Regional School Unit 71’s Board of Directors voted at a special Aug. 3 meeting to completely reopen elementary and middle schools but only partially reopen the high school because of the coronavirus. The school year will start Sept. 2 to give sixth and ninth graders an open house day.

Superintendent Mary Alice McLean recommended a partial reopening for the high school, with staggered attendance days by grade, because the number of students in the school and their generally larger bodies makes it more difficult to maintain 6-foot social distancing.

She said repeatedly that safety must come first and faculty and parents must be on high alert for the virus. Students in all grades will be required to wear face coverings and maintain 6-foot social distancing. The school district does not have enough resources to conduct large-scale virus testing, she said, so parents must look for signs of the virus before bringing children to school.

If a student is symptomatic at school, they will wait in an isolation room for their parents to pick them up. The nurses are fully versed in CDC virus information and reporting requirements, and students will not be sent home because they coughed or have a runny nose. Students and faculty who leave because they have COVID-19 symptoms will not be allowed to return until they have recovered and received a negative test.

McLean said the district did receive $1.3 million for coronavirus relief, which will allow  HVAC systems to be placed in district schools. It will allow increased air flow and perpetually disinfect objects and surfaces.

Teachers will be conducting classes outside as much as possible, she said, and the district will work with teachers to buy outdoor learning supplies like picnic tables, folding chairs and tents.

She said many parents intend to transport their own children to school. The district will still bus students who need, it but will implement mandatory mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing and staggered arrival and dismissal times to reduce interactions between children.

If a student or teacher in the district tests positive for the virus, McLean said, she will release details about the case without identifying the individual.

She talked about learning options for students whose parents do not feel comfortable sending them back to school or who are in a high-risk household, but did not go into detail about a plan for that scenario. She would prefer elementary students either come back full-time or continue remote learning and did not express an option for them to come back in a partial status.

The Waldo County Technical Center will be open every day and the school will try to transport students to the facility; students who drive are encouraged to drive themselves, but not to carpool.

Many parents spoke at the virtual meeting in support of a full reopening. Many expressed the belief that children are not generally a high-risk category and felt that keeping them isolated might erode their mental health.

“I think for the welfare of my kid and my family, she just needs to go back to school,” Jodi Richards said about her child.

A couple of parents shared their reservations about a full school reopening, stating that asymptomatic children can still bring the virus home to infect a household and put high- risk people they interact with in jeopardy.

After school extracurricular activities are not canceled, but decisions about student athletics are made by the Maine Principals’ Association. The board voted to allow the superintendent to change the reopening status to partially open or remote if the status of the virus changes quickly.