SAD 4 directors accept Safe Return to School Plan

GUILFORD — A “Safe Return to School Plan” is now in place for when classes resume at the two SAD 4 institutions on Wednesday, Sept. 1. The school board approved the document during an Aug. 10 meeting at Piscataquis Community Elementary School. 

After discussion between the board and a dozen parents in attendance, the plan was amended to change mask requirements under some higher levels of the community transmission scale from mandatory to optional. School operating procedures are still subject to change per Maine CDC and Department of Education determinations.

“This is a framework for returning to school. It’s a work in progress,” Superintendent Kelly MacFadyen said. “We have to remain fluid because things are changing constantly.” 

She added state guidelines and requirements may be adjusted on a weekly basis depending on fluctuating COVID-19 case numbers.

MacFadyen said the SAD 4 leadership and administrative team developed the framework for the Safe Return to School Plan and group members wanted to hear from the school board and members of the public prior to any approval by the directors. 

A year ago the DOE gave standard operating procedures for Maine schools to follow. MacFadyen said for 2021-22 the state is promoting vaccines for everyone who is eligible and weekly anonymous voluntary pool testing for groups of 10 to 24 students. 

“It’s a way of picking up faster if we have somebody testing positive,” she said. 

The superintendent said the DOE feels there should be universal masking inside the building “and they want all people to be in-person learning.”

“The one mandate that we have received thus far is masking on busing or any school transportation,” MacFadyen said.

She said the Department of Health and Human Services is requiring districts to report the percentage of staff members who have been vaccinated, and this data will be posted online for the public. 

“It does not identify, just the percent,” MacFadyen said, saying she will be discussing this more with SAD 4 employees.

While the CDC and DOE are recommending universal masking, “The decision is a local decision to be made,” the superintendent said. She explained the community transmission scale is made up of blue, yellow, orange and red colors to identify the number of positive COVID-19 cases in counties week by week. 

Before the amendment, SAD 4 was going to have everyone wear masks inside should the scale be at least orange. Currently Piscataquis County is red.

“If we’re doing the pool testing we’re not required to do the six- and three-foot distancing we did last year,” MacFadyen said. She said as a result students will be able to sit together during lunch.

“Next week everything could change and it could be mandated,” the superintendent said about potential changes dictated by the Maine CDC and DOE.

After voting down a motion to approve the Safe Return to School Plan as written, the school board voted on an amendment to make indoor masking optional per parents’/guardians’ wishes. The directors also voted to take out a line saying the district will host (coronavirus) clinics at appropriate times, citing potential liability for SAD 4.

In other business, the directors voted to use all of the increased state subsidy — $246,266 — for the current fiscal year to reduce the local contribution being made by the half dozen SAD 4 communities. 

“We felt the towns really deserved that to go back to their assessments,” MacFadyen said. She said this is the first time in many years the district’s subsidy increased at the start of the academic year, with the state trying to fund its 55 percent of school district budgets. 

Piscataquis Community Secondary School Athletic Director Joe Gallant gave an update to the school board on several topics.

“We had a new hire this summer for our girls basketball program,” he said about Diane Rollins who had previously coached down Route 15 at Central High School in East Corinth for a number of years. “I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from parents and players alike.”

In his report PCSS Principal John Keane wrote that Rollins came out of retirement to lead the Pirates. “She has been doing summer ball with the girls and things seem like they are going well. The one practice I watched for a bit emphasized fundamentals and setting goals.”

“The soccer field is shaping up and will be ready soon, I don’t know when,” Gallant said. He said high school practices would likely start on the town field when players begin the season on Monday, Aug. 16.

“The light poles are expected to be installed tomorrow or Thursday, that’s the poles,” Gallant said.

He said the field work is being donated by Gordon Contracting of Sangerville and the lighting system around the pitch is being gifted by Herring Brothers Meats in Guilford.

“It looks like Gordon Contracting will hold off on paving the track until spring because of time,” Gallant said. 

The Sangerville-based business will donate up to $85,000 to pave the running area and work on the soccer field to alleviate drainage issues. Gallant is currently fundraising to rubberize the track, an approximate $103,000 cost, to make the surface suitable for hosting competitions for the first time in years. Gallant said such a surface will have a life expectancy of 20 to 25 years.

The lighting system has a value of about $50,000, with 100 percent of the costs being covered by Herring Brothers.

Gallant said Homecoming is planned for Saturday, Oct. 2. The girls soccer team will play that evening at 6:30 p.m. under the lights. In 2018 portable lights were brought in for Homecoming with the Pirate boys playing at night.

2021 Homecoming will include the induction ceremony for the PCHS Hall of Fame.

The induction committee met in June and selected eight inductees. The 2021 PCHS Hall of Fame class is made up of athletes Kamron Kimball, Kenny Thomas, Ryan White, Karla Lemieux and Alex Speed, the late Harriet Kronholm as a coach, the 1987 Class C champion field hockey team and Gordon Contracting as a contributor.

Gallant also discussed the PCHS eSport team, explaining the squad faces off in computer-generated games against other schools in Maine Principals’ Association-sponsored competitions. “Anybody can do eSports. It’s a team and they wear a uniform,” he said.

Earlier this year Herring Brothers Meats donated $7,000 to equip the PCHS eSport team. This includes 12 computer stations and accessories for a gaming station.

“It’s a wonderful addition for those who do not play a traditional sport,” Gallant said. He said the hope is to have the eSport matches in the gym, with the action projected onto big screens and fans in attendance to cheer the Pirates on.

Ryan Botting will coach the eSport team, with the season split between the fall and spring. Botting is among eight fall coaches at PCSS.

The others are Trey Gilbert and Mike Chase as co-coaches for PCHS boys soccer, Tom Panciera for girls soccer and Emily Wilson for field hockey. At the middle school level the coaches are Brian Gaw for boys soccer, Sarah Tracy for girls soccer and Jessica Gregory for field hockey.

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