Great Salt Bay Community School will start the school year under a hybrid model Tuesday, Sept. 8. Hybrid instruction will continue for two weeks, when the school will reevaluate the situation.
The first two weeks of school will follow GSB’s hybrid plan 2b, which divides students into two cohorts. Each cohort will attend in person two days a week and engage in remote learning for the other three days.
Cohort A will attend in person Monday and Tuesday and remotely Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Cohort B will attend remotely Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday and attend in person Thursday and Friday.
Wednesday will be a day for sanitizing the building while all students are working remotely.
The Great Salt Bay School Committee agreed to a plan of operations and reopening for the upcoming school year, with five amendments, during a remote meeting Wednesday, Aug. 26.
The GSB and AOS 93 administration, with input from a collaborative planning team, had drafted a plan that included a return to full-time, in-person instruction to start the year, but among its amendments to the plan, the committee opted to start with the hybrid model.
After the first two weeks of school, GSB will evaluate the educational model and the circumstances in the school, as well as current public health guidelines, to determine which educational model to use thereafter.
The plan outlines instructional models for all three color codes of the Maine Department of Education’s risk categorization system for schools during the COVID-19 pandemic — green, yellow, and red.
AOS 93 is providing a separate “virtual academy” for these students to learn at home, with the help of parents and a GSB teacher. The plan outlines several ways that virtual academy students will still be able to connect with their teachers and peers.
The district is contracting with Edmentum, an online learning company, to provide the virtual academy to students throughout the district.
Parents will be able to change their decision to enroll a student in the virtual academy each trimester.
If Lincoln County is still categorized as “green” after the first two weeks of hybrid instruction, the school will likely then switch to the cohort or “bubble” model of in-person instruction, where all students who wish to do so can return to school.
The same group of students will stay together throughout the day and teachers for special subjects will rotate between classes, using strict sanitizing and distancing protocols.
Teachers will use remote learning software like Google Classroom or SeeSaw to prepare students in the event of a shift between learning models.
For a yellow classification, GSB has two potential models. Under one model, the school will ask families to volunteer for remote learning in order to reduce the number of people in the building. Under another model, which is being used for the first two weeks of classes, students will be divided into two groups.
The students who opt for remote learning during the first yellow option will participate in GSB’s remote learning, not the virtual academy, which is a separate program not provided by GSB.
A red model will involve fully remote instruction by GSB staff. Students enrolled in the virtual academy will continue with that method of instruction.
Committee Vice Chair Stephanie Nelson suggested an amendment to the plan that would allow the GSB administration to determine learning models by cohort, so the whole school doesn’t necessarily have to shift in the event of a change in Lincoln County’s risk level.
“Giving the administration flexibility to have full classes for K-4, K-6, and have seven and eight do a hybrid, I think that’s a good direction to go in,” Nelson said.
She said the school could potentially switch only certain grades or cohorts to a different instructional model while still adhering to any public health guidelines that may be in place.
Nelson’s amendment was approved.
There was some discussion about whether to start with a hybrid model for a full two weeks instead of returning right away to full in-person instruction. The start under a hybrid model was the first amendment recommended by a reopening subcommittee of the school committee.
Committee member Sharon Marchi was the only one to vote against an amendment to start school with a hybrid model, saying kids would be better served by getting back to normal instruction sooner.
“I think we are in a prime place right now to open school, given the low level of infection in our county and our immediate area,” Marchi said.
She said it would be more disruptive for students and parents to have the hybrid model in the beginning, only to switch to a full-time, in-person instructional model.
“I think a much smoother start to school is setting the parameters. And you need to build on management, you need to build protocols with children. And I think that that’s much better if you have the continuity of a five-day program,” Marchi said.
Committee Chair Jesse Butler said the staggered start does not reflect a distrust of the staff at GSB or a lack of a desire to get kids back to school, but merely allows for an opportunity to determine best practices.
“It’s really around knowing we have these systems in place and for a two-week period, allowing both students and staff to practice and to get their feet under them with half the people in the building at a given time seems to make sense,” Butler said.
“I have to keep reminding myself, it’s not measuring this (plan) against the old way, it’s measuring this against, I don’t know, no school, or something unfortunate happening that we could have prevented,” committee member Josh Jacobs said.
Some safety protocols that will be required are daily home health screenings for students and staff, face coverings, and distancing.
Face coverings will be required except for eating and recess when 6 feet of distance is maintained, as well as designated mask breaks. When students have face coverings on, they are allowed to be within 3 feet of others, although 6 feet is ideal, according to the plan.
Students and staff will be required to exercise proper hand hygiene “before and after getting on and off the bus, upon arrival to school, before and after eating, after using the restroom, before and after using shared or playground equipment, before putting on and taking off masks, and before dismissal,” the plan states.
The conclusion of GSB’s plan notes the fluid nature of a return to school in the middle of the pandemic.
“As confident as we are in this plan, we are also aware of the fact that it is fluid in nature. It will need to be tweaked and adjusted as time passes, sometimes hour by hour and day by day. It is with this plan that we hope to earn the trust of our community, and help them understand that our number one priority always has been, and will always be the health and safety of our students and staff,” the plan reads.