JAY — At the Regional School Unit 73 board meeting Thursday night, Oct. 21, two community members voiced concerns and asked questions about COVID-19 protocols and educational procedures in Spruce Mountain schools.

The impact of quarantining on students and their families was raised by Pamela Rangel of Jay. After asking how many board members have children in the district, she noted many of the directors aren’t dealing with the consequences of policies they have set.

Last week her son was quarantined because he was a close contact with someone on the bus, Rangel said. “His entire bus had to quarantine for 10 days.” His work packet wasn’t ready for three days and was “flimsy”, not a good replacement for in-school learning, she said.

“‘Kids need to be in school, parents need to work,'” Randel quoted from a friend. “If a child quarantines, a parent has to stay home and watch the child. For many families, missing a week of work is the difference between having money for food or not. Are any of you dropping off groceries to these families?”

Students are behind from remote learning last year, Rangel also said and told of one student testing two years behind her grade level. Why isn’t that student receiving the education she needs to have a bright future, she asked.

“Please keep an open ear and open heart,” Director Patrick Milligan said. He agreed some families are having a very difficult time, adding, “I’ve had my own personal experience with it. I’m here to listen…let’s help each other out.”

In his COVID-19 update Superintendent Scott Albert said there are 56 students and six staff who have tested positive. That is 14 students more since the Oct. 7 board meeting report.

Because of the mask mandate, 179 students have been able to stay in school but 337 close contacts have had to quarantine, he noted. Close contacts not needing to quarantine because they were vaccinated included 50 students at the middle school and 83 at the high school, he added.

Pool testing started this week with 39 students and staff at the middle and 36 students and staff at the high schools, Albert said. All tests were negative and testing will begin next week at the primary and elementary schools with 56 and 71 individuals respectively signed up, Albert noted.

John Benedetto of Livermore Falls noted high school students should have a basic understanding of how to create a spreadsheet. Some recent graduates had told him they had never used Excel and he asked if those were isolated cases.

Plans to bring students up to appropriate levels and details on how to accelerate any academic deficiencies were other questions Benedetto had. Start now, don’t wait for results of standardized testing, he suggested.

Because of quarantining, there are constant interruptions that fragment programs and cause disruptions to everyone, even those who don’t quarantine, Benedetto said. “What is the board doing to prepare the system and the students to achieve the education taxpayers and parents expect?”

Benedetto also asked if there were programs supported by the board to get parents more involved with their children’s education. Are there efforts to help parents understand the changing world and how they can help their children succeed in the new dynamic environment, he said.

“Will the school board consider developing some programs like this,” Benedetto asked. “Will you let me help?”

In other business, a report sent from Facilities/Maintenance Director Ken Vining noted he is struggling with staffing issues, making it challenging to perform all needed duties.

In the last two months Vining has lost three employees to resignations – one from dismissal, one transferred and two because of medical issues. The report noted two employees have been replaced using COVID-19 funds. A full-time employee set to begin Nov. 8 has a commercial driver’s license but needs a bus license.

“All full time night custodians have been driving at times and cleaning,” Vining’s report stated.

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