Even though all Maine school districts were given the green designation by the Department of Education to move ahead with school reopening plans, Regional School Unit 20 is recommending easing gradually into in-person education.

At an RSU 20 board meeting Aug. 20, directors approved a hybrid, or "yellow" designation, where students would attend two full in-person days and have three days of remote learning for the first two weeks of school, starting Sept. 8. Those two weeks will be used to train students in the new safety protocols, the board said.

After that, K-12 students will shift to a "green" designation, with four in-person days and Wednesday designated as a remote day for all.

After two weeks of the "green" designation, K-five students will start a full five-day in-person week, while grades six-12 will continue with four in-person days and having Wednesday for remote learning. The board said it will reassess the situation after the close of the first quarter at the end of October.

The district will also implement double bus runs starting with the high school/middle school students being picked up first and arriving at the school at approximately 7:45 a.m.; elementary students on the second bus run will arrive around 8:45 a.m. All students will be dismissed at 3:30 p.m.

The steering committee had advocated for a hybrid model at an RSU 20 public forum Aug. 17, under which students would have attended two full in-person days and had three days of remote learning.

One group would attend in-person learning Monday and Tuesday, while a second group would attend Thursday and Friday, with Wednesday designated a remote learning day for both groups and any remaining days used for independent assignments at home.

At the Aug. 17 meeting, board member Tony Bagley said the hybrid plan would most likely not be the plan for the entire year, but that the recommendation is "fluid" and the district probably would adapt to any future situations.

"The goal is to get into green as quickly as possible," he said, referring to four or five days a week of in-person learning.

Many parents expressed concern about missing work while their children are learning remotely and asked why students could not attend in person for the full week.

One parent, who said she and her husband were essential workers and could not miss work, asked, "With the numbers we have, two-thirds of the school district want kids back five days a week. Why is this not an option?

"We're not educators," she said. "I'm not qualified to teach them," and added that math is "very challenging."

District Superintendent Chris Downing said there were a number of students who, because of safety concerns, would be attending school solely through remote learning and "we couldn't forget those kids."

"We need to look at the remote learners," he said, "and also the amount of work that we would be looking at for staff to do" by teaching a full week of in-person learning and also teaching remotely.

One parent said the hybrid model did not make a lot of sense. "Where are these children supposed to go? What are working parents going to do with the children (while they are at work)?"

Downing said when the district started remote learning in the spring, "they were not prepared," and added, "we're looking at remote learning in a completely different perspective" now.

As part of the protocols set forth by the DOE, besides washing hands and wearing face coverings, all students will be required to be screened at home prior to getting on the bus or going to school.

According to the school nurse, students not tested beforehand will be placed in one of the designated "isolation rooms" at school until parents are notified.

Also, if families were to go on vacation out of state during Christmas break, Bagley said, they would be expected to quarantine at home for 14 days before returning to school.

The three plans which were considered for the start of the new year included a full remote schedule, a hybrid model, and a four- or five-day in-person school schedule.