The Bonny Eagle School District board has called on the state to ease up on reopening guidelines, passing a resolution over objections from students and staff, who say that rules are there to protect everyone’s health and safety.

SAD 6 serves the towns of Buxton, Hollis, Limington, Standish and Frye Island.

The state’s framework laying out physical distancing and other requirements that must be in place before schools can fully reopen “poses an unreasonable barrier to reopening,” reads the resolution.

Atkinson

Buxton representative Lindsey Atkinson introduced the resolution at a meeting last month.

“I do recognize that there are concerns from teachers to staff and parents. And I know that everyone has been made to feel afraid for the better part of a year now. I know that we all have different thresholds for when we feel safe,” Atkinson said.

“And for the ones who expressed concerns, I have to ask if it’s really about the numbers or if it’s a matter of an executive telling them it’s OK to resume daily life,” she said.

When reached for comment, Atkinson referred all questions to Chairperson Trevor Hustus.

Hustus said in an interview Tuesday that the state’s guidelines make it “impossible” to bring back all students, “even in the fall.” Social distancing requirements and quarantining procedures are among the board’s primary concerns.

“Some of our classrooms are simply not large enough to accommodate” a full class of students while maintaining the 3-foot distancing requirement, the resolution says.

Hustus said the 6-foot distancing requirement for mealtimes is also a strain and would require multiple lunch periods. He added that the district installed an ionization purification system at a cost of $1.5 million through CARES Act funding, “but we have received little to no guidance from the state on if that counts for anything.”

The resolution passed 8-3, despite strong opposition from some student, teacher and staff representatives at the meeting.

Atkinson, Hustus, Julie Anderson, Julie Brunie, Nathan Carlow, Erika Creutz, Donald Marean and John Sargent voted in favor of the resolution. Robert Deakin, Ellen DeCotiis and James Moses voted against it.

Student representatives Elizabeth Forestiere and Shayla Harriman, both juniors at Bonny Eagle High School, also voted against the resolution, but as non-elected board members their votes were not counted toward the final tally.

SAD 6 students this year could opt for hybrid learning – a combination of in-person and remote learning – or fully remote instruction. Some special education students, high school seniors and all first and sixth graders returned to full-time, in-person instruction late last month.

Forestiere and Harriman both said they have heard from peers who say they are not comfortable rushing back to school full-time.

“Pushing for this resolution will ultimately put more students, our parents and families at higher risk,” said Forestiere.

Harriman urged the board to have patience: “Please just wait for us to become vaccinated before exposing us even more of our fellow peers.”

As of April 5, there have been a total of 139 cases of COVID-19 in the district and 52 of those cases have resulted in the quarantine of close contacts, according to the district’s COVID-19 dashboard. There are five cases of suspected on-campus transmission and the middle school and high school are currently in “outbreak status,” as determined by the CDC.

Dawna Cyr, a high school teacher and president of the Saco Valley Teachers’ Association, said that while everyone is eager to return to five days a week, “rushing ahead may very well set us back.”

The resolution “probably won’t do much,” she said, but “it sends a message that our board thinks it knows best and does not value the guidelines and recommendations of health professionals. It does not value the health and safety of students and staff.”

Hustus, a Hollis resident and 2017 graduate of BEHS, said that the board addressed the concerns raised at the meeting through revisions to the resolution, including changing some language and striking some unsubstantiated medical claims.

Even with the revisions, Cyr, from the teachers’ union, wrote in an email Tuesday that “we don’t believe the Board has the scientific and medical expertise to call for such changes.”

Speaking on behalf of the Mills administration, Kelli Deveaux wrote in an email Wednesday that Maine schools’ case rates are “significantly lower than that of the general population.” Deveaux is director of communications for the DOE.

“This is because of, not in spite of, the use of the health and safety requirements,” she said.

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