Director questions student trip where Zika virus present


By Wayne E. Rivet

Staff Writer

As Tom Hancock listened to details about student travel requests for 2017 on Monday night, he likely thought how lucky Lake Region students are to be offered chances to see the world.


New Zealand and Australia.

Or, how about a fun day at Six Flags in Agawam, Mass.

But, Hancock was a little leery about one proposal — a trip to Guatemala City in November. His concern — SAD 61 sending students to a Zika Zone.

“I don’t believe the school district should be sending child-bearing age students into an area known to have the Zika virus,” said Hancock, a Casco school board member. He noted that there were 105 reported cases of Zika in Guatemala City.

Jessica DiBiase, who is taking over the trip for Brook Sulloway, told the school board that students would be in a dry area with little to no mosquito activity, and would protect themselves with lotions and spray.

Student School Board representative Mallory Strain defended the trip, saying a previous visit there changed her life. In fact, she will be making her third visit to Guatemala shortly.

Strain visited the country as part of a church group as a sophomore, and then went with Sulloway’s group under the Safe Passage program. Students taught English to children there and visited a “dump” where many children and adults pick through waste.

DiBiase says the trip sends a powerful message to students, who suddenly realize the many riches they often take for granted living in the United States. The trip is held Nov. 18-26, a time where students fully grasp the idea of what they should be thankful for.

Strain felt completely safe during her previous visits to Guatemala City.

“I don’t think I would be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for this trip,” she said. “It’s had an major impact on me.”

DiBiase echoed that comment, saying she has traveled to many parts of the world, but the time spent in Guatemala City “changed me.”

Directors approved all of the trip requests. Hancock voted ‘no’ on the Guatemala trip, and three other directors abstained.

In other school board news:

  • In light of some recent publicized cases involving coaches having inappropriate relations with student athletes, Casco Director Phil Shane wondered if SAD 61 should set an age limit for individuals seeking coaching positions.

In two recent cases, male coaches — ages 21 and 23 — allegedly had consensual sexual relations with student athletes, which violates Maine law, which prohibits coaches and teachers from having sexual relations with students.

The matter will be sent to the Personnel Committee for discussion.

  • Superintendent Al Smith commended the public for input given at a recent forum to discuss solutions for overcrowding at Songo Locks School and what to do with Crooked River School.

Smith noted that student population is exceeding early predictions of enrollment reduction. The projected number was 1,588 while the current reality is over 1,800.

Smith would like to continue conversations with the public to explain the district’s current financial situation and try to determine what taxpayers might support in a CRES building project.

  • Casco Director Stan Buchanan was asked by a resident where Sebago withdrawal stands?

Superintendent Smith said Sebago residents recently approved expenditure of more funds to continue the process. Withdrawal Consultant Dr. Mark Eastman and the Sebago Withdrawal Committee are presently reviewing the district’s latest proposal and is expected to make a counter offer soon.

Smith said another process deadline is around mid-February, but he noted that Sebago officials could seek an extension (and likely be granted it) by the Commissioner of Education.

Sebago Director Joe McMahon pointed out that in early discussions, Superintendent Smith said the withdrawal process could take up to two years to be completed.

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