BANGOR, Maine — This week, some students in Bangor are returning to classrooms for the first time since March.
School begins for Bangor public schools on Tuesday, September 1. The first two days will include a late start for students, so faculty and staff can review new protocols brought on by COVID-19. About half of the students signed up for in-person and hybrid learning plans will come to school on September 1, and the other half will come on September 2.
Betsy Webb, superintendent for the Bangor School Department, says those groups are determined by grade to emphasize the needs of students. For instance, for some students, it may be their first time in a new building if they are entering elementary, junior high, or high school. This re-entering plan is designed to give them staff members' full attention to help them start to feel comfortable. For older kids who are already familiar with buildings, this plan will allow them to learn about new spacing requirements, determine how to eat in classrooms, and adjust to limits on the number of people allowed in bathrooms.
Safety protocols will vary slightly based on buildings and grade levels, but all will follow the same basic concepts – mask-wearing, distancing when possible, and allotted breaks for students.
By Thursday this week, all students choosing to study in-person should be back in classrooms. On Friday, the state will reassess Penobscot County’s designation as a “green” school zone. If it is changed, Webb says staff members are prepared to go remote come Monday and will stay that way until a “green” designation is given again.
Webb added that her team is trying to accommodate all families. At this point, about 80 percent of students and their families have chosen in-person learning, 10 percent have chosen a hybrid plan, and another 10 percent have chosen to stay fully remote. Webb says she has been getting requests from parents to change their decisions but says doing so is difficult at this point in time.
For example, Webb says at the beginning of planning, about 65 percent of parents said they would bring their kids to school. Now, more parents apparently want their kids to ride the bus, but providing for that is difficult because kids need to social distance and staff members have been preparing for a certain number. The same goes for classes. Webb says there are only a certain number of in-person, hybrid, and remote slots.
“We do really want to be able to accommodate families as well as we can, but at this point, we’re ready to go with those numbers,” Webb told NEWS CENTER Maine via Zoom. “If people call to change, you know, I will say courses now are pretty limited because we’ve set up that structure.”
Webb says if schools must shift to a hybrid plan, they will work with families to try to meet their needs by sending siblings to in-person settings on the same days.
Ultimately, Webb is asking that families be understanding, as the community works through an unprecedented semester together.
“We have to be kind to one another. We have to be patient with one another,” Webb expressed. “We have to understand that in order to have our schools open, we do have to wear masks; we do have to distance… I truly believe that we will find our rhythm and our routine quickly, just like we do on all other years.”