The Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District committee unanimously approved the 2021-2022 school reopening plan Aug. 11. The plan follows Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Department of Education guidelines and allows Boothbay Region Elementary and High school administrators to adjust it as further guidance comes in.
Committee Vice Chair Peggy Splain said current guidelines from Maine CDC and Department of Education recommend everyone should be masked indoors and on buses and maintain social distance of at least three feet. Superintendent Robert Kahler said the guidelines should be a standard for the CSD, but administrators should have flexibility for shifts due to developments on the CSD campus or in CDC guidelines. Though social distancing is important, it should not prevent kids from coming back to school five days a week, and rules should be simple to follow, he said.
“(So) I would not try to track it day by day. That's just not going to work for anybody … especially with littles trying to figure out, 'Oh, do I wear a mask today and not tomorrow?' … As a board, you can set whatever parameters you want, all I was driving at is if something does happen on a Friday and we have to do X, Y and Z, we just would need the authority to do that …”
BRHS Principal Tricia Campbell said maintaining the same protocols as last year, six-foot distancing specifically, would mean not being able to host the 40 or so courses the school offers. The current three-foot distancing recommendation allows for normal classes and for lunch in the cafeteria rather than home room classes, she said. “As we move forward this year, our number one goal is to get our kids back 100%. We want them in the building and we want to be with them giving them the best education that we possibly can.”
Boothbay Region Education Association also asked the committee to follow the recommendations. The request was based on a survey completed by 111 school staff from BRES, BRHS, Southport Central and Edgecomb Eddy schools; 48.6% said the schools should be following CDC guidelines, 29.7% said only unvaccinated staff and students should be required to wear masks and 21.6% said masks should be optional.
BREA spokesperson and BRHS teacher Skip L’heureux said the guidelines are especially important with Lincoln County’s recent designation as a high transmission area and the guidelines should be taken at a minimum. “Furthermore, school boards, administrators and boards of trustees should work with educators in all roles in developing plans for the academic year.”
BRES Principal Shawna Kurr said in a followup email, she and Campbell would be meeting to discuss their COVID-19 precaution plans and will clear them with Kahler before bringing them to the public. It was not yet clear if the schools will take part in the pooled polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing which eases the six-foot minimum requirement for unmasked eating and drinking for pools of at least 30% of the school population.
Before the vote, Splaine said she felt the committee and administrators need to constantly review guidelines since they have been ever-changing in the past. “I'm sure we're going to have unhappy people no matter what decision we make here. There are people who feel their children don't learn well in masks and there are people who don't want their children to go to school without masks … I don't believe this is asking us to say, 'For this school year this is what we're doing.' I believe what it's saying is until we meet again, this is what we recommend …”