On April 15, Superintendent Sanford Prince said the district is planning to reopen schools in the fall under current assumptions about Maine Department of Education and CDC guidelines, including a three-foot distancing requirement between all students.
Because each school building is unique, an individualized approach using school-based teams will begin in May, Prince said. Groups will include school staff members such as teachers, nurses and administration as well as school board members and parents. A survey for parents regarding the groups went out on April 13.
It will be a challenge to accommodate all students in their classrooms with enough spacing in between students and staff while adhering to ever-changing state guidelines, said Todd Jepson, facilities director. However, he said he’s confident his staff will be able to reconfigure space so that students can return full-time in the fall.
“The whole spacing demands from the DOE have been a bit of a moving target,” Jepson said.
Jepson has looked at town-owned and commercial properties for schools to use as extra space if needed, he said. The maximum classroom size for students, depending on room size and materials needed, is between 16 and 19 students.
Currently, no extra spaces is needed, Prince said.
Rearranging space in school cafeterias, where students are required to have six feet of distance between one another, will be one of the staff’s biggest challenges, as well as cleaning up after students in between lunches, Jepson said. Custodial staff will be able to manage this, he said, including in school buildings where the cafeteria is used as the gymnasium.
Twelve extra staff members will be needed in the kindergarten through eighth grade level to allow for returning to school full-time. These positions are not included in the FY-22 budget proposal, Diane Nadeau, assistant superintendent, said, so the district will look at other funding options available.
Prince said he is optimistic about students returning to classes full-time, five days a week, in September.
“I do appreciate people’s patience,” Prince said. “I know this has been a long haul, particularly for the parents. I put a letter out to the staff and explained to them that I hope they have a wonderful vacation. I know it has been a hard year.”
Nicholas Gill, board member, asked families to continue notifying school personnel and potential close-contacts in the event of receiving a positive COVID-19 test.
“Many families in our community have experienced multiple Covid-19 close contacts and/or infections over the past 13 months,” he said. “I can understand how that’s frightening and frustrating and stressful and disruptive all at the same time. I want to thank all of those families in being forthright and communicating with our schools so we can take steps to keep your children and our staff safer. But in the interest of full transparency I want to say that it’s come to light that some may have not been completely transparent and communicative in the ways I have just outlined … Our collective success as we endeavor to return to more in-person learning this year and next fall depends on you.”
The district now sends weekly newsletters out, and they are available at scarboroughschools.org/central-office/sps-district-communications, School Board Chair April Sither said.
The board will continue to update the public through the planning process of reopening schools, she said.
“By all means, if we have something to share, we will share it,” Sither said.