Limestone formally votes to begin school year with ‘green’ plan amid pandemic

3 years ago

LIMESTONE, Maine — Thanks to consistent low numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Aroostook County, Limestone Community School will welcome back students on Aug. 26 with a complete reopening, also known as a “green” plan.

The school committee unanimously approved the reopening plan during its meeting on Wednesday, Aug. 12. All committee members except Joey Smith were present for the vote.

Though 135 students are registered for the new school year, 10 have chosen to continue with distance learning, which the school gave as an option even under the green plan.

To aid students and parents who will take on distance learning, the school has appointed kindergarten teacher Libby Durepo to serve as a temporary distance learning coordinator, a stipend position funded through the federal CARES grant. The school could possibly renew her position for spring 2021 if distance learning remains a need for some students.

Principal Ben Lothrop explained that Durepo will mainly serve as a “liaison” between teachers, parents and students to ensure that students receive and complete all coursework. She will also be available by email after school hours to answer parents’ questions and address any issues that arise in regards to student engagement.

“If we ever go back to ‘red,’ she will be a resource to teachers who need help with distance learning,” said Lothrop, referring to a possible scenario in which COVID-19 cases increase significantly and force the school to teach all students from a distance.

Students who are returning to in-person instruction will receive a printed health assessment that their parents must begin to fill out every morning no later than Friday, Aug. 28. The assessment asks parents questions about their children’s health, such as their temperature and if they’ve experienced potential COVID-19 symptoms.

All students must bring the assessment sheet to school whether they are being dropped off by their parents or on a school bus. The school nurse will then take their temperature and give them an additional screening to ensure they are healthy when entering the building.

“By that Friday [Aug. 28], if a student doesn’t come to school with the assessment, we’ll have to send them home,” Lothrop said.

That rule also applies to students who do not come to school wearing face masks and then opt out of wearing a face shield.

The school has also found ways to reduce the number of students in several classrooms to make social distancing easier. After seeing an increase in second- and third-grade students, who have recently been taught in the same classroom, administrators decided to separate the two grades this year. 

“There are 20 to 22 kids total, so it’s best if we split them up,” Lothrop said.

Lothrop has also seen the same number of total students for the first-grade class this year. To allow for social distancing among those students, he has permission from some parents to have their first-graders taught in the kindergarten classroom, since there are only six incoming kindergarten students.

When students arrive at school, all of them will eat breakfast in their classrooms to reduce traffic in the hallways during the busy morning drop-off period. Due to the smaller student population at LCS, around 60 students can eat in the cafeteria for lunch while staying socially distanced, though the pre-K students will remain in their classroom.

During recess periods, all grade levels will stay in their own groups to lessen interactions among students and prevent potential COVID-19 spread. 

“This way, they won’t have to wear masks but we can keep them relatively apart,” Lothrop said.

Lothrop acknowledged that the changes will come as a challenge for parents, students and the school’s staff but will be necessary to keep people safe and allow the school to reopen. They must also remain flexible in case the circumstances of COVID-19 change locally, he said.

“For sure we’ll have to know how to adapt if something isn’t working, but for the most part I think we’ve got a good idea of how to begin,” Lothrop said.