Originally published in Island Ad-Vantages, November 19, 2020 and The Weekly Packet, November 19, 2020
Schools determined to stay open
Uncertainty, still, about winter sports
by Leslie Landrigan
Schools in Sedgwick, Brooklin and Deer Isle will not automatically go to remote learning if Hancock County’s safety rating goes from green to yellow, School Union 76 Superintendent Chris Elkington told parents and staff in a November 13 memo.
“Green” means “relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread,” while yellow means “elevated risk,” according to the Maine Department of Education. Hancock County is still green, but with an asterisk because of the virus spread.
“We are now being closely monitored,” Elkington said in the memo. But, he said, the SU 76 schools meet safety procedure requirements for staying open even if the county goes yellow. The schools, he said, are committed to classroom teaching unless there’s an uncontrollable local outbreak or if data from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tells them to go remote.
Maine CDC has detected very little spread of COVID-19 in the state’s schools, Director Nirav Shah said in a November 16 news briefing. “In-person education can be done and done safely,” Shah said, adding that face coverings, Plexiglas shields and distancing are working in schools.
However, more parents want their kids back home as the pandemic spreads, Elkington told the Community School District board at its November 11 meeting. “We’re getting calls from parents who aren’t looking at the science,” he said. “They’re really worried. ‘It’s now in my town,’ ‘It’s now five houses away.’”
If the county goes yellow, sports will be canceled even if the local schools stay open, Elkington said.
The Maine Principals’ Association (MPA) hadn’t yet set a schedule for interscholastic winter sports—which at the high school is cheering and basketball—by the November 11 CSD board meeting.
Because of that, the CSD board decided to postpone decisions about winter sports, including middle-school sports, to another meeting scheduled for November 24.
“I don’t want to vote on something the MPA could change six ways from Sunday in three days,” said Board Chair Jane Osborne. Elkington said superintendents are frustrated by the MPA’s failure to decide on winter sports.
“I don’t know how we run schools,” Elkington said, adding that a lot of extra work goes into preparing for each sport during the pandemic.
In Deer Isle, the CSD planned to spend about $82,000 of federal COVID relief money to improve the high school’s ventilation systems. The district slated another $35,000 for ventilation in the Deer Isle-Stonington Elementary School. That money, however, has to be spent by year end, and Elkington said it’s likely the district can’t get needed parts by then. He told the CSD board he hopes the federal government extends the spending deadline.
“We know the ventilation work has to be done so we may continue anyway,” Elkington said.