PARIS — Maine Vocational Region 11’s Board of Directors approved plans for reopening Oxford Hills Technical School on Sept. 8. OHTS Director Paul Bickford said plans are in compliance not just with Maine Department of Education guidelines for reopening, but also individual plans set by SAD 17 for Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School and Buckfield Junior Senior High School, which is part of Regional School Unit 10.

MVR 11 had initial plans in place by July but changes from the Maine DOE and Center for Disease Control and having to adjust to SAD 17 and Buckfield complicated and slowed down the process.

“OHTS will follow the same overall guidelines as other schools,” Bickford said. “Including daily symptom screening for both students and staff members, wearing masks and proper social distancing. We will follow the CDC protocols for return to school for any student or staff if there is an illness reported.

There were a lot of changes happening, but we are confident we will be able to hold in-person instruction at OHTS in a way that is safe for students and staff and in compliance with CDC guidelines. We have larger instructional spaces, including outdoor learning programs, smaller class sizes that are isolated together during the school day for long periods of time.”

Students enrolled in vocational tech programs are in a group identified high priority for in-school learning which means that as long as OHCHS is operating with at least a hybrid attendance those students will be able to attend their classes when they are being held, even if they are enrolled in distance learning or their other classes are being held remotely that day. This priority will apply to both OHCHS and Buckfield students.

Bickford said that all tech school classes will be set up for in-person and remote participation.

If Maine DOE changes the designation for Oxford county schools to be open, or if either of the sending schools to OHTS adopts more stringent hybrid education, the tech school will adopt the same criteria that SAD 17 will follow, separating students into two pods for instruction.

“If we have to move to a pod schedule, we will follow the OHCHS pod schedule,” Bickford said when reached Monday afternoon. “Which will mean classes will have about half in-person and half online accessing the course.

“This could happen if smaller spaces within the school exceed the allowed capacity, if the maximum capacity allowed within the building is decreased  or if any other changes are mandated by the DOE.

MVR 11 has been awarded $329,000 in COVID-related funding, with the monies mostly slated towards extra staffing requirements and an anticipated increase in substitute teacher salaries. Bickford said that also included are acquisitions for outdoor classroom tents and computer and technology set-ups for each class. Ensuring that each student and instructor has proper in-house internet connection and devices for remote education is the responsibility of the sending schools.

SAD 17 students attending OHTS programs have already indicated what type of transportation they will use to attend school; busing for those students is within social-distancing compliance. Those who come to the school from Buckfield will be allowed to provide their own transportation; students will be able to leave the OHCHS grounds between classes to help manage the number of people within the building during the day.

Bickford stressed to board members that in reviewing the tech school’s reopening plan they remain mindful that OHTS and OHCHS must follow consistent policies. The Board approved the plan unanimously.

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