On Thursday, July 30, the Yarmouth School Committee voted to adopt the conceptual plan for reopening schools presented by Superintendent of Schools, Andrew Dolloff. This plan has been designed with the ideals of safety, equity, flexibility, and excellence of instruction at its core, meeting the Maine Department of Education (MDOE) expectation that local schools develop a plan for three possible scenarios:
RED: Categorization as “red” suggests that the county has a high risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction should not be conducted.
YELLOW: Categorization as “yellow” suggests that that the county has an elevated risk of COVID-19 spread and that hybrid instruction models should be adopted.
GREEN: Categorization as “green” suggests that the county has a relatively low risk of COVID-19 spread and that in-person instruction can be adopted – although a school district may opt for hybrid instruction if its buildings or readiness make adhering to MDOE required Health and Safety Measures for All Schools a challenge.
Using metrics developed at Harvard University, MDOE will determine the appropriate reopening scenario for schools in each county in Maine. Beginning July 31, MDOE will release the designations for each county, and will update those designations every two weeks. This means it is likely that Yarmouth Schools will operate under each of the three designations at various points during the 2020-2021 school year.
Whenever school is in session (under either the Yellow or Green designation), significant safety protocols will be in place, as outlined in Dr. Dolloff’s presentation. Most notably, face coverings for all students, physical distancing, student cohort management, and enhanced facilities cleaning will require palpable shifts in daily routines and practices. Coupled with the understanding that families are already stressed to understand their child’s schedule, and the School Department’s need to engage in specific planning related to the academic day, the School Committee voted to adopt the Superintendent’s recommendation as follows:
1. The school calendar will be adjusted so that the student year will now begin on Tuesday, September 8, rather than Tuesday, September 1. This will provide teachers and staff with an additional work week to prepare for remote instruction and to become accustomed to the safety protocols they will be teaching to students in the fall. An updated version of the academic calendar is available on our website.
2. The school day will be adjusted at each school as follows:
Yarmouth High School and Harrison Middle School
8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
Student drop-off to begin no earlier than 7:40 a.m.
Yarmouth Elementary School and Rowe School
9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.
Student drop-off to begin no earlier than 8:40 a.m.
This schedule allows us to have all teachers and staff on duty from the moment students begin arriving, as students will be expected to report directly to classrooms, rather than gathering on playgrounds or in lobbies, hallways, and other common spaces. At the end of the day, students will be supervised in small groups until they moment they are dismissed. This schedule also allows for the sanitizing of buses between runs in both the morning and the afternoon.
3. If the MDOE designates Yarmouth as RED at any point in the year, we will be in our RED plan, which calls for remote learning for every student. However, during the first four weeks of school, from September 8 through October 2, if the MDOE designates Yarmouth as either YELLOW or GREEN, Yarmouth schools will operate in our YELLOW LEVEL I plan, which calls for hybrid learning for all students in Kindergarten through Grade 12.
In this plan, students across the district will be split into two cohorts and will attend school two days each week, learning remotely the other three days. This allows us to limit attendance at school each day to no more than (approximately) half of the students enrolled at the school. We will use the alphabet as a starting point for making this split, understanding that adjustments will need to be made for families. We also plan to provide in-person instruction on a more consistent basis for many of our students with special needs.
This determination is helpful in two significant ways:
- Because of the challenges of helping students become accustomed to the new protocols, especially those pertaining to physical distancing and personal protective equipment, it is believed that a “ramping up” to the school year would be most effective for students. Although our goal is to implement the GREEN plan at some point, starting with fewer students in school seems to make good sense for everyone.
- Families and educators now have more than a month to plan for the first four weeks of the academic year with a better idea of what things will look like at school.
4. An all-remote option is being offered for families who are not comfortable sending their child to school during the pandemic. Families are encouraged to read the announcement from July 29 for more information, and may reach out to their child’s principal with any questions. All-remote registration should be completed on-line by Friday, August 7, with a commitment to remain in the all-remote environment through December 22, 2020.
There are still many questions to be answered, and principals at each school are now working with their leadership teams to begin assigning students to cohorts. Parents will be notified once those assignments are completed. School leaders throughout the district are working diligently to ensure safety measures are in place for our safe return to learning.
Finally, it should be reiterated that the School Department’s intent is to implement our Green plan (with all students in school) as quickly as can be done in a safe manner that meets the MDOE guidelines. Beginning the school year in a hybrid setting will allow us to help students and staff become accustomed to the significant changes they will experience in our facilities, on our buses, and in all aspects of our programming. It is hoped that this determination will provide families and staff the information they need to begin preparing for the coming year.