SULLIVAN — Regional School Unit 24 administrators have drawn up a draft plan for the 2020-21 school year in which Sumner Memorial High School and the Cave Hill, Ella Lewis, Mountain View and Peninsula schools would begin a mix of in-person and remote learning Sept. 8.
Under the proposed schedule, K-5 students would attend in-person classes Mondays, Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays while 6-12th-graders would alternate between in-person and remote-learning days. No in-person classes would be held on Wednesdays. Additionally, the pre-kindergarten program would be put on hold at two schools.
On July 16, RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman and Curriculum Director Nikki Chan presented a draft plan in which K-5 students would be prioritized for in-person learning given their young ages and developmental stage and capacity. Sixth-12 graders would be broken down into three groups and they would alternate between in-school and remote learning based on their academic needs. At the Peninsula and Mountain View schools, the pre-kindergarten program would either be relocated off campus or eliminated for the 2020-21 school year because that classroom space is needed to meet social distancing guidelines.
At the July 16 meeting, the RSU 24 board unanimously voted to change the 2020-21 year’s first day from Aug. 31 to Sept 8. But Eastman said the draft 2020-21 school schedule is not set in stone and will be further finetuned before the RSU 24 board meets at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 18, to review and likely vote on that blueprint a final time. The superintendent stressed the proposed weekly school plan is based on research and evolving guidelines from the Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, school superintendents and curriculum directors statewide and with input from the RSU 24 faculty and staff.
“We certainly have a big mountain in front of us, a big mountain to climb,” Eastman said at the outset of the July 16 meeting live-streamed via the online conferencing platform Zoom. “It is one of those for which there’s no charted course.”
Come September, Eastman said RSU 24 and some other Maine schools will reopen and resume in-person learning and leave behind last spring’s emergency, strictly remote-learning format. However, the next phase must incorporate some remote learning to ensure the safety of all students, teachers, education technicians, administrators, nurses, cooks, bus drivers and maintenance crew given that Maine’s total number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise and stands at 3,838 this week. In Hancock County, the cases total 19 as of Tuesday, but the situation could abruptly change.
“We do know every square footage of every room in our [school] buildings. We know how many people we can safely distance at a 6-foot radius in each of those buildings,” Eastman said. “And we know how many people can safely distance at a 6-foot radius on our buses.”
In her presentation, Chan said RSU 24 students’ and staffs’ wellbeing and providing equitable, consistent learning situations at all five schools were the top priorities in the draft plan’s formation. To achieve that, RSU 24’s K-8 students and 6-12 grade students are broken down into subgroups depending on their individual needs. Those needs will be factored into the proposed 2020-21 weekly class schedule. Some students, for instance, may be more adept and comfortable at remote learning than others. Students’ remote learning situations and resources differ widely, too, and they will be considered in the scheduling.
On Wednesdays, no in-person classes would be held to facilitate extensive cleaning protocols, allow greater teacher planning and collaboration and time to enhance the staff and students’ skills and capacity to teach and learn remotely.
Board member Alison Johnson asked whether RSU 24 students’ parents would get greater support when they resume their roles as remote-learning educators. She also questioned if RSU 24 administrators could provide a more consistent online platform and related training for distance learning.
“Families are acting as educators as well,” she noted.
“That is for sure on our radar,” Chan responded.
The July 16 meeting is available at https://www.rsu24.org/apps/news/article/1257462.