said. “In short, with current expectations, it is impossible for us at this point.”

Smith also said uncertainty over the grouping of students presents problems.

“As parents, we still do not know which days our children will be in school and which days they will not.  It does not make planning very easy for work or childcare,” he said.

Lancia said principals are working on keeping siblings and neighborhoods together in each group to make it easier for families.

Special needs students who rely on continuous in-person learning will have the opportunity to be in school Monday through Thursday, he said.

Resident Scott Linscott said he is appreciative of the work the administration has done for the reopening but is still concerned about the return to schools. Linscott’s wife is a teacher at the Westbrook Regional Vocational Center and he is vulnerable to the virus due to a previous liver transplant.

“Westbrook appears to be taking steps to protect students and teachers. However, I have heard the plan is for parents to monitor temperatures daily at home,” he said. “Any teacher will tell you that parents often send their sick children to school.”

Lancia the custodial staff will be deep cleaning the schools nightly, and under the hybrid model, having three days without students in the school buildings – Friday through Sunday – allows a building to be quarantined in case of a breakout. The CDC currently recommends a three-day quarantine for outbreak sites.

So far, Westbrook schools has not reported any students that have had the virus, while Cumberland County is at about 2,143 cases, according to Maine CDC.

 

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