Educators across Maine are trying to figure out what a return to class will look like this fall since the state issued guidance allowing all schools to open as long as they meet a host of safety measures designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The coronavirus pandemic will radically alter the face of education this year. While the state’s color-coded system says, for now, that all 16 counties are “green” — meaning it’s safe for students to return to school — school districts don’t have to open everything back up if they don’t believe they can do so safely. Most districts are considering whether to bring all students back to the classroom, have them learn remotely, or try something in between, where students go to school two days a week and learn from home the rest.

Even if they go back to classrooms, things won’t be the same. Teachers and students will wear masks all day long. Desks will be spaced farther apart. The days of eating lunch at crowded cafeteria tables are over. Fall sports are teetering on the edge of cancellation. Who knows whether there will be choral performances or school plays.

We asked high school students how they are feeling about returning to school, whether they think classes should be in person, and how easy it will be for schools to enforce the safety requirements the department is asking all districts to adhere to.

Students said they are excited to see teachers and friends, and get back to classes and extracurriculars. But while they are longing to be back in the classrooms and hallways, they expressed skepticism about how well their schools will be able to regulate mask wearing and social distancing.

Thomas Chaney, senior, South Portland High School:

South Portland High School senior Thomas Chaney would like to see students return to school at least part time this fall. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I feel that we should have some days in person for students like myself that need a little extra help from teachers and that won’t be able to get the help we need online. It will benefit us, students, more to be able to ask questions and get responses right away instead of having to wait for the response.

“I feel some students may not like to wear the mask, but I feel the school will be able to reason with all the students and be able find a way to have them wear a mask even if it’s just in the hall. That would be a lot safer then having some students not wear it at all. I think it should be in person, just not have every student there at once, because that will be a lot harder to keep track of everyone and make sure they all have their masks. They should have it going by certain days like on Tuesdays people with last names D through F or D through G go, so they can have students in the building but just not all at once.”

Kimberly Cough, senior, Baxter Academy, Portland:

Baxter Academy senior Kimberly Cough thinks it won’t be safe to return to school. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“Last year Baxter was pretty prepared for remote learning. We had this thing called snow day learning, so already we were ahead of the game compared to most schools. The transition was easy for most students, because we already had experience with this. But I think none of us really knew how long it was going to last. I think we could have done some things differently to make it work better.

“Going into this year it’s my senior year, so I really want to be in person. I want to see my friends. I want to have prom and all that stuff, but I think realistically if we want to flatten the curve and get back to normal life it’s our responsibility to do remote learning, and especially because we have so many kids coming from so many different towns. We’re cross-contaminating almost all the different towns. It would be safer if everyone just kind of stayed home and did school from there.

“I think if we were to bring students back to school I think we should prioritize students that have learning disabilities that really need to be taught in person or students that don’t have the resources to do remote learning. I think they should get first priority. At Baxter it’s also really concerning because our school is very small. We’re already four people at one table, and so we just wouldn’t have the space to properly social distance. I think our max capacity would be about 100 kids, which would be about one grade.”

Mena Eltahir, junior, Deering High School, Portland:

Deering High School junior Mena Eltahir would like to go back to school but thinks it’s not worth the risk. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I think them opening up would be almost a little crazy, because if they closed the school at around 1,500 cases why would they open it back up when there are like 3 million cases in the U.S. now? I have heard there are other schools that have opened up down south. I’ve seen videos of actual students in their classrooms, and there’ll be only a few kids wearing masks and the rest are just socializing like normal, which scares me a lot.

“It tells me they won’t be able to control us that well to keep us far away from each other. I’m kind of overall a bit anxious. I don’t have that much trust in what they’re about to do. I don’t think there’s any way around it. I would love to see remote learning continue, because right now it seems like the safest option. It’s hard enough to keep people inside their house this summer. I’ve seen so many people just go out and gather. I can’t even imagine when school opens back up.

“The ratio of students to teachers is kind of huge. I feel like no matter how many hall monitors they have out it will be hard to control everyone that walks by or is too close within distance of their friends. I’ve heard we might do the two-days-per-week thing. It’s still risky. No matter how many days you limit it to, it’s still very risky. because we’re going to be in contact with each other.”

