Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, December 10, 2020
Deer Isle-Stonington schools reopen classrooms
School board approves delayed basketball season
by Leslie Landrigan
The Deer Isle-Stonington schools reopened for in-class learning on Monday, December 7, after a COVID-19 outbreak at the Island Nursing Home affected nearly all the residents and much of the staff.
Only about half of the students attend school in class, while the rest are learning remotely, according to Lynne Witham, coordinator of Grants & Professional Development at School Union 76.
“That’s an extra burden on the teachers,” she said in a Zoom call. “But we’re dealing with it.”
The schools added safety precautions. Students must change their masks once a day, windows are open one inch throughout the school day and high school students are careful about how they pass in the hallway.
“We’re doing everything we can to keep the schools open because there are parents and kids who need them to be in school,” Witham said.
Superintendent Chris Elkington maintained that schools are among the safest places for students to be. He told the Community School District board that remote learning doesn’t work well for young students who don’t have help at home, for special education and for students with poorer families.
“Those students can lose double the amount of learning as opposed to other students who go remote,” Elkington said at the December 1 board meeting.
The school board unanimously voted for a plan to require students to learn remotely for the week of January 4-8 because some may be exposed to COVID-19 during indoor holiday gatherings.
The board also voted 4-1 to go forward with a delayed basketball season to start on December 17 under the Maine Principals’ Association (MPA) guidelines.
Practice would begin with skills and drills during the first week, then play in intrasquad games during the second week.
The board decided to delay playing other teams until January 17.
Board member Bill Shepard voted against the basketball plan because, he said, “we’re borrowing trouble here.”
Shepard urged the board to focus on education and not to put students at risk. “We’re in a crisis, we’re in a pandemic. We see people having long-lasting effects [of COVID-19], a lot of community members are asking, ‘Why are we choosing to put our kids in harm’s way’?” he said.
The school board will decide at its January meeting whether to require basketball players to learn remotely during the season.
The MPA calls for basketball players to wear masks during the entire game, to sit six feet away from each other on the bench and to arrive at away games already in uniform.
The board wrestled with the question of how to enforce the rule that basketball players cannot remove their masks. Deer Isle-Stonington High School Principal Dennis Duquette said they would keep them on.
“I think our kids are amazing and if we ask them to do something, they’ll do it,” he said.
Shepard disagreed. “We expect our kids to follow these expectations, but they’re watching adults [who don’t wear masks],” he said.