Citing concerns over air quality and the safety of school building ventilation systems, the Cape Elizabeth School Board has decided to wait another week before adopting a school reopening plan for fall.
Colby Company Engineering of Portland will be brought in to evaluate the ventilation systems in each of the town’s three schools, with the School Board set to reconsider a hybrid school learning plan at its meeting Tuesday. The special meeting is set to start at 6:30 p.m.
Board members acknowledged that the town’s schools are old and probably need ventilation system upgrades. But they said during a meeting that lasted more than five hours Tuesday night that they need more time and information before making a decision to reopen schools or possibly even close the schools for an indefinite period during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The topic surfaced at Tuesday night’s School Board meeting when members discussed reopening schools under a hybrid learning model that would give students the option of attending in-person classes two days a week with the remaining days dedicated to remote learning.
Cape Elizabeth High School is over 50 years old and school officials said the hallways do not have a ventilation system. Cape Elizabeth Middle School was built in the 1930s. The third school is the Pond Cove Elementary School.
“I can’t support (a hybrid learning model) under the state of our buildings,” Chairwoman Heather Altenburg said. “I feel like we would be putting people in harm’s way.”
Board members expressed sympathy for parents, many of whom are struggling with plans that may require students to spend part of their week in remote learning programs.
“I feel like the waiting is just killing everyone,” Hope Straw said. “I feel like we should give people an answer.”
“I think what we just learned about the high school is very troubling,” Phil Saucier said.
Cape Elizabeth was planning to reopen schools on Aug. 31.
The Maine Department of Education did not respond to requests for information about whether other school districts in Maine are concerned about school building ventilation systems.