Five modular buildings have been added to Mable Wilson School and Greely Middle School to help SAD 51 return to in-person instruction five days a week for the 2021-2022 school year. Michael Kelley / The Forecaster

The addition of 11 modular classroom and 10 teachers should give the Cumberland/North Yarmouth school district the flexibility it needs to meet any challenges caused by the pandemic this upcoming school year, SAD 51 officials said.

The district in June approved a “Greely Goes Green” plan for a full return to in-person learning starting this fall, but the plan already needs to be revisited in the wake of new guidance last week from the state Department of Education, according to Tyler McGinley, chairperson of the SAD 51 Board of Directors.

“We, as a board and as a community, realize things change so quickly and sometimes the plan we have needs to be looked at again,” McGinley said.

The latest guidance from the state Department of Education, following CDC guidelines,  says masks must be worn on public and private school transportation vans and buses, and that “masks, and distancing when possible, are still strongly recommended when inside for those who are unvaccinated, including staff and students.” The state is also encouraging participation in pooled testing – the regular testing of large groups of people to prevent virus spread – and requiring school districts to report rates of vaccination of teachers and school staff.

As the Greely Goes Green re-opening plan stands now, masks are optional and social distancing will not be required.

Because vaccination rates in Cumberland and North Yarmouth are among the highest in the state, Superintendent Jeff Porter hopes masks will not be required. More than 99% of residents eligible for vaccines in the two towns have been fully vaccinated, according to the state’s COVID 19 Vaccination Dashboard.

“If we can avoid masks and stick to the plan we have, that would be preferred,” Porter  said. “It distracts from the education with masking, but we have to balance what we do with the health and safety of everybody.”

Masks or no masks, McGinley said everyone is 100% committed to all kids attending class five days a week at Mabel Wilson School, Greely Middle School and Greely High School.

To help do that, 11 modular classrooms were added to the elementary and middle schools and 10 additional teachers were hired this summer: two at the elementary school, eight at the middle school and one at the high school.

Porter anticipates the five modular buildings, located on the schools’ athletic fields, to be used only for the 2021-2022 school year.

The modular classrooms and extra staffing, McGinley said, give the schools flexibility if recommendations change.

“If we need to do distancing, we have the space. If we need to do smaller classes, we have the teachers. We wanted to plan, and make sure we have the space and staffing so every student can have in-person instruction,” she said.

McGinley said she is happy to have her two children, a kindergartener and second grader, back physically at school.

“There is excitement, but it being held in check by some anxious and uneasy thoughts,” she said.

Porter said also  he is eager to see the entire student body back in schools.

“I am looking forward to the school year. I think it will be more typical than last year and more in line with previous school years,” he said. “It will be great to have the kids back full time.”

The district’s hybrid approach throughout the past school year was a source of controversy and divided community members, many of whom wanted schools to fully reopen in the spring when case counts were tracking down. As a result of that opposition, a group unsuccessfully tried place a get a petition to have four members of the school board recalled.

Porter, however, stands by the decision to stay in a hybrid model.

“There were differing opinions in the community about how well it went,” Porter said. “I think it was the right decision to stay hybrid (the entire year) given the physical space we have – we are an overcrowded district – and the unknowns of the pandemic.”

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