The Star-Herald

SAD 1 superintendent says he will fight for students to return to school in-person

PRESQUE ISLE, MAINE — The district will do everything in its power to ensure that students can return to school for in-person instruction in the fall, SAD 1 Superintendent Ben Greenlaw said during the June 17 school board meeting.


SAD 1 schools — with students primarily from Presque Isle, Mapleton, Chapman, Westfield and Castle Hill — have not held in-person classes since Gov. Janet Mills declared a civil state of emergency in mid-March.

Greenlaw said that staff members had quickly learned how to teach remotely with little warning. Yet, he said remote instruction was far from an adequate replacement for in-person education.

“We are planning for in-person instruction in the fall,” Greenlaw said. “That’s what [educators] want. That’s what we are built for.” 

Resuming in-person education is still contingent on the number of cases in Presque Isle and the surrounding county, Greenlaw said. A school year that starts with in-person classes would quickly halt with a sudden rise in cases. 

Greenlaw said the superintendent’s office plans to submit a reopening plan for consideration by the school board at its meeting on July 15. 

Even if the district decides to resume full-time in-person learning, several changes will be required to ensure social distancing and follow guidelines from the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Maine Department of Education.

Physical distancing and handwashing will be emphasized for students. And faculty will not tolerate the type of group socializing long common in schools.  

“We’re not going to have field trips. We’re going to have to rethink the number of transitions [between classes],” Greenlaw said. “We’re going to have to do the best we can to space our students out so we keep them safe.”

Greenlaw said the district would pay for some of these changes with $438,000 it received from the federal CARES Act. SAD 1 can use those funds for any expense related to fighting COVID-19, including masks, face shields and hand sanitizer. 

Some of the equipment necessary is far more subtle — the school likely will need to buy new trash cans if it requires students to eat lunch in their classrooms instead of in the cafeteria. 

As staff and students try to stop the potential spread of COVID-19 in schools, Greenlaw said health professionals are more important to the district than ever. The school plans on hiring a new nurse — the fifth nurse on the SAD 1 staff. Greenlaw’s goal is to have one nurse in every school in the district. 

The school could also start the year with fewer students in classes each day, with students learning remotely on certain days and in-person on others based on grade level. 

Greenlaw said such a setup — which he described as a “burden” for families — would be a transitory measure, eventually giving way to either in-person courses or remote learning.

Though Greenlaw acknowledged that there would be many changes and hardships for students and teachers in this new educational environment, he said it was imperative that students and teachers get back in the classroom.

“Education needs to be done with human interaction,” Greenlaw said. “It’s better through Zoom than not at all. But, it’s not comparable.”

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