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The Bangor School Department is not planning to have every student back in school full time this fall even if the state’s health markers allow it.
Superintendent Betsy Webb outlined the school department’s reopening plans to the Bangor School Committee at a Wednesday night meeting. The committee unanimously approved the plan as it is now, with the understanding that changes will likely have to be made.
Bangor, like most other school districts, has three separate reopening plans per state recommendations: a full return to in-person schooling, a hybrid of online and in-person learning and a completely remote semester.
To choose which model to use, school administrators across the state 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.
School districts in a county classified as green can reopen in-person school fully, those in counties labeled yellow can reopen partially and those in counties marked red are urged to offer remote instruction.
Based on current numbers, Webb said Penobscot County is likely to receive a green label, which would allow Bangor schools to fully return to in-person learning.
But even if the state’s tiered system allows all students to return to school, Bangor will use all three models simultaneously to accommodate every student’s learning needs, Webb said.
“If there were a green color code, we could run all three pathways simultaneously,” Webb said. “Some students would be in person, some students would require a hybrid model, and some students would require a remote learning model.”
This is because not all Bangor parents want their children to return to school full time during the pandemic.
In a survey conducted by the school department, about 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.
While the plan that Webb presented to the school committee primarily focuses on what the return to school in person would look like, she also explained what both the hybrid and remote models would entail.
The school department is considering two hybrid models, both of which rely on dividing students up into two groups and having one group attend school for two or three days a week while the other learns remotely.
Unlike the University of Maine System’s hybrid model, the Bangor School Department does not have the technological capability to offer classes simultaneously online and in person, Webb said.
Students who are learning remotely this semester will have a mix of synchronized classes, and asynchronous learning where they use learning materials that teachers have uploaded to Google Classroom, the interface Bangor schools used throughout spring for online education.
Teachers would have times that they would meet with all students in the class virtually, but they also would have pre-recorded activities.
The school department can make remote learning available to students who have medical conditions, whose families are at higher risk of COVID-19 or students who do not comply with mandatory face coverings in school, which the Maine Department of Education announced was a requirement last week.
Remote learning would not resemble the spring semester, though, since Bangor schools will return to following the traditional curriculum and using numerical rather than pass-fail grades.
Webb also explained some of the protocols the department would be following if students return to school.
Families will be encouraged to provide transportation to their children, which 65 percent said they could, Webb said. School buses will have assigned seating and mandated use of face masks.
Schools themselves will look significantly different this fall, including the thermal scanners at entrances, one-way stairwells and single-file hallways, limited movement within school buildings and desks placed six feet apart.