Students at Portland’s three high schools will receive more in-person learning next month.

Deering and Portland high schools are planning to bring all students back two days per week starting April 12, while Casco Bay High School will bring students back for either two mornings or two afternoons per week starting April 5. If all goes well, Casco Bay would transition to either four mornings or four afternoons per week on May 3.

Most 10th- through 12th-grade students are currently attending classes remotely with access to in-person support through a “learning center” model, while ninth-grade students are already in person two days per week. The plan received mixed reactions Tuesday from some of the families that have been pushing the district to move toward a hybrid model more akin to surrounding schools that have all high school students in person two days per week.

“I think it’s great,” said Michael Podolsky, the parent of a junior at Portland High School and a member of the Back to School Portland group that has been calling for increased in-person learning for high school students. “That’s what we had asked for. We thought it was a reasonable request and I’m glad the district has figured out a way to do it safely.

“I’m hoping this is a step to getting them back full-time in the fall. That’s where we really want to be and I know the district is there, too. Hopefully they’re doing everything they can to make that happen.”

Erin Brennan, another Portland High parent, said the plan is a good starting point, but she still has questions about its implementation and next steps. “Certainly we’re well behind every other school in the state so that still feels like, ‘Why can’t we figure it out?'” Brennan said. “But I’m happy we have a starting point.”

As discussion about trying to add more in-person time for 10th- through 12th-graders has played out over the last few months, Brennan also said she has been frustrated with the communication between parents and administration. “That’s what I would like to come out of this, for the board to hear we need better sharing of information and give-and-take with parents,” she said.

Judy Sedgewick is thankful her daughter, who is a senior at Portland High, will return to in-person school for the end of the year, though she wishes the district could have acted more quickly to increase in-person learning for 10th- through 12th-graders. “I’m happy she’s getting in because I had given up,” Sedgewick said.

Meanwhile, several high school students said they are looking forward to being in the classroom two days a week.

Miguel Filipe, a sophomore at Deering, believes students will be more productive with the in-person classes. “I think it’s wonderful and will increase the learning ability tremendously because this whole online learning thing we’re going through has been kind of monotonous,” Filipe said.

Kaelob Buonassisi, also a sophomore at Deering, said he too is happy to be returning to in-person classes, though many of his friends prefer online. “I work personally better in school because the teacher is right there on hand and you don’t have any technical issues, so there is no excuse to not get work done when you are in school,” Buonassisi said. “But I also see the paranoia with COVID because it’s real and you might not think it will happen to you and then it happens to you.”

Jack Lagrange, a senior at Portland High, is looking forward to more in-person time during his last few months of high school. “I think it’s a good idea because we haven’t really gone in at all this year,” Lagrange said. “It will be good to go back in and see my friends and see all the students and teachers.”

The plans were announced by high school principals at the three schools in letters to families and videos Monday.

At Deering High, Co-Principals Abdullahi Ahmed and Alyson Dame wrote in a letter that all students in grades nine through 12 will be welcomed back April 12 for two days of in-person instruction per week. Students with last names starting with letters A through K will attend Mondays and Thursdays, and those with last names L through Z will attend Tuesdays and Fridays.

Portland High Principal Sheila Jepson sent an email to families and also posted a video explaining that school’s schedule, which will also divide students into two cohorts to attend in-person on either Mondays and Thursdays or Tuesdays and Fridays.

At Casco Bay, Principal Derek Pierce posted a video explaining the changes. Starting April 5, students at Casco Bay will come to school either two mornings or two afternoons per week based on their crew groups. That could increase to four mornings or four afternoons per week on May 3.

“This of course presumes all goes well and is subject to change depending on health and safety conditions between now and then, but we are confident enough to let you know that we anticipate for May until the end of the school year we will adopt a schedule where, if you’re an in-person learner, you will be in four days per week,” Pierce said.

The principals at Deering said students who need to remain remote-only should contact them, while Jepson, in her email to families, said students in grades 10 through 12 will receive a form asking them if they want to stay remote and should decide by Thursday. Casco Bay also will continue to have fully remote students, Pierce said in the video.

Portland High teachers will teach students both remotely and in-person simultaneously, Tess Nacelewicz, communications coordinator for Portland Public Schools, said in an email. Deering and Casco Bay are planning for more asynchronous experiences for students on remote days with the caveat that some courses may require students to login virtually for specific lessons. Carrie Foster, president of the Portland Education Association, did not respond to an email Tuesday seeking comment.

The plans for the high schools come as schools around Maine, many of which have been in hybrid learning all year, are weighing how to safely increase in-person time for students. Portland middle and elementary schools, where most students are already in-person two days per week, are expected to communicate their plans for increased in-person learning to families by early next week.

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