BAR HARBOR — Cleaning school buildings from top to bottom, getting food to children who need it and setting up a system for remote learning are the top priorities for Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic threat.
All schools in the system, which have been closed since Monday, will remain closed through next Friday, March 27. And Gousse said Wednesday the closure could well last longer.
“I think parents, children, staff, community members need to be prepared for extended closures,” he said. “Until we get a handle on this, it’s very wise to not have people in buildings or potentially exposed to the virus.
“So, we are operating remotely. No staff or visitors are allowed in the schools.”
The only exceptions will be cleaning crews.
“We are exploring cleaning protocols … to ensure that our custodial and maintenance staffs have the proper training and know what they should and shouldn’t be doing,” he said. “And in the absence of testing [for the virus], we’re going to institute verbal screenings … for those limited personnel who come in and clean.
“It makes no sense to bring people into the buildings to clean if we compromise the very thing we’re seeking to protect.”
Gousse said one goal of the deep cleaning is to ensure that the buildings are virus-free when classes resume.
“We also want to make sure that schools, if needed for shelters or other community resources such as food distribution, are available.”
As for trying to make food available for students who normally depend on eating at school, Gousse said, “There’s no system in the place for food distribution, and what we want to avoid is having people come in to the schools to pick up food. So, we’re going to have to build a system that probably will involve remote distribution.
“There are two schools where we believe we’re going to move forward with this a little more quickly, and those are Tremont and Trenton.”
Gousse noted that community food banks and some restaurants and other businesses are helping out.
“I hope to be able to get information out soon to parents and the community about what the schools will be doing to meet the challenge of food insecurity,” he said.
Providing remote learning opportunities for students is another priority, but also a major, complex challenge, he said.
“Remote learning isn’t something we can just flip the switch on, and it’s not going to look the same for high school students as it does for middle level students and for younger children.
“And once we go with a platform of remote learning, we’re responsible for educating all children including children with special needs. That’s non-negotiable; that’s something we have to do. We want to make sure we’re fully prepared to implement that.”
Gousse said he is aware that various school districts in Maine are taking different approaches in responding to the COVID-19 pandemic threat.
“I am listening to the scientists on this,” he said. “I am taking information and making decisions based on the advice of medical professionals and scientists.”
Gousse said he is meeting — remotely — at least twice a day with other school administrators and is consulting frequently with health and public safety experts to chart the path forward.
“Our decisions are being made daily and hourly because this is an evolving situation,” he said. “And we are planning as thoughtfully as we can.”