BRUNSWICK — Brunswick, Maine School Administrative District 75 and Regional School Unit 1 schools will be closed Monday as officials work to develop plans for possible long-term closures due to the coronavirus. 

Staff from the three districts should still plan to work Monday to help form contingency plans for remote learning and for access to meals for students who depend on school lunches, according to letters from their respective superintendents.

MSAD 75 includes the towns of Topsham, Harpswell, Bowdoin and Bowdoinham. RSU 1 encompasses Bath, Phippsburg, Arrowsic and Woolwich.

As of Friday evening, Freeport area RSU 5 schools had not announced a closure.

“The pandemic that is before us is unprecedented and we are working furiously to develop alternatives and plan for the unknown,” Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said.  

Perzanoski said he expects to receive more information throughout the weekend to “make better choices about intermediate and long-term decisions.” The district will communicate “as early as possible” Monday about the next steps, he said.

“We think the virus is a real threat and we are recommending that we take the issue seriously,” he said, and any decision to close the schools would be made with input from the school medical advisor, the Maine Center for Disease Control and the Maine Department of Education. 

Shawn Chabot, MSAD 75 superintendent, said he, too, is taking the virus seriously and that with daily briefings and near hourly updates, the district is trying to prepare. Parents should start planning how to ensure their children are cared for if they aren’t in school, he said.

According to Patrick Manuel, RSU 1 superintendent, the district is following CDC guidelines, and as of Friday,
“they are not recommending closing unless there is a presumptive positive member of our school community,” he said.

Brunswick officials are surveying families on their ability to access technology and are developing plans to keep students engaged through distance learning “and other supplements,” Perzanoski said Thursday. Students in grades six through 12 will likely be more reliant on technology than younger grades.  A complete plan should be ready next week. 

According to Perzanoski, staff is meeting to develop a plan to provide breakfast and lunch for students who receive their primary meals from the schools. 

In Topsham, officials are mobilizing as well. Chabot said district nutrition staff are working to set up a meal service for students similar to their summer food programs.

Manuel also indicated the district is working to feed students who may need assistance.

The coronavirus strain was first reported in Wuhan, China and by Friday, more than 135,000 cases and nearly 5,000 deaths had been reported to the World Health Organization from 118 countries. There are now more than 1,700 cases in the U.S. and 41 deaths. The virus can cause fever, coughing, shortness of breath and in some cases, pneumonia and death.

The World Health Organization declared Wednesday that the global coronavirus crisis is now a pandemic. Maine Gov. Janet Mills announced Thursday the first person in Maine has tested positive for the coronavirus, a woman in her 50s from Androscoggin County.

Friday morning, The Press Herald reported another quickly followed suit: a male city of Portland employee in his 50s. The state has now tested 111 samples, of which 91 were negative and 17 results are pending.

College campuses across the country, including Bowdoin College, announced this week that students are to return home and that classes will be conducted remotely for the rest of the semester. 

Mills suggested practicing “social distancing,” meaning groups of 250 or more people attending non-essential events should be delayed or postponed.

Wednesday, the Brunswick School Board took the recommendation one step further and postponed all school-related activities that would have 50 or more people. 

All school trips, field trips and any non-essential community outreach have been canceled or postponed in RSU 1, MSAD 75 and Brunswick.

An opening reception for an all schools art show at Curtis Memorial Library was canceled and the Brunswick High School Players postponed its production of The Addams Family. The start of the spring sports season in both districts has been delayed until the end of April. 

Teachers and staff in Brunswick are spending extra time with students for hand washing, and the schools have adequate supplies, including alcohol-based hand sanitizer, which is now allowed under a staff member’s supervision, Perzanoski said.

Local school officials are regularly cleaning and sanitizing classrooms and busses and students and staff in are asked to stay home if they are sick expect to get medical care, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue, regularly and thoroughly wash hands with soap and water, avoid touching their faces and keep surfaces clean. 

There is always an opportunity in every tragic event and it is my hope that the silver lining is that we work together for the benefit of all citizens,” Perzanoski said. 

Meanwhile, Harpswell Coastal Academy is closed until further notice as a precautionary measure to limit the spread of the coronavirus, school officials announced Friday.
Both the Harpswell and Brunswick campuses will be closed for at least the next week, but classes will continue online.
“We transport and host students from 28 towns spread over a large geography and we understand that this creates a unique opportunity for the COVID-19 virus to spread,” Scott Barksdale, head of school said in a newsletter. The school will reopen as soon as possible. Buildings will be staffed but not open to the public.
“As a school for entrepreneurship and social change, part of our mission is to help students understand how they can impact the world around them,” Barksdale said. “We are reminding everyone that the purpose of this closure is to limit transmission to the more vulnerable among our communities. You can support this message by keeping students at home with you and helping them practice good hygiene and healthy habits.”

This story has been updated to correctly list the towns in RSU 1. 

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