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Snow days may be a thing of the past in local schools

By Christine Simmonds | Nov 20, 2020

Union — RSU 40 will soon be doing away with snow days in favor of virtual learning.

The announcement came from Superintendent Steve Nolan at the RSU 40 School Board meeting Nov. 19, held over Google Meet.

During the Superintendent’s Report, Nolan said the district was trying to determine how to proceed on days with inclement weather.

He said they surveyed district staff and found wide support for virtual learning.

“We’re preparing to have remote learning days,” Nolan said. This transition will not occur right away, though.

Nolan said the best approach for now would be to have snow days for students and allow teachers and support staff to use that time for remote work. This would take the form of planning time or professional development opportunities.

In other business, the board continued to discuss school schedules in light of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in both Maine and the district.

Since the previous board meeting Nov. 5, Knox County has been certified as yellow by the Maine Center for Disease Control. This means a rising number of COVID-19 cases and the suggestion to transition to a hybrid model of remote and in-person learning.

Nolan said Prescott Memorial School and Friendship Elementary School have scaled back their in-person learning to allow for less contact with students.

Nolan also shared that there were two new cases of the virus associated with Miller School.

Medomak Valley High School has been fully remote since Oct. 26, when two people associated with the school tested positive for COVID-19.

Nolan clarified that the initial reason for the transition to remote learning for the high school was due to staffing issues.

Several staff and students were identified as close contacts to the original cases, and were in quarantine. Nolan said a lack of substitute teachers also contributed to the decision.

Once the fully-remote learning schedule was implemented at MVHS, Nolan said the administration realized teachers were having more contact with their students.

“We see the remote schedule as a better option,” said Nolan.

Medomak High School Principal Linda Pease further clarified that the original hybrid schedule, combined with the school’s rotating schedule of Blue and Gold days, left long spans of time in between classes.

Pease said some students were going up to 12 or 14 days between classes. “We were really struggling with consistent time,” she said.

Pease added that the fully remote schedule allows more contact between staff and students, and students were participating in classes more.

“None of this is ideal,” Pease said. “None of this is a happy place for us to be.” However, the consistency of going fully remote was preferable to the hybrid model in place at the start of the school year.

MVHS counselors and the behavioral health clinician at the high school have been available for students who are struggling with their social-emotional health during this time, and teachers are advised to check in with students regarding their well-being during every class.

The current plan for MVHS is to reassess the situation in the middle of January, with the possibility of a return to in-person learning at the start of February.

Medomak Middle School and Warren Community School are currently operating on a hybrid schedule, which both principals say is working very well for the staff and students.

Principal Kate Race of MMS said students are seeing teachers twice a week, and working independently on other days.

On Wednesdays at the middle school, teachers meet with students for questions about assignments.

Warren Community School Principal Justin Catapano-Kangas said students attending in-person come to school Monday and Tuesday or Thursday and Friday.

Both Race and Kangas said this model has allowed for smaller class sizes, more instruction, and a drastic reduction in problem behaviors.

Business Manager Karen Pike discussed the district’s food deliveries.

Pike said the district has been delivering meals to all remote students who have signed up, and that the program has been expanded due to a grant.

Now any family with a child under the age of 18 can sign up with RSU 40 for food deliveries, even if the child is home-schooled or under the school age of five.

Pike said she would like to see an increase in the number of families utilizing the food deliveries.

In addition to the regular food deliveries, the district has also been supplying shelf-stable meals to families. These meals are meant to supply an extra meal in the event of a snow day where the district cannot make their regular food delivery.

Pike said these shelf-stable meals are also covered under the grant.

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