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If students in Bangor return to school buildings this fall, they’ll go through daily temperature scans, have meals served in classrooms where desks are at least 6 feet apart, and walk through one-way stairwells and hallways marked to keep students at a safe distance from others.
While Bangor — like other school districts — plans for three possible school reopening scenarios this fall, the school department describes what an in-person return to school would look like in a planning document the Bangor School Committee will review Wednesday night.
In addition to a full, in-person return to school, the other options for the fall are a fully online semester or a hybrid setup in which students spend some days learning at school and others learning remotely at home. The planning document doesn’t offer specifics on a potential hybrid model, nor does it outline how much it will cost the school department to make needed changes to its buildings and increase staffing to keep the buildings clean.
Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb has said she’s hoping students can resume in-person schooling this fall with the necessary safety precautions in place. In a school department survey, 60 percent of Bangor parents who responded said they hope students return to school five days a week, 27 percent said they would like a partial return to in-person school and 13 percent said they preferred remote learning, which schools had to switch to in March as they closed down to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Before they decide how to reopen, school administrators are waiting on the state to deploy a system that classifies counties based on how safe it is for local schools to reopen. That system will take into account local coronavirus trends, including case counts and hospitalizations.
Every aspect of the school day will change under an in-person return to school.
Face coverings or face shields will be required on school buses, and students will be assigned seats six feet away from each other while on the bus.
They will also be assigned entrances based on grade levels to minimize foot traffic at each entrance. All Bangor students and staff will undergo daily temperature checks when they enter a school building. If their temperature reads more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit, they will be led to a pre-designated area for further evaluation. Staff members who have traveled out of state since July 1 will have to provide a negative coronavirus test result before they can return to work or attest that they’ve quarantined.
Parents and visitors will not be allowed into school buildings, the planning document says.
During the day, students will not be allowed to move freely within school buildings. They will be assigned to small groups and will remain with those groups in the same space throughout the school day. Teachers and staff will move from classroom to classroom to teach lessons — a major change for high school students who frequently change classrooms.
As a result of social distancing, class sizes will be smaller. The Bangor School Department measured all its classrooms to determine how many desks can fit in every one while being six feet apart from each other. School leaders will assess each building to determine how to accommodate all students while maintaining smaller class sizes.
Since schools will not have any large assemblies or other gatherings, the common spaces where those events typically happen — cafeterias, gymnasiums and auditoriums — will not be used for their typical purposes this year, according to the planning document.
The school buildings themselves will also change. Schools will have bottle-filling stations instead of water fountains. In some schools, like Bangor High School, some bathroom stalls or urinals will be closed to maintain social distancing. In addition, high school students won’t have access to their lockers to preserve social distancing. There will be plexiglass barriers installed in some spaces such as offices to separate staff, such as counselors and nurses, from the students with whom they’re interacting.
Custodians will clean all frequently used surfaces, such as railings, door knobs and bathroom sinks, throughout the day. The buildings will also be cleaned daily after school ends.
The school department will have to increase staffing during school hours to meet the new rigorous cleaning standards.
To make a decision about reinstating athletics and after school activities for the fall semester, the school department is planning to follow the lead of the Maine Principals’ Association, which has delayed the start of fall sports by at least two weeks.