JAY — Regional School Unit 73 will offer remote learning options this fall, for families who prefer to not send their children to school if schools open for in-class instruction this fall.

“The survey indicates many families want a remote learning choice regardless of how RSU 73 school reopen this fall,” Superintendent Scott Albert said at the board meeting Thursday night, July 23.

A special board meeting was approved for 6 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 6, at Spruce Mountain Middle School and via Zoom, to finalize reopening plans.

The district’s reopening committee has been looking at several plans but the work is complicated by changing requirements from the Maine Department of Education, Albert said.

All students two years old and up and staff will be required to wear masks throughout the school day,” Albert said. “These are requirements, not recommendations. RSU 73 has already received personal protective equipment. Additional PPE is coming from the state.”

Each school already has a dedicated COVID-19 isolation room selected, new signage will be in place, he said.

“Local school boards, using guidelines from the MDOE and the CDC, will make the ultimate decision on reopening, which is new,” Albert said. “About two weeks ago we were told it would be a state decision.”

DOE and CDC are expected to release countywide risk advisories on July 31.

There are three options for learning: in-person face to face instruction, remote with all instruction done online at home and hybrid or a mix of in-person and remote.

Counties with green ratings are relatively low risk for COVID-19 and may resume in-class instruction, yellow counties have elevated risk with the hybrid model recommended while red counties have high risk and the remote model is recommended, Albert said.

“A green rating doesn’t mean you can automatically come back to school full force,” Albert said. “We still have to follow all mandates, including number of students on a bus, how far they need to be spread out. We’re waiting on updates on that piece.

“We split counties, other school boards are in the same boat. We could have green for Franklin County or end up with yellow or red from Androscoggin County. Lewiston/Auburn have higher counts.”

Should RSU 73 receive the green rating, the remote option will be offered.

“We understand people are scared, nervous. We want to make sure our kids are educated in our district,” Albert said.

Remote learning may be synchronous, where the teacher and students meet at the same time online but in different locations, or asynchronous, where online classes are recorded to use later to fit students’ schedules. Both will be available, he said.

“RSU 73 will continue to update the community as we can,” Albert said.

Director Phoebe Pike asked about special needs students with sensory issues who may not be able to wear a mask or shield.

“Some students need direct interaction to go about their daily routines. Are they required to do remote learning or will another option be available to them,” she asked.

Accommodations are being made for shields not masks, but in some cases that can still be difficult, Albert said.

“I’ll be talking with the special education director, our lawyers,” he said. “If we are fully remote, one option is to bring in special needs students in the areas of life skills and behavior. They need that face to face interaction.”

Director Lynne Ouellette asked if a family could change from remote learning partway through the year.

“They would have to wait until the end of the grading period,” Albert said. “It could really mess up scheduling, busing.”

If a hybrid mix is offered, the district will work to keep family members attending school on the same days.

“We know it’s difficult for a lot of these families with younger children if no one is at home to watch them,” Albert said.

Student director Taylor Guay asked if high school students with vehicles would have an option to attend more hands-on classes instead of remotely.

“Principal TJ Plourde and I are looking at that.  There are three options to vote on as part of our plan. We’re waiting to hear what Foster Career and Technical Education Center wants to do. We know how important it is for those kids to have that hands-on learning.” Albert said.

When Ouellette asked about hiring extra staff for the additional cleaning needed, Albert said he would be talking with Ken Vining, the district’s facilities/maintenance director.

“We need to see what else we will be spending the Corona Relief Funds money on,” he said. “There are two different funding sources. Original funding was $470,000. New funding of just over $1 million can only be spent on things not in the regular budget and there is a December 30, spending deadline.”

Also being worked on are plans for sanitizing playground equipment, with guidance from the CDC and input from district nurses and district physician Dr. Knapp, and plans should a teacher contract COVID-19 using CDC guidelines, Albert said.

The board voted to change Aug. 31, to a teacher workshop day and make March 18, 2021, a student instruction day. Doing so will allow more time for reopening plans. Prekindergarten classes will start Sept. 3, and the first two Wednesday’s in September will not be late arrival days.

Board Chairman Robert Staples welcomed new board members Elaine Fitzgerald of Jay, who replaced Dale Leblanc, and Patrick Milligan of Livermore Falls, who replaced Tammy Frost.

 

 

 

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