TOPSHAM — Despite the hope that some elementary schools could transition to full-time in-person instruction next week, Maine School Administrative District 75 has told parents it is sticking with its mix of in-person and remote learning for now.

Superintendent Shawn Chabot said he will recommend to the school board that the district continue its hybrid approach. He sent a letter to parents Monday informing them that the district, which serves Bowdoin, Bowdoinham, Harpswell and Topsham, will continue its weekly schedule of two days of in-person instruction and three days of remote learning from home.

The decision is driven by schools’ inability to maintain enough space between students to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Chabot said the schools can’t meet the Maine Department of Education’s requirement of a minimum of 3 feet between students and 6 feet of physical distancing for adults and students when they have their masks off to eat.

Chabot said he thought some schools would be able to move to full-time instruction next week. However, he said he didn’t realize how challenging it would be to bring students back full-time until he spent some time in the classrooms Friday.

“What happens when a student pushes backward and starts talking to a neighbor,” or has to go the pencil sharpener or use the restroom, Chabot asked. Suddenly, “they’re a foot and a half from their peers, and that’s not following the protocol with fidelity.”

To space the students out more, he said, “we would potentially need to look at more staff.”

Chabot said the school board will meet Thursday and talk about the barriers keeping the schools from opening to full in-person instruction, as well as possible solutions.

Parent Rebecca Ross of Harpswell worried about how her son, who receives special education services, will fare as the remote learning continues three days a week under the hybrid model. Her son is a seventh-grader at Mt. Ararat Middle School.

Ross said her son struggled with remote learning in the spring. He is supposed to read with an ed-tech as part of his individual education plan, and she argued he can’t learn to read via a virtual Zoom meeting.

“They need that one-on-one, they need that face; they need that to learn,” Ross said.

Science teacher Nicole Karod is teaching Mt. Ararat Middle School students who opted to learn online only. From her perspective, remote learning is going very well.

“Is it perfect? No,” she said, “but is it we are continuing to adjust and again working hard to make it the best experience for all involved.”

Karod, who is also the president of the Merrymeeting Teachers Association Union, said the union hasn’t taken a position on what format the district uses; only that the Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention requirements are followed, “no matter what model we are in.”

Chabot said he couldn’t predict when students would return to school full-time.

“I think we’ll always be reassessing with the goal to bring our students back fulltime as long as we can do so safely,” he said.

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