The Rockland area school board approved Feb. 27 two international trips and one out-of-state trip, but not before a debate on whether some trips are beyond the financial ability of many students.

There was discussion about the possible spread of the coronavirus, COVID-19, and its potential impact on the schools in general.

The Regional School Unit 13 Board and approved a Memorial Day trip 2020 to Quebec and an April 2021 trip to Paris, France. A day trip to Boston later this year was also approved.

There was little discussion about the Quebec trip that will include 10 students and cost students $400 each.

The Paris trip and its price of $3,200 per student, however, generated considerable debate.

School board member Chelsea Avirett of Rockland said the trip was a wonderful opportunity for students.

"My concern is financial accessibility," Avirett said. "We have a lot of students who receive free and reduced lunches in this district. This trip will be out of their reach because of money."

Avirett said the Board needs to consider financial accessibility when it offers experiences such as trips.

"These educational opportunities may be out of reach for many," she said.

Board member Thomas Peaco said with more than a year advanced notice, a student could get a job and earn the money.

Avirett said many students who have jobs use the money for necessities such as housing or to save for college.

Peaco said he would hate to deny an experience such as a trip to Paris because some students would be unable to afford it. He said students could earn that money through sweat equity.

Board member Carol Bachofner of Rockland also expressed the concern about the lack of affordability.

She said the district needs to pay attention to allow all students the opportunities to see places outside of Maine.

Board member Ryan Minikis of South Thomaston said he was concerned about financial accessibility but also felt these types of trips were important to offer diversity to students.

The trips have no costs to the district other than paying for substitute teachers if a trip occurs during a school day.

He said this would be an opportunity for the district to partner with the community in trying to make sure all students who want to participate are able.

Avirett said she would be lobbying hard for the board to include a grant writer in the 2020-2021 budget.

Grants would offer relief to property owners who are picking up most of the cost of the school district, she said.

Bachofner agreed, saying she would support a grant writer of if not, budgeting the money needed for students to attend trips approved by the board.

Board member Gerald Weinand of Rockland said poverty is a real issue in the district, but said there were ways for school groups to hold fundraisers and earn money through sweat equity.

Bachofner said maybe employers of the students could offer matches or partial matches for their student workers.

Board Chair Loren Andrews of Cushing said he supports creating a development director position who could generate grants and private fundraising not just for student trips but for things such as upkeep of athletic fields.

"We can't keep going to the taxpayers," he said.

The board eventually voted 8-1 with Avirett voting no to approve the 2021 trip to Paris.

The board also discussed trips and the potential threat from the new coronavirus named COVID-19.

Board Chair Andrews said the virus had not been on his radar a week ago, but has changed. He pointed out that Japan is closing its schools for a month because of the outbreaks and as an effort to slow the spread of the disease.

In addition to a Quebec and Boston trip approved for this year, there are previously approved trips to Germany and Poland scheduled for April of this year.

RSU 13 Superintendent John McDonald said if the need arises, the district will cancel trips from the virus threat.

McDonald said if schools have to close, operating classes remotely by computer is not an option because of the lack of access many households have to internet, as well as the schedules of working parents.

The superintendent said the district ordered two devices that are the size of backpacks that can disinfect an entire school in one evening with non-toxic ingredients. The equipment can also be used to disinfect buses quickly, the superintendent said.

In other news at the Feb. 27 meeting, the board accepted the retirement at the end of the school year of Thomaston Grammar School teacher Patricia Mellor and South School teacher Donna Hardt.

Mellor taught in the district since 1990. Hardt has been with the district since 2001.

The board voted to approve the hiring of Patricia Rode as a speech therapist at the South School.