DIXFIELD —  Regional School Unit 56 directors Tuesday discussed what returning to school may look like for students this fall.

Along with Superintendent Pam Doyen, the board reviewed the Maine Department of Education’s instructions regarding classroom safety during the continuing coronavirus pandemic.

“All of the administrators are working on multiple options,” Doyen said. “What does it look like if we return in the fall? What do we need in place? What does it look like if we return and have to go to remote learning? (Or) if we can return partially and have some partial in-school and some remote, like a combination hybrid.”

Because Oxford County has very few cases, she said, the district may not have to do everything that’s in the Department of Education framework.

The administrative team plans to have its framework for students returning to school by the end of July or the first of August, she said.

Items such as hand sanitizer stations for students and teachers, and plexiglass dividers in front of school secretary stations will clearly be needed, but other purchases may be on hold, she said.

Chairperson Barbara Chow of Dixfield wondered about the feasibility of accomplishing the Department of Education’s instructions and thought parents should be aware of those details.

“I know that my worst fear is (how) to keep safe and do things,” she said. “It has to be things that can be feasible to do, and not at the expense of cutting staff and cutting programs and cutting this to try to do one thing. They’ve got to think about how a school actually runs,” including busing students.

Director Bruce Ross of Dixfield agreed with Chow. “So busing is going to be a major issue especially since we’re living in a rural area. I’m not sure how we’re going to get around that,” he said.

In other business, directors and RSU 56 and RSU 10 administrators received a letter titled Leading the River Valley and Western Foothills Toward Diversity and Inclusivity from Adelaide Fuller, a 2013 Dirigo High School graduate.

It’s signed by 135 community members who agreed they “would like to address a pandemic of another kind; racism, and how you can combat it at Dirigo, Mountain Valley, and Buckfield” high schools.

Her letter includes testimonies from former students from Western Maine, Jamaica Ford, a 2012 graduate of Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, and Isaiah Reid, a 2017 graduate of Mount Blue High School in Farmington.

Fuller’s letter requests that educators and others create a more diverse “and actively anti-racist” education for students by providing resources for students of color. It includes other ideas to eliminate racism at the schools:

• “Work with white staff to remind them that inherent bias runs deep and that we are each responsible for unlearning racism. Refocus syllabi to center more Black, Indigenous, and non-Black People of Color figures.

• “In history, address the problematic (racist) parts of America’s past and present. In English, teach the works of authors of color. In science, address the ways climate change disproportionately affects marginalized communities. Discuss racism in the classroom, starting at the very beginning of elementary school.”

On behalf of RSU 56, Doyen posted information on the district’s webpage and Facebook page regarding Juneteenth, June 19, 1865, when African American slaves were told that the Civil War had ended and that they were free.

Doyen also included a letter from the Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, the Maine Curriculum Leaders Association, the Maine Education Association and others who wrote that they “stand together in opposition to racism and discrimination, and in support of equality, the pursuit of happiness and equal opportunity for all.”

“RSU 56 stands in unity with the educational organizations across the State of Maine in our desire to end racism,” Doyen wrote on the district’s Facebook and webpages.

In other business, Doyen said Head Start program administrators had recently visited the district’s central office building next Dirigo High School where the program plans to debut in the fall of 2021.

Head Start personnel are thinking of adding on almost 20 feet to the building in order to have room enough to do two classrooms of eight (children), she said. She also said program personnel is seeking grants to meet safety standards and add a handicap accessible bathroom and doors, among other needs.

In February the RSU 56 board voted to partner with Community Concepts and Region 9 School of Applied Technology in Mexico to create a Head Start program for infant and toddler care in the district.

Head Start is a federal program by the Department of Education offering child care services, education and social services for families of infants and children up to 5 years old.

RSU 56 logo. RSU 56 Facebook page.

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