Nobleboro Central School will start the school year with full-time, in-person instruction, the Nobleboro School Committee decided in a 5-0 vote Monday, Aug. 10.
The first day of school will be Tuesday, Sept. 1. NCS Principal Martin Mackey said the week will include school days Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, with a professional development day Friday.
“I think it is going to be really important to have that professional day. I think in the first five minutes of school we are going to realize things we need to look at and that is what we will do then,” Mackey said.
The first day for NCS staff will be Monday, Aug. 24.
Committee member Shawna Kurr asked Mackey if a Sept. 1 start date would give teachers and staff enough time to prepare for the year.
“I want you to take as much time as you need. If it is Sept. 14, it is Sept. 14,” Kurr said.
Mackey said he felt comfortable with Sept. 1 as the first day of school.
“Based on the conversations I have had, I feel it gives us enough time to come back safely. I think it is helpful to have a professional development day at the end of the first week,” Mackey said.
The committee’s vote followed a presentation from Mackey, who outlined a return-to-school plan developed by the school’s crisis intervention team.
According to Mackey, the team met throughout the summer to develop the plan, which is subject to change and incorporates information from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention, as well as the Maine Department of Education’s framework for returning to classroom instruction.
“We have a solid system to ensure that we are maintaining fidelity to the CDC guidelines for building safety,” Mackey said, adding that plexiglass dividers have been installed in classrooms to comply with state guidelines.
Mackey said the school has hired an additional custodian to help keep the building clean as students return to school.
Mackey said families can opt for remote instruction.
According to AOS 93 Superintendent Craig Jurgensen, the school wants a trimester commitment from parents who opt for the remote program. He said the school has an obligation to provide a remote option.
“Students can always come back, but if they do, it makes sense to do it at the start of a trimester,” Jurgensen said.
Committee Chair Angela White asked if the curriculum in the remote program would differ from the curriculum the school will use if COVID-19 cases force a transition to distance learning for all students.
Mackey said the online program students and families can choose at the start of the year will differ from the remote instruction NCS will employ if it has to move to online-only instruction for all students. He said students who start the remote program will not be able to move into a classroom that starts in person but has to move online.
Ann Hassett, director of curriculum, assessment, and instruction at AOS 93, described the remote option as a separate program with a separate curriculum.
“The program is aligned to national standards and does some of the same things we do here at Nobleboro, but is not the same curriculum,” Hassett said.
Hassett said a teacher would not plan the lessons or run the program, but a staff member would help coordinate it.
“There will be no direct instruction,” Mackey said.
Hassett said the program costs approximately $450 per student.
According to Mackey, the cost will be covered by federal coronavirus relief funds, which the school must spend before the end of the calendar year.
“It’s a stopgap program for this year. We are hopefully not going to need it next year,” Mackey said.
Kurr spoke in support of offering a remote program to start the year, saying a similar program would cost families $3,000 if they purchased it on their own.
“It’s such a great resource for parents who are not comfortable sending their kids to school yet,” Kurr said.
Kurr asked how quickly the school could pivot to distance learning if it needs to do so.
“Maybe it won’t be overnight, but it certainly will not be a week. It will be a matter of days, if days,” Mackey said.
According to Jurgensen, the school committee would not have to hold a meeting to approve the transition from in-person to remote instruction.
“I don’t know if we could pull it off overnight, but we will know where to go and how to get there,” Jurgensen said.
According to Mackey, if the school switches to a hybrid model of instruction, students will be split into two cohorts.
“Cohort A would go to school on Monday and Tuesday. Wednesday would be for cleaning the building and for teachers to record lessons. On Thursday and Friday, Cohort B would be in school,” Mackey said.
The Maine Department of Education has directed school districts to have three plans for the fall, covering in-person instruction, a hybrid model, and remote instruction.
Additionally, the department has a color-coded, three-tiered risk categorization system.
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.