PERU — During an overview of online learning for Regional School Unit 56 schools this fall, administrators of T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School told the board of directors at their Tuesday meeting that they are “aware and taking it very seriously” problems with students in attendance and engagement for their online classes.

Principal Jason Long said that he was moving up parent-teacher conferences to “as soon as possible” in order to have the meetings before the end of October. “I think there are some students who may struggle every year and they chose to learn from home. And my concern is that there is a population in every school, that there is a reason why we have all of the supports in place that we have in place.

“And without those supports, we have some students who are really going to struggle,” Long said.

The middle school’s Online Learning Coordinator Nancy Carr also said the school is in the process of contacting the parents of students who are “really not engaged; hoping that that’s going to help.”

Long also said that other problematic issues of students in full-time online learning is that some do not stay logged on all day for their classes. “We have a pretty rigorous expectation not only for remote learning but for what we’re going to count for attendance … we expect our students to be engaged for the majority of the school day,” he said.

Other educators who gave an update of the district’s current online learning program at Tuesday’s board of directors meeting were Dirigo Elementary School teachers Andrea Palmer and Bethany Meehan-Poulin and Dirigo High School Teacher Rachel Buck.

In other business, the board of directors voted against making any changes to their COVID-19 Return to Instruction Framework guidelines during Tuesday’s meeting.

The approved framework guidelines dated in August outline what a return to school would entail following cases of COVID-19 in the district’s three school buildings: Dirigo Elementary School in Peru, and Dirigo High School and T.W. Kelly Dirigo Middle School in Dixfield.

As of last Friday, Oxford County and the district were determined to have a green, or low, COVID-19 risk rating by the Maine Department of Education, and students of the district who have chosen to learn in-person rather than virtually attend school five days a week in the RSU 56 district.

Some changes brought up by the district’s COVID-19 Coordinator Earl Couture that were not approved by the board were to allow in-person education five days a week for students during a yellow or elevated risk determination for COVID-19 risk. The retained Return to Instruction Framework will maintain a hybrid model during a yellow COVID-19 risk and students attending schools in-person during that time will attend school two days a week while learning virtually the other three days.

“Almost 40% of our kids are opting for (full-time) virtual (learning) now, so we’re kind of in a hybrid model already and we could meet the guidelines of the (Center for Disease Control) even under yellow with hybrid and continue to meet five days a week,” Superintendent Doyen said.

The district’s hybrid model during a yellow designation requires in-person learning students from Peru and Canton to attend school on Mondays and Tuesdays while students from Dixfield and Carthage attend school on Thursdays and Fridays and all students learn virtually on Wednesdays.

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