TOPSHAM — More than a month after adopting a reopening plan that sends students back to school two days a week, Maine School Administrative District 75 school board members on Thursday pressed school administrators to explain what’s preventing them from fully reopening all district schools.

Superintendent Shawn Chabot said he doesn’t expect that Mt. Ararat middle and high schools will be able to meet all state safety requirements in order to move to a full reopening three weeks after school starts, as originally planned.

The Maine Department of Education determined that MSAD 75, which serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham, is in the “green.” This means the state would allow the district to fully reopen schools to in-person instruction because there is a low enough risk of spreading COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, in those communities.

As of Sunday, there had been 59 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and no deaths in Sagadahoc County, where all but one of the district’s schools is located, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Board member Alison Hawkes said during a Thursday board meeting that she was growing increasingly frustrated as the “goal posts” for a full school reopening keep moving.

“We were told: full reopen. Get the numbers down,” Hawkes said. “We’re in the green. We could meet the … requirements. Please, please, please explain to  me why we are not following what the parents have asked for and the data and numbers are telling us?”


Chabot said schools can only reopen fully if they can follow the six requirements included in the state education department’s in-person school reopening framework.

Those requirements center around COVID-19 symptom screening at home before school, physical distancing and proper air ventilation in school buildings, mask and face coverings, hand hygiene, personal protective equipment availability for staff, and home isolation of any sick staff members and students before returning to school.

Chabot said the district may not be able to meet the state’s physical distancing requirement to keep students and staff spaced apart in the classroom, hallways and cafeteria if all students go back to school every day.

Chabot said he believes some elementary schools may be able to fully reopen after the first three weeks of school, “It’s a moving target,” Chabot said. “I can’t tell you ‘yes’ for sure or ‘no’ for sure.”

School starts Sept. 8, with half-days the first week. Students will be divided into two groups, one that will be in school Monday and Tuesday and the second on Thursday and Friday. They will learn remotely the days they aren’t in the school building.

School board member Eric Lusk asked if schools with a higher number of students opting to stick with online-only education could fully open sooner than others.

As of Friday, 422 students, or 17% of 2,436 students in the district, opted to learn online only, according to the district.

It will be up to the school board to decide if it wants to fully reopen some schools before others, Chabot said. The board’s policy has been to keep the educational experience as similar as possible at each of the district’s five elementary schools, he said.


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