BELFAST — The idea of scheduling remote instruction on snow days was discussed by the Regional School Unit 71 Board of Directors at its Jan. 9 meeting at Belfast Area High School.

Board members also heard a status update from FoodCorps representative Ryan Parker.

The discussion on remote snow days evolved from a prior board request.

The board had previously asked RSU 71 Superintendent Mary Alice McLean to research costs of food for families who choose to “opt in” for school lunches on remote snow days.

The term remote snow day refers to a pre-planned day of virtual learning for students. On a remote snow day students would remain at home and use their school-supplied electronic devices to participate in classes. As a tool, a remote snow day might be used to avoid weather-related school cancellations — determined prior to the day of the event.

This would, in essence, allow the district to save a regular school day that otherwise must be made up at the end of the year because of school cancellations during the year.

While this sounds simple enough, it is complicated by regulations. For school days to be deemed countable toward the yearly total, food (breakfast and lunch) must be offered to students. If food is not offered, the days does not count toward the required yearly total of 175 days.

McLean informed the board that the cost of providing food for those families who opt in would be approximately $2,200 per day. Those calculations were based on the number of meals served last year and included the cost of food and labor.

Those costs, McLean noted, would be incurred by the district as the state would not reimburse for the cost of food that was not served within the schools.

Board Vice Chair Cory Seekins noted that the savings on bus fuel would offset some of the cost of providing food on such days.

“There’s a cost savings (on bus fuel), said Seekins. “It’s not just a cost. Having a remote snow day, especially for high school kids, is better than not having school at all.”

RSU 71 Food Service Coordinator Perley Martin does not like the concept of remote snow days.

“I’m a huge advocate of providing high-nutrition, homemade meals,” he said. “This would be one less day that we could provide that in the cafeteria. I’m an advocate for the old-fashioned snow days.”

Board member David Crabiel suggested a compromise that blended the traditional approach with remote snow days.

“We could do both,” he said. “We could use the traditional snow days and, if we were forced to use them, we could add the remote days. Maybe we have to budget that for next year, so we have it in our back pocket.”

The consensus of the board was that the issue needed more research and directors tabled it for later discussion.

FoodCorps representative Ryan Parker gave the board a status update on the company’s partnership with RSU 71.

Parker is FoodCorps’ impact and partnerships lead for Maine. FoodCorps provides Maine schools with farm-to-school, outdoor experiential learning opportunities.

FoodCorps partnerships with schools generally last for five years. Once the farm-to-school program is in place and running efficiently, FoodCorps removes its local coordinators, and they are replaced by coordinators hired by the school district. At present, the district pays a portion of the cost of the FoodCorps coordinators.

In a Jan. 12 email, Parker singled out the program at Troy Howard Middle School.

“As someone who is at the hub of nearly all farm and sea to school work, school garden work, and food insecurity work in Maine, I am in tune with where the leaders are in each of these respective areas,”  Parker said. “In the area of hands-on, experiential education specifically tied to school gardens, agriculture and food, there are three programs in Maine that set the gold standard for other schools. They are Falmouth, Medomak Valley and Troy Howard Middle School. Thanks to the district partnerships, the Captain Albert Stevens School is rapidly becoming a leader alongside THMS.”

FoodCorps has partnered with RSU 71 for several year and currently has six service workers assisting with programs at THMS, CASS, Nickerson and East Belfast.

The program not only provides students with experiential learning; it also provides RSU 71 with locally grown nutritious food. Parker praised RSU 71 Food Service Director Perley Martin’s advocacy of the program.

“Perley Martin is an incredible leader in the state in terms of blazing a trail of more scratch-cooked, less processed made from ingredients from local and Maine farms,” Parker said. “He also focuses on use of ingredients grown by students in the garden programs.”

Parker told the board that service members would be focusing on the garden programs at Nickerson and East Belfast in the coming year. He added that FoodCorps would also be looking to start programs at Ames and Weymouth schools.

The next meeting of the RSU 71 Board of Directors will be Monday, Jan. 23, at 5:30 p.m. at the East Belfast Elementary School.