BAR HARBOR — “It is our full intent to have all of our students and all of our staff back in our buildings five days per week in all of our schools for the 2021-22 school year,” Marc Gousse, superintendent of the Mount Desert Island Regional School System, told the school system board Monday night.
“That is provided we have the green light, the health and safety conditions, that we’ve vaccinated our staff…But at this point, I am very encouraged that we will be returning in person in the fall.”
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the schools have offered a combination of in-person and virtual learning this school year, and some students in grades K–8 have opted to participate full time in the school district’s Virtual Academy.
“It’s important for folks to know that we are not planning, nor do we have funding for any Virtual Academy for next year,” Gousse said. “Instead, we are working very hard for a full return [to in-person learning]. We know that is very, very important for our students and our staff.”
He said the idea is to have school in-person five days a week, regardless of whether students are released early one day, which is something the schools are experimenting with this winter and spring. Whether that continues next year is yet to be decided.
High school return
Meanwhile, MDI High School Principal Matt Haney announced that students who have been attending classes in person only two days a week will be able to do so four days a week starting next Monday, March 15.
Fridays will continue to be early release days, when all students learn remotely.
To limit the number of people in the building at any one time, one group of students has been learning in person two days a week and another group has been doing so on alternate days.
“We are continuing to see evidence across the state and the nation that students who go to school [in person] are safe from transmitting COVID to one another and to teachers and from teachers,” Haney told the high school board Monday.
“Students and educators who go to school continue to have about one-third the rate of transmission of COVID-19 as the general population. So, our mitigation protocols are working, and they are working to a point that we think we can expand our availability to students coming to school in person.”
He said students who prefer to be in the building only two days a week may continue to do so.
As of March 2, high school enrollment stood at 532. About 200 of those students have opted to learn virtually full time. Haney said that if they would like to return to in-person learning, they may ask to do so, but the school might not be able to accommodate them for a few weeks.
“We’re really excited to get the kids back here four days a week for the most part starting next Monday, which is the one-year anniversary of the first day they missed because of [the pandemic],” Haney said.
As the school makes plans for the fall, he said he wants to have ongoing communication with students’ families and the community.
“To that end, we will be hosting two community forums this month to hear from you,” he told families in an email on Tuesday. “The first will be on Thursday, March 18, and the second on Friday, March 26.”
Last year’s drive-in graduation ceremony went quite well, Haney said, but it was far from an ideal format, and he is not planning a repeat for the Class of 2021.
“We believe it’s most probable we’re going to be able to have a graduation in person on the stadium field,” he said. “We are really starting to dig into how that’s going to work.”
Students’ families will be able to attend, Haney said, “But we probably won’t be able to have unlimited guests like we (usually do).”
He said a group of parents is trying to make plans for activities that are both safe and “allow students to feel some of the celebration that seniors should be feeling in the springtime.”
The prom is not one of those activities.
“I don’t think dances are a good idea in COVID times,” Haney said.