BUCKSPORT — There are a couple of certainties, so to speak, in the proposed plan to return to school Sept. 8 amid the COVID-19 pandemic: everyone will be wearing masks or face shields and there won’t be as many students in schools.
“The reality is we cannot get 100 percent of our kids back in due to space requirements,” Regional School Unit 25 Superintendent Jim Boothby said at a School Board meeting Monday about a draft re-entry plan. Complying with distancing requirements means “we won’t be able to fit 100 percent of our students in the school at the same time,” the superintendent said.
Nearly 80 percent of RSU 25 families want to send their children to school for on-site instruction this fall, according to a survey the district sent to its families in Bucksport, Orland, Prospect and Verona Island. Sept. 8 is scheduled to be the first day of school for many districts.
The survey was sent earlier this summer querying parents about a return to school in the time of COVID-19. The schools closed in mid-March due to the pandemic.
The district received 340 responses about the return. Not everyone is ready to send their children back into a school building. Of the 340 responses, 21.5 percent of families would like to keep their children at home for remote instruction, according to the district’s draft re-entry plan.
The district is okay with that.
Without having the right balance of families choosing in-school as well as remote learning, the district would have to go with its proposed “Level 3,” which would mean students learn both in-person and remotely with alternating in-person attendance in school to fit everyone in the buildings while still complying with social distancing requirements, according to Boothby.
“Obviously, the ideal we have is we want all our kids back,” said Boothby. “But because of the restriction of space, the restrictions of staffing and the expectation for us to meet all the requirements of the platform for return to school that’s beyond our control.”
Boothby also addressed “remote learning,” during the meeting.
“Our vision of remote learning is not what we experienced last spring,” Boothby said. “Our teachers did a marvelous job in an emergency situation. But since then we have put in better structure with technology to better facilitate remote learning.”
Later this month, the district is supposed to receive devices called Polycom units to facilitate real-time teaching.
“Our teachers will be broadcasting their classes,” the superintendent said. “And they can do this simultaneously with kids in person,” while using the Polycom technology for remote students.
Also, at the meeting, Boothby said there had been a lot of press about the Maine Department of Education’s “green” designation for a return to school across all of Maine’s 16 counties.
“Green does not mean we return to a level one without any restrictions,” the superintendent said. “We must have proper safety precautions in place, that is critical.”