MOUNT DESERT — Because of concerns about COVID-19, about 20 percent of the 162 students who normally would be going to Mount Desert Elementary School are instead being home-schooled or are attending classes virtually.
Across the school district, that number is 17 percent.
Now, principals are trying to determine what, if any, changes they will need to make if a significant number of students resume in-person learning starting in January. To help with that planning, they have sent a survey to parents asking whether they would prefer to have their child attend school in person next semester or to have them learn at home. Parents are asked to respond no later than Dec. 18.
“When this information is all compiled, we will be looking at what kinds of modifications we need to make,” said MDES Principal Gloria Delsandro.
“Our goal is always to accommodate any student who wants to be in person in our school. But we have to consider impacts to programming and staffing. We have plenty of space if more kids come back, but we will need to reconfigure some spaces to accommodate them all safely.”
Julie Meltzer, the school system’s director of curriculum, assessment and instruction, said most of the elementary school principals are anticipating that they will have at least a few more students in their buildings after the first of the year, and they will be looking at how they can accommodate as many as possible.
“That may mean some additional switching around of spaces and, if we can’t do that, we may have to go hybrid,” she said.
The hybrid model is a combination of in-person and virtual instruction.
“There is going to be quite a shuffle for the second semester,” Meltzer said.
“Parents want to have straight answers, and there is a lot out there on social media that is not correct about different schools and about rumors.”
Todd Graham, chairman of the Mount Desert school committee, agreed that parents need to be kept well informed about plans for returning to school after the holidays.
“I believe our community can take all the information you can send their way,” he told Delsandro and Meltzer at the committee’s Dec. 2 meeting. “They understand that it is going to change, and it may change often. But keeping an open line of communication is going to be really important as you navigate how we’re going to get into the second semester.”
According to Delsandro, 15 Mount Desert Elementary students are currently being home-schooled and 17 are learning remotely as participants in the MDI Regional School System’s Virtual Academy. The Virtual Academy was set up this year to serve students in all the elementary schools in the system. There is a dedicated teacher for each grade level.
The Virtual Academy is managed through the superintendent’s office, but participating students get their learning materials, electronic devices and special education and intervention services from their local schools.
“We would love for every kid to be going to school in person because we think that’s ultimately the best for most kids, although there are some who are thriving in the Virtual Academy,” Meltzer said.