TOPSHAM — The Maine School Administrative District 75 school board narrowly rejected a member’s motion Thursday to fully reopen schools starting Oct. 19, once schools have enough staff to meet the Maine Department of Education’s coronavirus safety requirements.

Board member Eric Lusk of Harpswell noted that Gov. Janet Mills announced last week she will increase limits on indoor seating to 50% capacity or 100 people, whichever is less, starting Oct. 13. Given that rule change and the number of parents who want their kids in school fulltime, Lusk made a motion to fully reopen schools starting Oct. 14. The district has seven schools and some may be ready to open sooner than others, he said.

Lusk later changed the date to Oct. 19 after other school board members raised concerns that this wouldn’t give the school district enough time to hire the teachers needed to space out students. So far, students have been split into two groups, with each group attending school in person two days per week on different days. The rest of the week is spent distance learning from home.

MSAD 75 is among the districts the state would allow to fully reopen to in-person instruction, as long as they can ensure students are spaced out enough in classrooms, hallways and lunchrooms to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

Though MSAD 75’s reopening plan aimed to fully reopen schools by the last week of September, Superintendent Shawn Chabot informed parents on Sept. 21 this wouldn’t be possible because more teachers need to be hired to space students apart at least 3 feet in classrooms and 6 feet apart while eating. Reopening Mt. Ararat High School is not viable, even with additional teachers under those requirements, because there just isn’t enough space for all the students, Chabot said.

Thursday, Chabot said the district needs to hire nine teachers in grades K-5 and two teachers in grades 6-8 to be able to reopen the elementary schools and Mt. Ararat Middle School, which would cost between $400,000 and $500,000. That option costs less than the $910,000 estimate Chabot gave the school board previously to hire 13 teachers.

Chabot also shared results Thursday of a survey of 914 families with children currently in the district’s hybrid school model, a combination of in-person and remote learning. It showed 59% of those families want schools to fully reopen. Another 37% said they want to remain in the hybrid model.

The survey showed that if the schools fully reopen, 85% of those families would send their kids to school but 14% would move their children to remote-only learning. That would bring the overall student population learning remotely from 20% of students to about 25%, or 600 students.

Conversely, 81% of 372 staff members surveyed said they want to remain in the hybrid model. Only 10% of staff want to move to full in-person instruction.

The school board will hold a special meeting this Thursday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss fully reopening schools in more detail.









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