TOPSHAM — The Maine School Administrative District 75 school board members adopted a plan Thursday to fully reopen gradually to in-person learning starting with students in grades Kindergarten and first grade on Dec. 7.

Superintendent Shawn Chabot recommended what he called the “feather-in” approach to transition from the current hybrid model — a mix of in-person and remote learning — to in-person learning only. He said the priority is on bringing back Kindergarten and first-grade students full-time because they are the least independent learners.

The district would then move incrementally to grades 2-3, then grades 4-5 and finally grades 6-8 as possible. Chabot didn’t provide a specific time period for moving these grades to full in-person learning. However, he said some may reopen sooner starting Dec. 7 if the required staffing is hired sooner.

The Dec. 7 target was chosen because by then the schools will have held parent-teacher conferences before transitioning some students to a different teacher, Chabot said. This also allows the district to find out if parents with students in the remote-only option want to continue with remote-only learning.

Chabot said that if the move of kids in K-1 to full-time school goes well and if the school district is still allowed to fully reopen by the Maine Department of Education, “we will continue the feather-in process with grades 2 and 3 beginning on Jan. 18 or as soon as feasible thereafter,” Chabot said.

It will take longer to fully reopen at Mt. Ararat Middle School where four teachers need to be hired, Chabot said. Mt. Ararat High School wasn’t included in this plan. Chabot said it isn’t viable to fully reopen the high school to in-person instruction that would allow the school to follow the Maine Department of Education’s safety guidelines.

The incremental transition to full-time instruction was adopted with a 10-4 vote by the board. Among those opposing the plan was board member Alison Hawkes, who said she had hoped for a less specific plan that would just allow schools to reopen as soon as they were ready.

School board member Andrea Imrie opposed the plan in part because it calls to move two Response to Intervention teachers who provide academic and behavioral support to struggling students, to classrooms as classroom teachers.

“I would rather look for two teachers and hold up and let them be the supports for the students than take that away from the kids,” Imrie said.

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