School districts around southern Maine responded to the spread of the coronavirus by announcing limited closures Friday, giving educators time without classes so they can prepare for the possibility of a long-term shut down.

While most of the closures are for one day, Wells is shutting down for one week.

Similar steps were being taken around the state, with the Mount Desert Island Regional School System announcing Friday night that it was closing all 10 of its schools in Bar Harbor and the surrounding islands for a minimum of two weeks. In an email to parents, the district said it plans to use remote learning to provide student services to the best of its ability.

“The immediate closure of all (district) schools at this time is not only prudent but critical to support the health, safety and well-being of our students, staff and communities,” Superintendent Marc Gousse said in his email. “To do otherwise represents a serious risk and overt threat to public health and safety.”

Wells-Ogunquit Community School District Superintendent James Daly said in a letter to families and staff that schools will close for one week starting at the end of school Friday and running through March 22.

Though no coronavirus cases have been reported in the Wells district, Daly said the decision “has been made in an effort to adequately protect our school community in this time of uncertainty.”

Almost no schools have closed long-term in Maine because of the outbreak, but news of the first presumptive-positive cases in the state and decisions by other states to shut whole school systems have precipitated the need for districts to prepare for the worst.

Gov. Janet Mills said Thursday she is not recommending schools close. Some district leaders have announced one-day closures so teachers can prepare for remote learning, but couldn’t say if or when schools might close long-term.

“Things are happening quickly and we’re making preparations in case we do close,” said Craig King, superintendent of Gray-based School Administrative District 15.

The district announced Friday that it would designate Wednesday a professional development day for employees to prepare lesson plans to be completed by students at home in the event of extended school closures.

The Brunswick School Department also announced in a letter Friday afternoon that Monday would be a day off for students while staff would report to work as usual to plan for a possible long-term 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 in the letter.

Governors of at least six states, including Ohio, Michigan and West Virginia, have announced statewide school closures because of the coronavirus outbreak. Some of the country’s largest school districts, including Seattle, Washington, D.C., and San Diego, also have announced closures.

At the same time, some districts have said closures should only be a last resort. In New York City, the country’s largest school district, officials have closed only select schools impacted by the virus, citing the vital role schools play in providing meals and a place for children to go so their parents can work.

As of Friday afternoon two people in Maine, in Androscoggin and Cumberland counties, had presumptive-positive tests for the virus, and the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention was reviewing a third possible positive test for a woman being treated at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Several colleges and universities in Maine have asked their students to leave campus and announced transitions to online learning. One public high school, Baxter Academy in Portland, said Thursday it would move to distance learning on Monday.

Portland Public Schools, the state’s largest school district, said Thursday that staff were preparing for the possibility of school closures but had no immediate plans to do so. Officials there did not respond to phone calls and emails asking for updates on the district’s coronavirus response Friday.

Other K-12 schools spent Friday considering how to implement remote learning with varying degrees of reliance on technology.

The National Center for Education Statistics said that as of 2015, 22 percent of Maine households don’t have internet access, a consideration that school leaders said has played into the way they’re shaping plans for remote learning.

The Maine Curriculum Leaders Association, which has been working to provide resources and planning guidance to teachers and schools for distance learning, said very little of their guidance to schools is dependent on technology.

“We have to think about it through the lens of equity,” Executive Director Courtney Belolan said. “Any plan needs to start with the basis of no technology needed. From there the different layers that can be added on are technology-based. The ideas and resources we send out have been mostly focused on no technology needed.”

In the York School Department, Superintendent Lou Goscinski canceled classes for students Friday so teachers could prepare for the possibility of remote learning. The district equips students in grades 5 through 12 with laptops or tablets.

Only 11 percent of students in York are considered economically disadvantaged, compared to 42 percent statewide. Goscinski said most students have access to the internet and the district is working to create hot spots for those who don’t.

“In more rural areas that will become a bigger concern,” he said.

For younger students not equipped with their own technological devices, Goscinski said teachers and staff on Friday prepared “blizzard bags” with lessons to be completed at home. Students in grades K-4 will take the bags – which are modeled after packets the superintendent used to assemble for students on snow days in another district – home Monday regardless of whether a school closure has been announced, in order to be prepared.

All grade levels in York would be assigned between three and four hours of school work per day. “We want it to be rigorous but not so difficult kids can’t complete the work without supervision,” Goscinski said.

In Biddeford schools, where 52 percent of students are economically disadvantaged, Director of Instruction Mandy Cyr said the district realizes that many students don’t have access to technology at home.

“They may not have computers or ipads, but they have access to cellphones,” she said. “Requiring them to do work off a cellphone might not be the best way to learn.”

Because of that Cyr said the district is developing all its remote learning plans so that students without internet can be fully prepared. Families of students in kindergarten through fifth grade are being encouraged to read books and engage in at-home learning through activities like cooking, where children can apply math skills, and crafts.

Cyr said planning is a challenge because it’s unknown if or for how long schools might close.

“As we go through this we’re going to figure out what modifications we need to make,” she said. “It’s going to be something that’s very fluid. We’ve never been through this experience before.”

Superintendents in Cumberland and York counties met twice Friday to talk about their districts’ responses and criteria that could be used to determine if schools should close.

Gorham Superintendent Heather Perry said the districts talked about criteria they could use to determine if schools will close including high absenteeism rates among staff, knowledge of a confirmed case of the virus in the community and knowledge of large numbers of students or staff being tested.

“We didn’t say, ‘Only under these circumstances would we consider closing schools,'” Perry said. “We only talked about these as filters and guidelines, understanding that schools might close at different times and for different reasons.”

Staff Writer Penelope Overton contributed to this report.

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