READFIELD — School Board member Shawn Roderick called on his colleagues Wednesday night to come up with a solution to make remote learning more effective and structured as he relayed to them the struggles his two children are having with it.

As Regional School Unit 38 waits to start pool testing, COVID-19 cases in the district are on the rise and students have had to quarantine, in most cases up to two weeks. At this time, the district does not have an official remote learning plan in place and are deciding on a case-by-case basis — something the board worries will account for learning gaps.

In the month of October alone, the district has had 10 instances where the district has notified parents publicly of positive cases. On Thursday, Wayne Elementary School reported five positive COVID-19 cases and in a week, the school had nine student cases and one positive staff COVID-19 case.

The school is working with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention to determine if Wayne Elementary School will be considered “outbreak” status, but students have had to go remote, mostly in the elementary schools, because of the number of positive COVID-19 cases.

Students under the age of 12 are not cleared by the FDA to receive the vaccination yet and therefore must quarantine. Vaccinated students and staff members do not have to quarantine if they come in close contact with a positive COVID-19 case.

School officials hope when pool testing officially starts for the district, the issue of remote learning will be minimized. It’s currently dealt with on a case-by-case basis, the school administrators said, and mainly happening in the lower level schools.

“Everyone is working hard. Kids are working hard; teachers are working hard, but getting two to three hours of work a day where the work isn’t as challenging, I don’t know how to solve the problem,” Roderick said. “Here a year ago, we thought it was going away, but I feel that more kids are out this year than last year when we were back in school.”

Wayne Elementary School, where most of the recent COVID-19 cases have been, Principal Tina Brackley told the board she is only requiring her teachers to do what they feel like they can accomplish if their class goes remote. She said some teachers have requested to Zoom with their students. If a class does not have Zoom as an option, teachers have sent home two to three hours’ worth of worksheets to students.

“We do have one whole class that is quarantined and Zooming. They are all showing up, and we are running a regular schedule,” Brackley said. “When talking with the teachers in quarantine, when we started last week realizing where we were this week (for quarantining), my teacher said, ‘half of the class is out, can I Zoom?’ She told me it’s a lot of work, but she was willing to do it.”

To try and solve the problem of missing instructional time, board member Jade Parker asked if teachers could record lessons and upload them for students to watch. The elementary school administrators said a couple of students could be absent, or it could be a whole class. It depends on the situation.

Manchester Elementary School Principal Abbie Hartford said not only is recording a lecture for elementary students difficult, but showing their faces and recording students’ answers can create issues for the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act.

“The format of elementary school would be a struggle,” Hartford said. “Fifth-graders can respond in a group chat, but little kids don’t have the tech skills to do that, and I don’t know how they could work with peers. … It’s a good theory, but has many constraints as to time management, getting it done and we can’t record. We can’t have student’s faces and responses if they don’t have a media release.”

The board worried about students who are remote learning and need a teacher’s help, but the teacher is either teaching a class or does not get back to the student right away. Kristen Levesque, principal of Maranacook Community Middle School, said students who need extra help can tune in each afternoon to meet with a teacher that will help them through the problem.

“We have to figure out a way to give an education,” Roderick said. “They can’t miss 20 days and get three hours of work, tops when they aren’t there. It’s a huge issue. If it takes more money to catch them up, then we have to do it. If they miss 30 days this year, 30 days last year, they are behind. How do we catch them up.”

Superintendent Jay Charette was not at Wednesday night’s board meeting due to being on sick leave (unrelated to COVID-19), but Special Education Director Ryan Meserve filled in for Charette and urged the board “not stop (pool testing) because we don’t want to do it.”

Previous discussion around pool testing with board members was over concern it would become tedious work to nurses and simply over the fact it hasn’t started in the district yet, but the board collectively decided to follow through with it in hopes it will keep students in school.

Board Chairperson Cathy Jacobs does not know why the district has not started pool testing. At the school board meeting Wednesday it was said the district did not have enough students signed up to participate, leaving some board members to question its worth.

“We are meeting with the nurses every Friday. … The response numbers (for pool testing) were low enough that constructing pools were difficult. … We are still not above 30% as a district,” Meserve said on the pool testing participation levels. The pools are less effective the smaller they are.

The board did not come up with an answer to the solution but took the information they gained and are tabling the discussion for the next board meeting Nov. 3. Meserve is hoping pool testing should be up and running by then. He also hopes students between the ages of 5 to 11 will be able to receive COVID-19 vaccine next month.

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