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Presque Isle High School begins final school year before eliminating harvest break

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Presque Isle High School officially opened its doors to students on Thursday for the first day of the 2018-2019 school year, which will be the final one to feature a potato harvest break in September.

(Melissa Lizotte | Star-Herald)

On Feb. 14, the SAD 1 school board voted 9-7 in favor of a proposal to end the harvest break beginning in fall 2019. Under the new policy, the school will no longer provide three weeks off in late September and early October for the potato harvest. Students will still be able to work on area farms for three weeks, however, with permission from parents and a letter of support from a farmer. The time students can take off for farm-related work will be limited to two weeks starting in 2020.

Currently SAD 1 elementary and middle-school students begin school after Labor Day and no longer take three weeks off for harvest. The school board voted to end harvest break amidst declining student participation in farm-related work and concerns about a significant number of students not working at all.

A survey conducted by the school board earlier this year found that only 14 percent of high-school students worked at area farms during harvest break while 8 percent worked at the SAD 1 educational farm and 35 percent worked non-farm jobs. At least 43 percent did not work at all or engage in community service.

SAD 1 Assistant Superintendent for Business Clint Deschene confirmed on Thursday that the school board’s decision regarding harvest break still stands and that thus far they have not considered alternative proposals.

(Melissa Lizotte | Star-Herald)

The decision had caused debate among several school board members, some of whom suggested adopting a two-week harvest break for the entire school district. Others pointed out that the harvest break costs about $70,000 more a year for additional transportation and school operating expenses to accommodate the differing elementary, middle and high school schedules.

“We will continue to have active conversations with business leaders and community members regarding the issue but as of right now there have been no changes concerning the board’s decision,” Deschene said.

Writer Anthony Brino of The Star-Herald contributed to this report.

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