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2022 hasn't been the fresh start Maine schools were looking for

As everyone enters 2022, schools are still dealing with transportation, staffing, and COVID-related challenges that have plagued districts since March 2020.

MAINE, Maine — Completing an entire school year with students and teachers reporting to the classroom every day has been Maine’s standard method of education for generations.

The current wave of educators hopes that normalcy returns as kids continue in the third school year affected by COVID. It’s another school year that comes with new guidelines and recommendations.

On Tuesday, MSAD 6 had to call off school because of transportation issues caused by positive COVID cases among staff. Superintendent Paul Penna decided to move all learning for the rest of the week to online.

It’s been a challenging time for Penna, his staff, and all academic officials as they continue to navigate the changing pandemic guidelines while trying to keep their students and staff safe.

Penna’s principals are drafting their “breaking point” numbers to address the transportation and staffing issue. That number will give school staff an idea of how many people it will need to have enough teachers and faculty members for in-person learning each day.

“We’re trying to give as much [of a] heads up notice [as possible],” Penna said. “Here’s where we are. We’re hoping to maintain in-person [learning], but in the event we get two or three more [positive cases], we’re not going to be able to safely operate. So [we] begin planning for the remote option.”

Superintendents, Penna said, have never had more daily and weekly meetings. He spends his time meeting with the district’s medical team, staff members, and community members as they work through these challenges.

While everyone wants the pandemic to end, many lessons learned over the past 22 months will stay in place. Penna said he wants more people within the district and the community to come forward during some decision-making conversations.

“Now we’re beginning to open [those conversations] up because the way we’ve always done it may not fit these new challenges that we have,” Penna added. “It brings more people to the table to have [a] conversation and [be] welcoming of more opinions, which I think is beneficial in the long run.”

These challenges aren’t just facing Penna’s district or southern Maine. MSAD 24 in Van Buren returned to the classroom Monday for the first time in 2022 and the first time since Nov. 18, 2021.

Students had been learning remotely, which means they couldn’t participate in winter sports. Athletic Director Matthew Rossignol said it’s been a tough stretch, as he had to cancel six basketball games for both his boy’s and girl’s teams.

“So, when the kids found out we would be back on Dec. 23, they were ecstatic,” he said.

Credit: adobe stock

He may be new to the athletic director job, but Rossignol has been around the school district for decades as a student-athlete and basketball coach. It’s been a strenuous time for athletic officials, too, as they have to meet and coordinate with other schools when games or travel arrangements change at the last minute.

Rossignol was already able to reschedule some of the missed games because he said other athletic directors are aware of the current situation and want to give every student-athlete the chance to compete regardless of where they play.

“These [athletic directors] were willing to be really flexible and help us out,” he said. “I try to put myself always in the position of a 17-year-old kid who loves to play a sport, and we’re going to do all we can to allow them to do that safely.”

Credit: NCM

His boy’s and girl’s squads play Thursday. While that will provide coaching, conditioning, and skill challenges, Rossignol added it’s just nice to be back playing sports again.

“Sports allows us to provide lessons that cannot necessarily be learned in the classroom, how to work together, how to be a good teammate, how to follow authority, how to follow rules,” he added.

As school districts work together and with other administrators across the state, the goal is the same: to provide a safe in-person learning environment for Maine students and staff. 

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