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RSU 40 school board considers return to in-person learning

By Christine Simmonds | Oct 16, 2020
Photo by: Christine Simmonds The RSU 40 school board meets over Google Meet Oct. 15.

Union — Administration, parents, staff and the president of the Medomak Valley Education Association spoke against a transition to five day in-person schooling at the RSU 40 school board meeting Oct. 15.

Ultimately, the school board and the superintendent revealed there was no specific date to reopen each school, and the board decided to continue to work toward reopening schools for in-person learning according to the reopening plans the district put together.

Scott Hastings, president of the MVEA, read prepared remarks on behalf of MVEA members. Hastings said while the association supports the reopening of schools, they have concerns about a return to five day in-person learning at this point.

Hastings said reopening would mean some classrooms will have desks that are 18 inches apart due to social distancing guidelines. This would create “a classroom management nightmare,” where students have no space to leave their desks, and may leave no room for tables or desks for teachers and education technicians.

“RSU 40 employees are stressed, anxious and overwhelmed,” Hastings said. He added that employees feel like they are not being heard, and asked the board and superintendent to listen to workers in the district before making decisions about reopening.

Parents spoke about a survey they received that did not include a hybrid option moving forward. Rebekah Smith and Monica Luce said the lack of hybrid communication in the survey was upsetting and concerning, as the midcoast area continues to have rising COVID-19 cases as flu season approaches.

Kate Race, principal of Medomak Middle School, said the survey was just for collecting data and was not locking parents into any options.

Valerie Jackson, an Educational Technician at Medomak Valley High School, said there are not enough support staff for the school to open full time. “I do not see how we can safely do this without the proper amount of staff,” she added.

Student representative Owen Weber said he is concerned that a full return of in-person education would negatively impact his education as a fully online students.

Weber said teachers may not have enough time to meet the needs of online students in such a scenario, and asked the board to take the online students into consideration.

Rebecca Waddell, a parent of a student who is fully online, said she felt abandoned by the district. Waddell said her son does not have access to any live classes as an online student, and was pushed to all virtual classes instead.

Medomak Valley High School Principal Linda Pease said she was saddened to hear this, and asked Waddell to call her to address the matter.

The administrators at each school praised their staff for the work they have done.

Race said all staff are “working tirelessly” and that the hybrid model is working for everyone involved at the middle school. Students and staff are all happy, and a return to fully in-person would not benefit anyone.

Pease said the hybrid model was not working at the high school, and the cohort system has created inconsistency in the education being provided. Some teachers go two weeks between seeing their classes due to the cohort system and the scheduling, she said.

Pease asked the board to consider having all in-person students attend school together for four days a week, rather than continue in two groups. She said this would solve many issues they see. The high school could be ready to implement this change by the end of October or early November.

Julia Levensaler, principal of Miller School, and Justin Kangas, principal of Warren Community School, both said their schools could not accommodate the return of the online students and physical distancing guidelines. They both identified lunch as a particular issue.

Kangas said the current hybrid model’s smaller classes has decreased behavior problems and increased learning at his school as well.

Superintendent Steve Nolan said there was no definitive schedule for reopening schools to full-time learning. The board voted to open schools to full-time in person learning as they were ready, and he was updating the board where they were in that process.

Currently, Prescott Memorial School is operating a five day week for in-person learning, and Union Elementary School may move to fully in-person in November.

Nolan said many student desks arrived, which would help with physical distancing in the classroom. He said work on improving ventilation in the schools would begin immediately.

RSU 40 continues to have staff vacancies they are attempting to fill. Nolan commented this was not unlike other school years where they have started school with vacancies.

Brian Race, facilities director for the district, said cleaning equipment has been upgraded and custodial staff has been trained in procedures for cleaning and disinfecting.

Race said the district will begin installing O2Prime air purification systems in the schools Oct. 16, and hopes to have the systems throughout the district by early November. He described these systems as “state of the art.”

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