The Great Salt Bay School Committee has tentatively set Tuesday, Sept. 8 as the day students will return to school.
The school committee discussed reopening plans at its regular meeting Wednesday, Aug. 12, but did not decide on a method of instruction to start the school year.
Sept. 8 is the earliest possible start date for Great Salt Bay Community School. The date could be pushed back if needed, the committee agreed.
In accordance with Maine Department of Education guidelines, the school has drafted three plans for the fall, covering in-person instruction, a hybrid model, and remote instruction.
The Department of Education has a color-coded, three-tiered risk categorization system — green, yellow, and red.
Currently, all 16 counties in Maine are at the green level, meaning there is low risk of COVID-19 spread and in-person instruction can proceed.
One of the focal points of the Aug. 12 discussion was the need to be flexible, as Lincoln County’s category could change as often as every two weeks, depending on metrics tracked by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and other considerations.
The committee largely agreed on a draft plan for the green, or fully in-person option, for the school. Under the plan, all students would attend school full-time on-site.
The in-person plan is based on a cohort, or bubble, model that attempts to keep students together in the same group and in the same classroom throughout the day to limit movement of students throughout the school. Instruction on special subjects, such as art, guidance, library, music, and physical education, will take place in the students’ classrooms or outdoors.
For in-person instruction, the school’s plan includes details for adhering to safety guidelines in six categories, as laid out by the state.
These guidelines are: symptom screening at home for all students and staff; physical distancing and facilities space; masks and/or face coverings; hand hygiene; personal protective equipment; and return to school after an illness.
“Based on the combination of health and safety requirements and rigorous protocols that we are putting in place for the fall, we believe the risk of transmission in schools is lower than the risk of transmission in many other settings,” the plan reads.
All adults and students age 5 and up are required to wear face coverings or face shields. Staff and students must maintain a distance of 6 feet whenever possible. A distance of 3 feet is acceptable when combined with face coverings, stable cohorts, symptom screening, and proper hand hygiene.
All students and staff will receive training in proper hand hygiene.
Families who do not want their children to attend school in person could have an option for “off-site” learning.
Ann Hassett, director of curriculum, assessment, and instruction for AOS 93, said the district is looking to contract with an outside company that will offer an all-inclusive off-site learning option.
“We would contract with an organization who would provide an entirely separate, an entirely different, curriculum. However, it’s completely aligned with the same standards that we use, so they’re moving in the same direction,” Hassett said.
Hassett said the option is being called off-site to distinguish it from the possible remote learning option which would be utilized in the yellow or red plans.
Parents would have to make a commitment of at least one trimester for the off-site learning option to maintain consistency for students. Hassett said the program would be overseen by a GSB staff member. As of the meeting on Aug. 12, a remote learning company had not been chosen.
There was some discussion about the options for the yellow, or hybrid, model and the possibility of adding another option to the plan.
Currently, the school’s draft plan provides two options for the school committee to decide between. One gives families the choice to have their students participate in remote learning to reduce the number of students on campus and one divides all students into two cohorts who would attend on different days.
For students participating in remote learning, the plan provides options for synchronous and asynchronous learning.
Synchronous learning is defined as students learning at the same time with communication happening in real time. Asynchronous learning is defined as students learning at different times and working at their own pace using remote technology.
Committee member Josh Jacobs suggested that if enough students were already participating in the off-site model, the school could continue to offer in-person learning to all students while adhering to public health guidelines in the yellow phase.
“If we end up in a situation where we have a class with only five children who show up because the rest of them are doing the off-site program, we may have the ability to keep all of those students in the class the whole week because they can achieve” 6 feet of distance, Jacobs said.
The committee agreed that another parent survey should be conducted concerning the hybrid plan and that GSB’s collaborative planning team will meet with representatives from the school committee to rework it. The school committee will then choose one of the hybrid options.
The school committee also discussed the possibility of a “soft launch” to acclimate students and staff to the new orientation of the school and new public health practices before returning to full-time instruction.
The school committee will meet again via Zoom at 6 p.m., Wednesday, Aug. 26.
To read the draft reopening plan, go to greatsaltbayschool.org/2020/08/gsb-re-opening-plan-draft-2.