Anja Franck, sophomore, Deering High School, Portland:

Deering High School sophomore Anja Franck would like to see students returning to school, in some form, if it’s safe. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I’m a person who thrives off being around other people. I think we definitely need to be safe while that’s happening. But I think if we all stay safe it will be positive for other people to see familiar faces. Some people live in unstable households and they really need to go to school. It’s such a positive place, Deering, and I feel we all thrive off each other’s company and the community.

“I think it will definitely be a challenge for all schools in general to be taking safety precautions, but I think if they come up with solid plans and action for what’s going to happen it will be good and everyone will follow the precautions and everything like that.

“I’m still kind of fuzzy on where our school is at right now. I’ve been hearing different things from everyone. I heard we’re in green, but our superintendent is taking the yellow, so we’re going back for two days, and it might only be one grade going back. I’m still curious about what’s going on with that.”

Zeinab Hassan, sophomore, Casco Bay High School, Portland:

Casco Bay High School sophomore Zeinab Hassan is 50-50 on the idea of being back in school because she knows the coronavirus can spread quickly. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I’m going to go back to school. I feel like I want to go back to school obviously because I didn’t get to finish my first year of high school, so that kind of sucks, but also I know safety and the health precautions are a really big thing and an important thing, so that should also come into question.

“My school is smaller, so I think if we were to go back to school the rules and the safety precautions would be, I think, strictly enforced. As to schools like Deering or Portland with more people, it might be more difficult. I think my school will do good in that part, but also some people might not want to come back because of that. I think safety is a big thing, so I might be questioning that, but also obviously I want to see my teachers and go back to school and go back to the normal environment I had for only a couple months.”

Makenna Monaghan, senior, Brunswick High School:

Brunswick High School senior Makenna Monaghan hopes that the school can develop safety protocols that will allow students to return to school. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I obviously would like to go back and have a normal senior year, but I do understand all of the concerns about social distancing and such. In class instruction surrounded by my peers would obviously be a great way to wrap up my four years at Brunswick High School, especially because I have been the senior class president, and so everything I’ve done has kind of led up to this year. Not having that would be pretty sad, but I completely understand all the precautions that we need to take, because this is obviously a serious pandemic.

“The plans Brunswick has released so far, the first one I didn’t necessarily love because it only gave the freshmen the right to go back and have in-person instruction. At the school board meeting yesterday they brought up another one where there would be two days where all students would have the opportunity to have in class instruction two days per week. If that can be done safely, then obviously I would much rather enjoy that option, rather then just the freshmen going back.

“I think it will be relatively hard for Brunswick to enforce the 3 feet between every student that they want to do and 6 feet between every adult and student and then everyone wearing a mask. I think Brunswick as a community is pretty good about looking out for those around them, but in the constraints of the building that we have, if everyone were to choose to go back and we were even just doing two days, I feel like it might be hard to enforce people staying apart from their friends and wearing a mask all the time. In an ideal world everyone would do that.”

John Peelen, senior, Falmouth High School:

Falmouth High School senior John Peelen would like to return to school this fall. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

“I’m excited to go back, but I’m also quite nervous at the same time. Cumberland County did get the green light, and so did the rest of Maine, but Falmouth, like many schools in the area, has students that travel quite a bit. I myself was in New York a week before the school system shut down for a vocal conference, and some classmates I think had a theater festival the week we got shut down. There was a jazz festival as well the week we shut down. So there’s a lot of stuff we missed that I can’t wait to pick up on when we get back, but I don’t know how we will really regulate where students go when they’re outside of school.

“I really hope there’s a plan to bubble families. That was something I heard about early on when this started. Start meeting up with one family every week or two. If you and that family stay safe and sickness free, then you can open up to another family until we’ve kind of all bubbled again and we’re all safe. I just hope we do something that’s practical and not going to take the whole year away. If we do go back I hope we do something like that, but I also hope we do something that’s half online and half in person for at least … the first semester.

“I would really like it to be like Monday and Tuesday, maybe half the school goes back. Wednesday is all online and the school gets cleaned. Thursday and Friday the other half goes. Maybe something like that. Maybe that’s not how that goes. Maybe we all go back. There’s a full return with face masks and we clean every day and every time we go to the water fountain. I just hope we do it the right way so no one gets sick and no one gets hurt.”

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