PULLQUOTE:

A lot of people say kids can’t wear masks and that is not true. In Europe and around the world kids wear masks. It’s about changing the culture of an organization and making it acceptable.

Dr. Kate Herlihy

Pediatrician

Stephens Memorial Hospital

 

PARIS — SAD 17 Superintendent Rick Colpitts presented the Board of Directors on Monday night with initial plans for a two-tiered reopening of schools Aug. 31.

“Schools in Oxford Hills will be able to reopen, as long as the community is on a downward trajectory of COVID-19 and flu-like symptoms,” he said. “School capacity has to be consistent with Gov. Mills’ orders for reopening, as well as our ability to clean and keep facilities safe for kids.”

The Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention will rate each community by its zip code, identifying numbers of COVID-19 cases and whether cases are increasing or decreasing.

The state has developed a three-tiered, color-coded system to designate counties as green, yellow or red based on the risk of COVID-19 spread. Green is for low to no spread for in-school education; yellow for  minimal to moderate spread for a combination of in-school and remote learning; and red for substantial spread for continued full remote education.

Colpitts expects SAD 17 will be categorized as safe to reopen, but administrators are planning for both brick and mortar education and remote-learning.

Students and staff alike will be expected to follow state-mandated social distancing protocols to attend school, including wearing masks and other personal protective equipment and proper sanitation. Schools are also required to prioritize which groups of students are most important to have in the buildings.

Some statistics from a COVID-19 survey completed by parents in SAD 17. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Families in SAD 17 have been surveyed over the past two weeks, with responses representing about half of the student population.

About 37% indicated they had some discomfort with the idea of reopening schools, with only about 8% of parents saying they are not willing to send their children back to school without a developed vaccine.

About 63% replied they were comfortable with reopening schools, and 30% indicated they wanted to see their children attend school without any limitations or restrictions. The remainder supported returning to school with varying degrees of precautions.

Concerning transportation, 57% of parents indicated they had the ability to provide their children direct transportation to and from school. About 20% said they needed to rely on bus transportation and the balance could provide transportation one way but not the other.

Colpitts said the answers make it feasible to consider social distancing standards in providing bus transportation for those who need it.

More than two-thirds of parents said they had access to cable Wi-Fi internet connection, 17% use digital subscriber line service. Only a few said they had to go to school parking lots or public places for internet access. The Maine DOE is providing hot spot connections to homes without internet access, although there are locations in rural communities where it is not an option.

Colpitts told the board that 900 survey responses included comments on school reopening, with some parents indicating they would not consent to their children having to wear masks throughout the day, or return if education cannot return to pre-COVID-19 standards, or enforcing complete compliance for safety.

“Our team is assuming that our numbers of COVID-19 spread will be low enough to allow us to reopen,” he said. “We will require that the orders from Maine DOE be followed, which includes that parents must actively screen for symptoms at home. Physical distancing and masks on the bus and in the building will be required.”

The eight-town district has a committee dedicated to determining standards for students and their families and for educators to follow for those who choose remote learning. The Curriculum Committee will review the plans Aug. 11 and the board will hear recommendations and vote on them Aug. 17.

Dr. Kate Herlihy, a pediatrician with Stephens Memorial Hospital in Noway who has been providing guidance to administrators, addressed the board on practices for keeping students safe. She said the three critical ways are wearing face coverings, adhering to social distancing and monitoring building ventilation.

“What we say tonight, it might be different a month from now,” Hurlihy cautioned. “But masks are proven to be the most effective way to mitigate spread. A lot of people say kids can’t wear masks and that is not true. In Europe and around the world kids wear masks. It’s about changing the culture of an organization and making it acceptable. It will be harder for teachers than kids.”

Most people in attendance at the meeting were wearing some type of facial covering. Three directors, Scott Buffington of South Paris, Amanda Fearon of Hebron and Troy Ripley of South Paris, did not, apparently ignoring the signs on the doors of Paris Elementary School – where the meeting was held – that indicate facial coverings are mandatory to enter the building.

Voter Registration Clerk Debra Hertell (left) and Superintendent Rick Colpitts tally votes for Board Chairperson at SAD 17’s School Board meeting Monday night. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Directors were given a chance to ask questions and voice concerns about the plans administrators are forming, such as if remote lessons will be recorded for repeat viewing, consequences for students who forget or refuse to comply, how employees with compromised immune systems will be able to work and what happens if families elect to home school rather than participate in distance learning.

Colpitts acknowledged that about 25% of the in-school and remote learning plans are in place, logistics are being worked out and even those are subject to change pending any swings in reported cases or adjustments from Augusta.

“This 25% is the easiest part of plans to share with the board at this point,” he said. “These are the same questions parents have. We have a lot deeper to go to develop learning and staff expectations.”

In other business, directors nominated current Chair Diana Olsen and incoming Paris representative Bob Jewell to serve as Chair over the coming session. Using a weighted vote process, Olsen was reelected by 554 to 208. Curtis Cole was unanimously elected to serve as Vice Chair. SAD 17 Executive Secretary Debra Hertell was unanimously selected to continue as Voter Registration Clerk for district meetings.

Comments are not available on this story.