After months of planning their childrens’ return to school, Bangor parents are concerned about the possibility of resuming remote learning next week if the state’s health advisory system places Penobscot County in a higher risk category.
The Maine Department of Education announced Friday that while all Maine schools can reopen for in-person education, it will assess Penobscot and York counties again on Sept. 4 for a possible change in color designation due to recent outbreaks connected to an Aug. 7 wedding reception in Millinocket.
About 80 percent of Bangor parents have chosen to send their children back to school full time when classes start this week, according to Bangor Superintendent Betsy Webb. But if the state determines this Friday that Penobscot County schools are in a higher risk category, Webb will recommend that Bangor schools switch to remote learning, and the school committee will vote on the recommendation in an emergency meeting.
Kathyrn Ravenscraft, parent to two Bangor High School students who were set to return to school full time starting Sept. 1, said she understands why the school department might need to switch to a remote model at the end of the week.
“I’m fully on board with administration evaluating and re-evaluating safety and health protocols on a rolling basis,” she said.
“Though transitioning from full time to remote several times over the course of several months isn’t what anyone wants, I’d be hard pressed to accept that most people haven’t at least tried to anticipate it. I’m grateful that the administration of Bangor Schools is listening to the experts and adjusting accordingly.”
Under Maine’s color-coded advisory system, schools in counties designated green can bring all students back full time and those in counties marked yellow can choose a hybrid approach to schooling that combines remote and in-person instruction. For schools in counties designated red, the state recommends fully remote instruction.
Since Penobscot — like all other counties — is green right now, Bangor schools are planning to offer all three modes of learning, with most students returning full time, some returning a few days a week and some studying remotely.
However, even if Penobscot County is designated yellow, under which the hybrid model is advised, Bangor students will learn remotely until the district makes plans of how to bring students back to in-person learning safely, Webb said in her email last Friday.
If Bangor does transition to remote learning next week, it will continue for at least five days, until the state reassesses Penobscot County’s designation.
“Our desire is to keep running the three pathways, but we have to be green in order to run the three pathways,” Webb said. “The pandemic does require us to remain flexible, not only for this Friday but for every time that the state is going to do an assessment of our area.”
Most other school districts in the Bangor area are planning to reopen for in-person learning two days a week, and can continue doing that under the yellow designation.
Bangor parent Christine Mihan, whose children were also set to return full time, said she hoped more thought had gone into planning the hybrid scenario in Bangor.
“The virus was going to start to spread so inevitably, so the fact that we all knew this was coming but the school system didn’t plan for it is a little disappointing,” she said.
“All the other school systems already planned on the fact that we’re going to have to eventually end up in yellow, whereas we [might be] going right from green to red.”
For some Bangor parents, the school system’s decision to run all three modes of instruction simultaneously has brought up more questions than it has addressed.
At least six Bangor parents who would have liked to send their children back to school a few days a week had to make a choice between a full return to school or a remote semester because of the three pathways running simultaneously.
“My primary reason for switching from the hybrid model to full-time was upon hearing that Advanced Placement classes would include both hybrid and full time students,” Ravenscraft said.
“That seemed to me to defeat the purpose of attempting to mitigate risk by choosing a hybrid return. If my child was going to be in the same classes as students who are experiencing increased exposure as the result of full time, then why limit access to the best educational opportunities?”
Amy Roeder, another Bangor parent, also switched from wanting her son to go back to school a few days a week to a fully remote semester.
“I kind of wish the school would have done hybrid and remote rather than all three. It seems like too many choices based on some very hopeful outlook for the pandemic in Maine,” she said.
“In light of the email that we got, I’m glad we chose full remote when we did so that we didn’t have to backpedal and rethink everything and totally upend our schedules to make it work.”