DIXFIELD — The Regional School Unit 56 board of directors Thursday approved guidelines for students to return to school this fall amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Since Oxford County and the district’s towns of Canton, Carthage, Dixfield and Peru have been given a ‘green’ designation in the state Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, schools can open this fall with students and staff following guidelines for mask-wearing, social distancing and hand- and building-sanitizing protocols.  

Parents will be able to pick in-school sessions: That means students would come to school, they would be there five days a week, from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., and all of those requirements from the Maine Department of Education would be in place,” Superintendent Pam Doyen said.  

For those parents who do not feel that it’s safe to send their children to school, the district will provide virtual lessons, Doyen said.  

(The students) will be issued RSU 56 devices, either the laptops or the iPads, depending on their grade level,” Doyen said. “These classes with online learning sessions will be regularly scheduled and if a parent chooses to go with virtual learning, they will be making that commitment until the end of the first ranking period.”

Families who choose in-school learning and later decide they want to switch to virtual learning will be allowed to do so without waiting until the end of the ranking period, she said.  

During Thursday’s online meeting, directors and parents had several questions for Doyen and the administrators. 

Director Larry Whittington of Dixfield asked Doyen what would be done about students who are noncompliant about mask-wearing.

Doyen said those students who have difficulty wearing a mask could try wearing a face shield. “We will work with them,” she said.  

Director Brad Dyer of Carthage asked Doyen how the district would protect itself from lawsuits due to “massive liability for the bacterial infections that happen from mask usage.

Doyen said the district’s attorney has “made it clear that we should follow the Department of Education’s outline (for the coronavirus pandemic protocols).  

Director Angela Cushman of Peru said she saw “a lot of comments (posted during Thursday’s online meeting) from parents saying ‘I want a third plan,’ a hybrid plan. 

I think that’s when they are going to be reaching out to their superintendent or the principals of each of the buildings and they will work with the principal of the building that their student is in to figure out what the third plan is in relation to their student,” Cushman said.  

Doyen told the board and parents that families will be sent a survey Friday asking if they want in-school or virtual learning for their children.  

“At any point in time, any parent can email me, or (the principals of Dirigo Elementary School, middle school or high school) and we will answer their school-based questions,” Doyen said.  

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