Caribou schools to begin with hybrid learning

CARIBOU, Maine — The RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) board of education voted on July 29 to begin school with a yellow, or hybrid, learning model. This model involves one group of students attending school on Monday and Tuesday, a deep clean on Wednesday, and the other group attending on Thursday and Friday.

The board also agreed to re-evaluate their plan on Sept. 23 with the intent to move to a green model — in which all students can attend with social distancing and mask requirements in place — as safely and quickly as possible provided there is no spike in confirmed COVID-19 cases.

In addition to approving this plan, the board also voted to move the first day of school at Caribou High School from Aug. 17 to Aug. 24, giving the administration more time to acclimate to the new learning environment. Both the pre-K-grade eight Caribou Community School and high school will then end the school year on June 15.

RSU 39 recently sent out surveys to parents concerning the return to school, and 509 families, or about 67 percent of those who were sent the survey, responded. Out of that 67 percent, 25 percent said that they would not send their children to school if they were expected to wear a mask, and 75 percent said they would be willing to transport their children to school.

Tim Doak, Superintendent of RSU 39 and MSAD 20, said the state DOE has determined that masks are mandatory in schools and that the refusal to wear one is an environmental health hazard. Because of this, students in Caribou who refuse to wear masks will be given a face shield, and if they refuse to wear the face shield they will be told to go home for remote learning.

“The only way this return to school will work is if we all cooperate and wear a mask,” he said. “This is something that people have different beliefs about, but it’s the only way for us to return to school.”

And while masks are required, they can be taken off during breakfast, lunch and established breaks. Doak said that, as of July 30, the state has not provided a specific mandate regarding the length of the breaks. The school plans to provide multiple breaks where students can remove masks while maintaining social distancing as students, teachers and staff acclimate to the changes that will come as a result of COVID-19 guidelines.

Buses will only be able to hold 20 to 25 students as opposed close to 60, as students will need to occupy one seat each with siblings permitted to double-up. Masks are also required on the bus and disposable masks will be made available next to the bus driver.

Based on previous discussions with other administrators, Doak told the board on July 29 that he recommends opening with the yellow model. The state declared Aroostook County, along with the rest of the state, as green on July 31, however individual schools are still able to make a determination based on available resources, the health of staff and other factors.

“I think the goal with yellow is to start in a manner to make sure our processes and practices are in place and they’re working before we bring all of the students back,” said RSU 39 Board Chairperson Tanya Sleeper. “I think we’re all agreeable that we need to re-evaluate this at harvest with the intent that if everything is going well and the numbers are good, we would go green.”

The board also agreed that if the governor deemed Aroostook County as a red zone, or if there were an outbreak in the area, the school would move to red as necessary

Doak said on July 30 that even when the school is able to transition to green, the experience for students and teachers will be far from normal.

“We will have limited transitions from classes, we won’t be able to have traditional band and chorus, physical education will also be impacted tremendously,” he said. “We won’t be able to let any members of the public into the building. That’s not normal, so we have to do this together. It’s really going to be an adjustment, and I think it was a wise decision to start with yellow because this is all brand new for schools. States that have gone too fast are now in trouble.”

The board plans to continue meeting each week and to work with training staff in the coming weeks as Caribou schools prepare to reopen with a hybrid learning model in late August.

In a letter to parents, Doak said RSU 39 is working to develop a remote learning team to accommodate families who choose to have their children learn from home, and that over the next few weeks parents will receive notification from their child’s principal about what the new school year will entail.

“The overall success of this school year will require each of us to work closely together,” concluded Doak in the letter, “listening to one another’s concerns, and doing our part to contribute to a positive, healthy, and safe school experience.”

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