Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, July 30, 2020
Back-to-school challenge: social distancing for 6-year-olds
by Leslie Landrigan
School Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington anticipates three-quarters of Deer Isle-Stonington students will return to school, but how to keep them away from each other was a question yet unanswered at the board’s Zoom meeting on July 23.
The CSD plans to reopen the schools in September, but parents will have the option of keeping their children at home for remote learning. If the COVID-19 pandemic spikes locally, however, the schools will shut down again.
During the Zoom meeting, parent Bethany Turner asked how the schools would enforce social distancing, especially when among children who haven’t seen each other for months.
“How will you keep kids three to six feet apart?” Turner asked.
“God only knows,” said Elkington. But then, he said, “It’s going to be hard.”
CSD Board Chair Jane Osborne said a committee is working on a plan. “It’s definitely being worked on,” she said.
Some plans are already in place, Elkington said. For example, the schools will put shields around each student’s desk so they don’t have to wear face shields or masks for six-and-a-half hours.
Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School students will stay in their own classroom—their “pod”—for most of the day, taking lunch, Art, Music and Library time there, Elkington said.
Turner also asked how the CSD would manage social distancing on the buses.
Children from the same household will sit together, Elkington said, but everyone else will have to sit apart. Masks will be mandatory, and the bus driver will have enhanced personal protective equipment, he said. Further, the number of students on each bus will be reduced so they can sit farther apart, and the seats and windows will be cleaned frequently, he said.
Elkington also said he’s looking into hiring bus monitors to work three hours a day.
Red, green, yellow
Elkington told the board he’d just gotten information from the state saying it will issue COVID-19 risk ratings for Maine counties based on the number of positive cases. Every week starting July 31, the state will give each county a red, yellow or green rating, he said.
“Red” means there’s a high risk of spreading COVID-19 in the county and schools should be closed, according to the state’s website. “Yellow” suggests a county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 contagion and some students should learn remotely while some can remain in the classroom. “Green” means a county has a low risk of spreading COVID-19 and the schools can open, though some schools might want to give students the option of staying home.
“These are guidelines,” Elkington cautioned.
Opening or closing school will be up to the superintendent regardless of how the state rates a county, he said. For example, a cruise ship might bring the virus to Mount Desert Island and infect 15 people there, but leave Deer Isle untouched. In that case, Elkington said, he might leave the schools open.
Elkington said he wants to hire a remote learning coordinator for School Union 76. Brooklin and Sedgwick have agreed to share the cost for a person to plan remote learning and figure out ways to help children who have problems learning remotely.
“Remote learning is here to stay,” Elkington said. “We need to increase our expertise.” The position would develop templates and frameworks for teachers, students and parents. It would also provide professional development for teachers, troubleshoot problems and help with technology, Elkington said in a report to the CSD. Money for the position would come from federal CARES Act funding, and Brooklin and Sedgwick would each pay 25 percent. Deer Isle-Stonington would pay the remaining half.
Elkington plans to have a web page on school reopening to help guide parents.