CAPE ELIZABETH — The Cape Elizabeth Schools District Planning Committee examined three different scenarios that could increase students’ time at school before the start of summer vacation. The discussion took place on March 16.

The committee’s purpose is to develop a recommendation for the school board, bringing forward a working plan to increase students’ time in school, Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said in a letter to the school community. The next three meetings will take place virtually from 3 to 4 p.m. on March 30, April 6 and April 13.

Cape Elizabeth school officials and residents are looking scenarios that could increase students’ time at school before the start of summer vacation. More discussions are planned for March 30, April 6 and April 13. Catherine Bart photo

On March 5, Gov. Mills and her administration announced new distancing requirements, increasing the maximum capacities for indoor gathering from 50 people to 50 percent. That is scheduled to increase to 75 percent capacity in May.

The committee, comprised of parents, two school board members, staff and the district’s physician, discussed the plausibility of three possible scenarios during its first meeting. The first proposes that students will return to schools in alternating cohorts on Wednesday mornings.

This would result in about four additional half days per cohort, Wolfrom said. Although the change is minimal, it would be a chance for students to be in the building for more days.

Some challenges under the plan would be a reduction in student support time and special education evaluation, Wolfrom said. Peter Esposito, nutrition services director, also uses Wednesdays to distribute meals to families.

The second scenario would see split sessions between Pond Cove and Cape Elizabeth Middle School students, Wolfrom said. For example, Pond Cove students could populate both the Pond Cove building and the middle school building from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., and middle school students would populate the buildings for the afternoon.

One of the pros for this scenario is the ability for students to return to school fulltime, Wolfrom said. Serving lunches could be a challenge, however.

The last scenario presented was an idea to bring all students in the hybrid learning cohorts back to school fulltime, while spacing students three feet apart in classes, she said.

All three of these plans are being considered as options for the remainder of the spring and can also be considered as the district looks ahead to the next school year, Wolfrom said.

“We started working on these before the governor’s changes came about,” she said. “So as usual and as happened last year, things are constantly changing, and we just have to keep revising and revising based on new changes that come up.”

The capacity increase for indoor gatherings is beneficial when maximizing spaces, Troy Eastman, Cape Elizabeth Middle School principal, said. The district still needs to remember that the pandemic is still happening, and heightened sanitizing methods, like teachers cleaning desks in between student rotations, are still necessary.

“There are a lot of those little hurdles — that are manageable hurdles, but they will definitely be a change in how we try to run things and do things,” Eastman said.

While Eastman said he believes the school could be able to keep students three feet apart in classes and six feet apart in hallways, a challenge will be keeping students, who are excited to be together again, properly distanced at all times.

Jason Manjourides, principal of Pond Cove, said the school will need to purchase more furniture to accommodate all students and safety guidelines. He anticipates other districts will be purchasing furniture, too.

People also need to be aware that while the requirement for distancing in classrooms is at least three feet apart, the CDC recommendation is still six feet, Jeffrey Shedd, Cape Elizabeth High School Principal, said.

The high school building is still undergoing ventilation updates, Wolfrom said.

Shedd said the ventilation updates should be finished by the end of April vacation.

Staff members have also discussed bringing high school students back for three or four days per week, Shedd said. Students currently do four days of instructions, with alternating cohorts taking classes online two days per week.

Seniors, who will be leaving school earlier than every other grade, will also be gone in late May, Shedd said.

The committee members discussed vaccination requirements, and Wolfrom said the district cannot require vaccinations.

Although these scenarios were discussed, no decisions will be finalized yet, Wolfrom said. The committee still needs to make a recommendation to the school board.

“You’re going to see furniture moving and that does not mean that we have made a choice or made a plan about what we’re doing, but it does mean that in order to prepare for next year, we need to start looking at our furniture and get some on order for next year,” Wolfrom said.

Over 80 attendees were present during the first meeting. For meeting information and Zoom links for upcoming meetings, visit cape.k12.me.us/o/cesd/events.

Wolfrom said the committee will continue to collect information throughout the process.

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