BAR HARBOR — This time last year, if a child went to school with just a bit of a sniffle or cough, he or she probably would have been allowed to stay.
But not this year.
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, schools in the Mount Desert Island Regional School System – like schools across the state – have what MDI High School nurse Tammy Underwood describes as a “super low threshold” for sending kids home if they have symptoms.
Rhonda Fortin, principal of Pemetic Elementary in Southwest Harbor, said school nurses sometimes have the difficult task of calling and telling parents they need to come and get their child.
“That’s hard for parents who are working, and it’s sometimes hard for families to find someone to watch their children,” she said. “But if we are going to be able to stay with in-person learning, it’s important that everyone is doing their part to keep everyone else safe.
“For the most part, our parents are amazing and supportive, and they’re doing all the things we’re asking them to do.”
Fortin noted that the COVID-related restrictions and guidelines have been handed down by the Maine Center for Disease Control and the Department of Education.
School nurses and administrators encourage parents to check their children for any possible COVID-19 symptoms daily before sending them to school.
“So far, parents have been great for me,” Underwood said. “They have been keeping their kids home, even if they just have a little bit of a runny nose.”
Melissa Veith, the school nurse at Conners Emerson in Bar Harbor, said the number of student absences has increased in the past week or two.
“It’s not a huge amount, but parents have said, ‘We are just using an abundance of caution,’” Veith said. “I really appreciate that people are listening to the guidance and following it. Our parents have been very respectful.”
She said that what, in previous years, would have been considered simply an early fall cold “isn’t just assumed to be that anymore.”
Superintendent Marc Gousse said that most school employees and students want to be in school.
“If they don’t feel well, they’ll fight through it, but that puts themselves and others at risk,” he said. “The right thing to do if you’re not feeling well is to stay home.”
In a video message to the community that was posted last Sunday, Gousse said students and teachers are able to be back in school because they and others in the community “have been doing the right things to keep us safe.”
He emphasized the importance of wearing masks, washing hands and staying 6 feet apartment. And he said it continues to be important for everyone to check themselves for symptoms every morning before going to school or work.
“As we come upon the holiday season, we’re all facing hard choices,” Gousse said in his video message. “That means limiting travel unless absolutely necessary for things like medical appointments or things that can’t be done remotely. If we continue to do those things, that will ensure that we can do everything possible to keep our schools open for in-person teaching and learning.”
Gousse also praised doctors, nurses and other health professionals for their efforts during the pandemic.
“We need to support them now more than ever,” he said. “They are doing their jobs and they are delivering news that is helping to keep us healthy and safe.”