Biddeford superintendent Jeremy Ray speaks outside the School Department Leadership Offices about the impact of the “Yellow” designation for York County schools. Ray and other area superintendents will be implementing “Hybrid” learning for all of their schools. Courtesy photo/Josh Pulsifer

BIDDEFORD — York County schools were reclassified from “Green” status to “Yellow” on Sept. 4, as the impact from community transmission of COVID-19 affected the start of the school year. But, for districts around southern Maine, the change to a “Yellow” designation did not affect their already-established plans for their return to schools.

Jeremy Ray, superintendent of the Biddeford School Department, stated that it was not a surprise that York County schools had a change in designation. “As the virus levels and positive cases rise in York County, I think that we were well aware that there could be a change,” said Ray.

A “Green” designation by the state would allow schools to open full-time to students, if the state guidelines for safely operating schools were met. A “Yellow” designation suggests a hybrid model of learning, which would feature in-person and remote learning opportunities. A “Red” status would force schools in the county to cease all in-person learning and move to a fully remote learning environment.

Despite the change by state officials, Biddeford schools were already opening under their Hybrid model of learning to begin the year. According to Ray, students in PreK-8 will attend classes four days a week in-person, with Wednesday’s off so the schools can be deep cleaned; remote learning and outreach will also occur. Students at Biddeford High School will attend classes as part of two cohorts, either meeting in-person on Monday’s and Tuesday’s, or Thursday’s and Friday’s. Wednesday will also be a remote day for high school students. Ray stated that roughly 10 percent of the district’s students have opted for fully remote learning, meaning
that they will learn from home full-time and utilize technology to connect with their classes.

In Old Orchard Beach, RSU 23 superintendent John Suttie was thankful that the district had opted to begin the year with a hybrid model of learning. “We made the decision to go Hybrid in early August to give our families some continuity because we didn’t want to keep changing the schedule if it went from ‘Green’ to ‘Yellow’. I couldn’t imagine telling families on the Friday before school started that we had to switch to ‘Yellow’, had we gone fully in-person,” said Suttie.

RSU 23 will reassess the status of the Hybrid learning model in January to determine if it is feasible to go to school five days per week, if given a “Green” designation for York County, according to Suttie.

Old Orchard Beach schools will have all students attend in-person learning four days per week, with Wednesday’s designated as remote learning in order to deep-clean the schools.

In Kennebunk, RSU 21 first-year superintendent Dr. Terri Cooper is confident that the district is prepared to welcome students to school. “RSU 21 has prepared to safely reopen its doors under the Hybrid model on September 8, 2020, for students and staff. All hands have been on deck to ensure that we follow the guidelines as specified by the CDC, DHHS, and MDOE. We are committed to protecting our students, staff and community,” said Cooper.

RSU 21 schools will have students attend in cohorts, similar to other York County districts. A fully remote option is also available to students, according to the RSU 21 website.

Saco Schools superintendent Dominic DePatsy emailed families a statement on Sept. 4 regarding the start of the academic year. Students in grades PreK-8 will start on Sept. 10, with Cohort B students attending in-person. Cohort A students will begin the year on Sept. 14. On Sept. 2, DePatsy moved the start of the school year from Sept. 8 to Sept. 10 “in an attempt to alleviate the anxiety and increase the safety measures through our schools for our teachers, staff, and parents,” according to an emailed statement to families. DePatsy also mentioned that by delaying the start of the school year by two days, it will better align the start of the Saco
academic year with neighboring school districts.

Thornton Academy, which serves as the local high school for Saco students and surrounding communities, emailed a letter to families on Sept. 4 that they will be moving ahead with the school year as currently planned. Students will attend in-person learning in cohorts, either Monday/Tuesday, or Thursday/Friday. Wednesday will be an asynchronous learning day for all students. TA
also offers its students a fully remote learning option for the school year.

The school welcomed freshmen and new students to its campus on Sept. 2 and 3 for orientation. The students were able to connect with faculty and staff, tour the school, meet their teachers, and have a mock run-through of their schedules.

Rene Menard, the Headmaster of Thornton Academy, stated that the school has been preparing for many months for the return of students, and the school is ready and excited to begin the 2020-21 academic year.

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