Shanna Crofton, director of curriculum, assessment, instruction professional development presents the Brunswick School Department’s first reopening plan to the school board on July 29.

BRUNSWICK — With just a month to go before the school year starts, Brunswick school officials on Wednesday approved a plan to bring students back to the classroom part-time, in a decision board members agreed a choice “between what’s bad and what’s worse.” 

“These are all bad decisions,” board member Celina Harrison said, “there’s no good choice, we’re not going to help everyone.” 

Superintendent Phillip Potenziano agreed and said he has had “many sleepless nights … really wrestling with the fact that we’re potentially going to put students and staff in harm’s way,” but that he has also been “haunted” by conversations with parents who need their children to go back to school. 

There are still many unknowns and some pieces to work out, but students will return Sept. 14 to a hybrid model of instruction, per the 6-1 board vote Wednesday night. Chair Jim Grant and member Elizabeth Sokoloff were not present. 

Board member William Thompson was the lone dissenting vote. 

“It’s not that I don’t think a lot of time and effort has been but into the hybrid plan, I just don’t see it functioning in a way that serves the folks that it’s trying to serve,” he said. “It puts a tremendous burden on faculty teaching remote and in class learners (and) it is a plan that relies very much on daycare providers in town. … It’s not what they exist to do.” 

There are too many moving parts that rely on things that aren’t settled yet, he said, but added that it was important to have a plan in place so families can make a decision and the schools can have accurate numbers. 

Though the remaining board members present ultimately voted for the hybrid reopening, most had reservations. 

Board member Sarah Singer said she understood the high school upperclassmen and their families who rallied around all grade levels being able to return for in-person learning, but she also understood the concerns for the teachers who are worried about the higher level of risk associated with that plan. There are a lot of pieces to the middle school plan that are “kind of wonky” and child care is going to be a problem for families with children in elementary school.

“I am conflicted at almost every grade level,” Singer said 

Beth Bisson also expressed concerns “about the … logistical capacity for (the plan) to function” and said she didn’t see how the plan could effectively limit the total number of contacts that a child might have when so many will have to go to day care centers two or three days per week. That being said, she added that “at the same time I understand there are so many families that desperately want and need students to be in school.” 

Dr. Alyssa Goodwin, the district pediatrician, has continued to suggest caution as the district takes “baby steps into the unknown” and said the district’s plan, including the phased reopening, is an opportunity for the schools to slow down and make thoughtful considerations as they move forward. 

Brunswick would “like to not be the community that figures it out the hard way,” she said. The plan allows “people to adjust to this reality (that) is going to be part of our lives for the short, medium and long term.” 

Kids in pre-kindergarten through fifth grade will attend school two days per week, with three days online. Classes will be divided into cohorts — one will attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays, the other will attend Thursdays and Fridays. Wednesdays, which will be remote for everyone, will be reserved for deep cleaning and professional development for staff.

Students at the junior high will also be grouped into cohorts with the same two-day in-person learning schedule, but instead of the students changing classes, they will stay in the same room in “pods” of 12 students for the full day to help reduce the number of person-to-person interactions for both students and staff. 

Core teachers will provide synchronous or “live” learning opportunities to each pod along with their remote counterparts and each pod will be paired with three teachers or “academic coaches” to facilitate the learning in person. In-building blocks will be approximately 70 minutes long and at home blocks will be about 45 minutes, with office hours later in the day. 

In the high school, students will be broken into three groups for four condensed 45-minute periods of instruction. Classes will be dismissed at 11:45 a.m., lunch will be eaten at home (or provided in a bag for students who need it), followed by an hour of distanced learning or virtual help at the end of the day. For the other four days, students will learn remotely, with live and pre-recorded or independent assignments. 

There will be exceptions for students with special needs, homeless students, Region 10 students, English for speakers of other languages and a few others, and those plans will be handled on a more individualized basis, according to school officials. 

All families also have the option to pursue distance-only learning, but are asked to commit to doing so until December break. 

School will start Sept. 14, with the first two weeks devoted to a “soft opening,” where instruction is focused on procedure and the social and emotional needs of students. Students and teachers will meet in small groups to learn more about what the fall will look like, while giving teachers more time to prepare and the district more time to collect data about reopening across the state. Schools will flesh out what those first two weeks will look like in the coming days. 


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