Thousands of students across Maine will be out of classes for weeks as a growing number school districts take emergency measures to close schools in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus and the respiratory disease it causes.

The list of schools closing for a week or more grew rapidly Saturday as the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced new positive tests of COVID-19 in Maine, bringing the total of likely cases in the state to six. Maine has not yet had cases confirmed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Westbrook, Gray, Cumberland-North Yarmouth, Yarmouth, Old Orchard Beach, Bangor and Freeport- and Kennebunk-area schools are among the districts that will close for at least two weeks.

Scarborough public schools announced a weeklong closure and Wells-Ogunquit extended a previously announced closure another week. Other school districts announced closures Saturday afternoon and evening, including John Bapst Memorial High School, a private school in Bangor, which canceled classes through the end of April.

Lewiston Public Schools announced in a letter sent to parents on Sunday morning they will be postponing all classes and school activities beginning Monday, March 16. This includes the use of all athletic fields and facilities affiliated with Lewiston Public Schools. All school buildings will remain closed until at least April 6.

All Maine’s Catholic schools will close through March 29.

Maine has not ordered a statewide public school shutdown and the Maine CDC said Saturday it has not updated its guidance to school districts regarding coronavirus. The decision whether to close rests with local administrators, said Maine CDC spokesman Robert Long. At least seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia have ordered public school closures in response to the virus.

“Maine CDC has provided public health guidance and resources to allow school administrators to make the most informed decisions about school closings,” he said.

“In Maine, the decision to cancel classes rests with superintendents. The guidance we provide is in response to specific needs identified by educators. There has been no blanket change in the guidance that Maine CDC is providing and will continue to provide,” Long added.

In letters to parents and communities, school superintendents emphasized that while there were no cases of the disease in their schools, they decided to close to slow transmission of the disease by “social distancing” – keeping out of large groups and close contact with other people.

Many described the measure in similar language as an effort to “flatten the curve.”  The term is used to illustrate how reducing transmission through social distancing can lower the possibility of a spike in sick people needing treatment that may overwhelm health care providers.

Maine has recorded three presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. There have also been three preliminary presumptive positive cases, which need to be validated by Maine CDC.

As the situation changes rapidly, school administrators said they needed to make the safest decision for their students, staff and community.

“This closure is not the result of any suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our immediate community, though we know the virus is present in southern Maine,” said Yarmouth Superintendent Andrew Dolloff in a statement.

“We are taking this proactive approach out of an abundance of caution and in an effort to “flatten the curve” of COVID-19 cases in Maine, he said.

Taking so many students out of schools will undoubtedly create serious disruption for thousands of families. It is also unclear how schools will handle remote learning or provide for students who rely on free and reduced-price meals given out at school.

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana noted the difficulties it would place on many members of the community in his letter to families Saturday.

“This decision has been made with careful consideration of the options,” Botana said. “We are aware of the fact that closing schools will be a hardship for all families. For our most disadvantaged community members, it will represent an even greater hardship.”

Portland schools are not prepared to offer alternative forms of education or nutrition on Monday or Tuesday, but intend to have a plan in place by midweek, Botana said.

Schools will likely switch to remote learning plans next week, but need time to prepare. Many said more information would be made available Wednesday.

“We know distance learning will not fully replace the classroom setting that students experience each day,” said SAD 51 Superintendent Jeff Porter in a letter to families. That district includes Cumberland and North Yarmouth.

“We also know this will be challenging at times, but we are determined to continue to provide learning opportunities for all students, and we ask for your patience and flexibility as we navigate this.”

As early as Friday, only a handful of school districts said they were closing schools, including districts in the Wells-Ogunquit district and Mount Desert Island.

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