Auburn schools plan to fully reopen in the fall

AUBURN — The school department has developed a plan for students to return to school in the fall fully in person under pandemic guidelines.

Those safety guidelines, set by the Maine Department of Education, likely will evolve over the summer as more people of all ages are vaccinated.

Those changes will be reflected in the reentry plan.

The document developed by the district’s Health and Safety Reentry Steering Committee was discussed briefly by the School Committee on Wednesday night.

Member Korin McGuigan wondered how elementary schools would be able to comply with the social distancing mandate of keeping all children at least 3 feet apart.

“How will we accommodate having all kids in school if we can’t do it now?” she asked.

Reentry committee member Celeste Beaudet, principal of Fairview Elementary School, said all principals had been asked that question.

“We believe we have a plan that will work,” she said. “It will look different at each school, based on the available space.”

Students will still be grouped in cohorts to minimize contact, according to the plan. For example, Beaudet said, at Fairview, each cohort — half of the school’s students — would go to lunch and recess separately.

McGuigan also asked about ventilation in school buildings to keep the airborne virus from circulating in classrooms.

Support Services Director Billy Hunter said all buildings and all ventilation units would be tested during the summer.

“We also have engaged a company to do air balance testing to make sure all units are working and have the airflow they are supposed to have,” he said.

Assistant Superintendent Michelle McClellan, chairwoman of the reentry committee, said the plan was developed by a group of people — school staff, community members and medical professionals — who had a range of opinions.

But they worked together to reach consensus, she said.

“This plan tonight is by a collective committee,” McClellan said. “Individuals remained focused on a plan that focuses on in-person learning for all students to be back in school for their full academic program.”

That means parents will not have a choice in whether to send their children to school.

Only those students with “identified, documented” needs or conditions, such as an anxiety disorder, will be allowed to work remotely, according to the plan.

This decision will be made by a student assistance team in conjunction with parents or guardians.

In a memo to Superintendent Connie Brown and the School Committee, McClellan noted that the past year and a half has been “one with challenges never previously imagined nor faced by our schools.”

She praised staff and students for being courageous, flexible and adaptive in making adjustments.

“Throughout the year, our families and community members, as well as businesses and organizations, have adapted with us, having to pivot and adjust to the continual impact of the pandemic,” she wrote in the memo.

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