JAY — With 40 students and six staff testing positive for COVID-19 since classes began in September, teachers and families are feeling overwhelmed by the hundreds of students who have had to quarantine, Regional School Unit 73 Superintendent Scott Albert told directors Thursday evening.
“The biggest issue is, we have had to quarantine 296 students because of these 40 exposures,” Albert said. “Because of the mask exemption, 76 other students didn’t have to.” Those 76 students do have to quarantine at home and from after-school activities, he noted.
He said teachers and staff, as well as families, are overwhelmed by the number of students who have had to quarantine.
Students from Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls attend Spruce Mountain schools. The primary school is in Livermore; the elementary, middle and high schools are in Jay.
“One of the biggest hits is busing,” Albert said. “That’s a federal rule. There’s a 6-foot rule on buses even if wearing masks. If there’s a kid sitting in the middle of the bus, it takes out quite a few kids.”
Older, vaccinated students aren’t affected but there is no vaccine yet for those 11 and younger, he noted. Efforts are underway to get the 6-foot rule changed, he added.
“They’re overwhelmed right now because we have so many kids in quarantine,” he said of teachers.
The required 10-day quarantine can include a weekend, he said. “Normally, if out sick you wouldn’t have as much to catch up on,” he said.
“Kids coming in, going out, keeping track of everything, it’s been a challenge for staff,” Spruce Mountain Elementary School Principal Pat St. Clair said. Calls are being made daily, teachers are doing lessons for kids that are in school and getting work together for kids in quarantine, having work available for parents when they stop, he said. “It’s been quite a process, tweaking it to make it work for the students.”
About 21% of the student body has had to quarantine, with about half of those in quarantine as of Thursday, Albert said.
“That’s what is making it difficult for teachers,” he said. “Certain kids are coming back, others are going out. It would be easier if two classes were to leave then come back at the same time.”
Director John Johnson asked about methods of determining close contacts during sports or outside where masks aren’t required.
“In sports, any physical contact is considered a close contact,” Albert said. “It’s trying to look back through video, see if there was actual physical contact with the student testing positive.”
“Have there been any issues with the process?” Milligan asked.
“The students have done very well,” Albert said. “We have had some upset parents. I understand. If you quarantine that disrupts your life dramatically.”
Understanding the rules can be hard, there’s a lot of calling back and forth with the Maine CDC, Albert said.
“I think we all pictured back in the spring this was going away, we would have a normal school year and people wouldn’t have to worry,” he said.
In other business, it was noted an error had been made regarding public comments at board meetings.
“A month or so ago there was a lot of discussion about masks and we were informed the public didn’t have the opportunity to speak or bring up things not on the agenda,” Livermore Falls resident John Benedetto said. “Looking into this further, it seems that is not the case. I was wondering if the board is going to retract any of the articles and explanations that were put out to the public.”
Those are two separate issues, board Chairman Robert Staples said. The district’s policy on public comments was reviewed by attorneys and it was interpreted wrong, he said. “(Our lawyers) said the way it should be interpreted is people are allowed to speak.”
The other issue is that board members actually represent the school as a whole, its students and staff, Staples said. “They’re unique in elected officials in that they don’t necessarily represent the electors.
“As far as the public comment, that’s something that we interpreted wrong and we’re sorry about that,” he noted. “That actually changed.”