Mildred L. Day School in Arundel is poised to reopen Sept. 13 after four people tested positive for coronavirus, resulting in 143 people requiring quarantine. Four classrooms at Sea Road School in Kennebunk were closed after a person there tested positive. Students impacted are engaged in remote learning this week. Dan King photo

Students who attend Mildred L Day School in Arundel and four classrooms of students at Sea Road School are poised to return to classes Sept. 13 after positive COVID tests and close contacts prompted a return to remote learning this week.

Four positive COVID tests at the Mildred L. Day School resulted in 143 people being identified as close contacts, and, according to a letter to parents issued by Superintendent Terri Cooper on Sunday, Sept. 5, all are required to quarantine. Regional School Unit 21 officials closed the school to all students through Sept. 12 and is providing remote learning. Mildred L. Day School provides instruction to children from kindergarten through fifth grade.

Then came one positive test at Sea Road School, that resulted in four classrooms pivoting to remote learning, Assistant Superintendent Anita Bernhardt said during an RSU 21 School Board meeting. The meeting was called on Labor Day evening to further inform parents of what was happening and answer questions. Sea Road School instructs children in grades 3-5.

School Committee Chair Arthur LeBlanc said a forum was to be scheduled later in the week to give families opportunities to ask questions.

Mildred L. Day School was scheduled to be cleaned to Maine CDC guidelines on Monday, Sept. 6. On Tuesday, Sept. 7, parents were to pick up laptops and instructional materials for their children outside the school building. Similar arrangements were made for families of students attending the four impacted classrooms at Sea Road School.

About 300 people attended the online school committee meeting on the Zoom platform – the system would not allow more than that number to log on. LeBlanc directed others wishing to listen in to watch the meeting that was streaming live on a different platform.

“We are taking care to make sure we are following the procedures closely and we understand this will be stressful for families,” said Bernhardt, who explained that Cooper, the superintendent, could not attend the session due to a family members’ surgery.

She said the district wants to maintain five full days of in-person instruction in the schools. Most of the prior school year was conducted through a hybrid program, where students attended in-person classes a couple of days a week, and learned remotely the other school days.

Bernhardt said last year, contract tracing procedures were difficult and stressful for families.

This year, she said, the contract tracing procedures are not only difficult and stressful, but quite complex. She said the procedures are not generated by the school district, but by the Maine Department of Education.

“They are very different from last year and multiple responses are dependent on circumstances,” said Bernhardt.

On Sept. 1, the district notified staff and families that 64 people at Middle School of the Kennebunks and Kennebunk High School were identified as close contacts after people in those schools tested positive for the virus, according to a Press Herald story. Bernhardt told families Monday  that the circumstances at the middle school meant that students could attend classes but not take part in community and extracurricular events.

LeBlanc said those with specific questions about their child should contact the school nurse or principal.

As part of a package of safety measures in the district, students are required to wear masks on school buses and students and staff are to wear them in school buildings.

LeBlanc and others encouraged parents to sign up to allow their children to take part in pool testing, where specimens from a classroom are combined and then tested to determine if coronavirus is present. If there is a positive result, students are then tested individually. Pool testing is one of the “layering” measures schools take, along with masking, to try and keep students safe. Mildred L. Day school, for example, does not have the ability to provide three feet of space between students.

“We plan to pool test students the day they come back to us,” said Mildred L. Day Principal Kyle Keenan. “So, we strongly encourage you,” to provide parental permission.

A community member, Patti Duprey, a nurse practitioner, asked if there was a policy for all staff to be vaccinated.

“At this time, we cannot require it, but we are grateful many have,” said Bernhardt. She said as of Friday, Sept. 3, 76 percent of the staff said they were vaccinated. She said the rate could be higher because some had not yet responded.

Sea Road School Principal Cory Steere said about 95 percent of the school’s staff was vaccinated.

Sara Perham, a mother of three, asked why parents were not included in the district’s decision to conduct pool testing and wondered why, when social distancing measures could not be met, that the district did not rent a space for students to attend classes so pool testing would not be necessary.

Keenan said the district “heard loud and clear” that parents wanted five days of in-person instruction for their children, and that pool testing would have to happen, to provide the multiple safety measures required by the department of education.. He said the district opted to have all students together at Mildred L. Day School.

Perham said she understood that parental permission was required for pool testing but added that students being forced to stay home and parents taking time off from work felt like coercion to participate.

Another community member wondered if there were errors in calculating who needs to quarantine, noting that  fewer students in neighboring districts are currently quarantining.

Bernhardt noted when a certain number of cases is reached, everyone in the classroom is considered a close contact.

“This community made such a strong statement, five days a week in-person,” said Bernhardt. “We know having kids in school is better for them and we really want to achieve that goal … we can do so by following guidelines.”

School board member and parent Ken Levesque, of Arundel, urged the community to come together.

“I have to take time off work like everyone else,” when the school is closed, he said. “I’m pissed. We can’t let this pandemic get the best of us. I personally believe if we can come together with solutions and not complaints, we can make this a better situation. If you have answers and solutions, please bring us to the table … we’ve got to figure this out together.”

Comments are not available on this story.