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RSU 71 mulls reopening plans, names anti-racism task force

By Kendra Caruso | Jul 21, 2020
Source: File photo.

Belfast — Regional School Unit 71 Board of Directors discussed district schools' reopening this fall and results of its public survey about the idea. Superintendent Mary Alice McLean also announced a new Eradicate Racism Through Education task force.

McLean said she is still waiting to hear from the state about reopening recommendations for the Belfast region. The state will issue reopening recommendations by region based on its Green, Yellow, Red reopening plan by mid-August.

Red represents continued remote learning, Green represents a full reopening for all students and Yellow represents a plan for decreased classroom sizes and staggered student attendance.

McLean said the school has a draft plan for each level of reopening, but must work out more details once it finds out which level the state recommends for RSU 71. The district will again survey for parents, students and faculty once it receives the state recommendation. The district will work with parents who do not want to send their children back to school at the beginning of the school year, she said.

Board member Steve Hopkins was concerned the district might go over its budget trying to make accommodations for the coronavirus. Chairwoman Caitlin Hills said the school has funds available from the Cares Act it can use for safety measures against the virus.

McLean shared public survey results from 699 families who participated in the district’s reopening survey. It found 62.7% of respondents are comfortable with students returning to schools and 22.4% uncomfortable with students returning.

Frequent school disinfecting and hand sanitizer use are supported by 72% of respondents and 43% support reduced class sizes. McLean said she was surprised to find that only 32% of respondents support using face coverings.

The survey found that 186 parents reported they will be dependent on school bus transportation, and 244 parents said they were going to transport their children to school with a family vehicle.

It found 29% of parents said their children struggled with remote learning and 15% said their children did not struggle.

In the teachers' survey, 67% of staff reported they were comfortable returning to school. McLean said she was concerned when 46.7% of teachers reported that fewer than half their students participated in remote learning.

The district did not report grades for students younger than high school, McLean said. Hills said she was concerned about middle schoolers not receiving grades, because it took away an incentive to complete school work and she hoped it would not set a bad precedent for the future.

In other business, McLean announced a new task force called Eradicate Racism Through Education she created to address concerns about racial bias in the school district. It comes after national protests and riots in response to disproportionate use of force on people of color by law enforcement officers, which prompted some parents to ask her about how the district responds to racism issues in its schools.

She said currently seven people have volunteered for the task force. Faculty, parents and board members are allowed to join.

She said the task force will develop ways to create a more diverse library and teaching curriculum to reflect the races and cultures of all students in the district. It will value and listen to Black voices in the community and strengthen support for district schools’ civil rights teams, which McLean said have always been there.

Those interested in joining the task force should contact McLean at mamclean@rsu71.org.

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