WOOLWICH — Woolwich Central School could be the latest Regional School Unit 1 school to transition to fulltime in-person learning.

The RSU 1 Board of Directors could approve the change during their online meeting Monday. Board members will base their decision on whether students and staff can meet all safety requirements set by the Maine Department of Education.

RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said ensuring students can keep 3-6 feet away from one another is the main challenge for the district’s elementary schools. Distancing can be especially difficult when students are moving around the building or eating lunch.

The school has used a mix of in-person and online learning since school started in September to mitigate the risk of spreading COVID-19. Students were split into two groups that spend two alternating days days in school, then three days learning online.

Woolwich Central School has 280 pre-kindergarten through fifth grade students, according to Manuel. There are typically 11 to 14 students in each classroom.

In public comments submitted to the board, some parents have advocated for schools to open for full-time in-person learning.

“Our schools need to open five days a week,” wrote Woolwich parent Melissa Kindlimann. “I’m not saying this because I need child care, as I do not. I am saying this because our children need to learn, young children cannot attend zoom classes or learn online. They need in-person education. They need their peers, they need structure, they need a foundation.”

If approved by the board, Woolwich would follow the lead of Phippsburg Elementary School. Phippsburg Elementary School Principal Sandra Gorsuch-Plummer reported a smooth start to 100% in-person learning on Thursday.

“Phippsburg Elementary School staff are incredibly caring individuals and are extremely committed to ensuring that our students meet or exceed academic standards,” said Gorsuch-Plummer. “They know that the best thing for Phippsburg Elementary School students is to have a predictable, emotionally safe routine and to be in school with their friends for five days per week.”

RSU 1 includes Bath, Phippsburg, Arrowsic and Woolwich.

While some parents have implored the board to make the jump to all in-person learning, not all parents agree that’s the safest option.

Krista Walker, a Woolwich Central School parent, thanked the board in a public comment for keeping RSU 1 schools in a mixed in-person and online plan, with the exception of Phippsburg Elementary School.

“Although managing a hybrid schedule is very challenging for my husband and I as we both work full time, our son’s health and safety is always our number one priority,” Walker wrote. “With the closing of schools and state safety mandates starting in March, the community of RSU 1 was spared the level of illness and death seen elsewhere. However, the threat is still very real, and the positive cases are quickly spreading to schools closer and closer to our own.”

Woolwich, with a population of about 3,230, has had just one to five COVID-19 cases in total, the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported Friday.

Sagadahoc County has seen 113 confirmed and probable cases, 80 of which have recovered, and no deaths as of Friday, according to CDC data. The county holds a 1% positivity rate over the past 14 days, the second lowest rate in the state, with 23 people testing positive out of the 2,277 tests administered as of Friday.

While local cases have remained low, statewide cases spiked over the past two weeks.

Steve August, RSU 1 board chair, said he acknowledges “the risk of doing anything right now,” including sending students to school as the number of COVID-19 cases rise. He said the board and district leaders are working to meet CDC and DOE guidelines designed to keep students safe.

“The board in its collective judgement isn’t going to do something that knowingly puts our students at risk,” said August. “Our overarching objective remains helping kids learn and doing it in a safe manner.”

The virtual RSU 1 board meeting is Monday, Nov. 16 at 6 p.m. It can be watched using a link on the district’s website. Public comments can be submitted by following this link.

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