BRUNSWICK — Brunswick school department, Maine School Administrative District 75, Regional School Unit five, Regional School Unit one, West Bath School and St. John’s Catholic School all announced over the weekend that schools will be closed until at least March 30 in an effort to help stem the tide of coronavirus cases in the state and across the country. 

Harpswell Coastal Academy is closed “until further notice,” and both the Brunswick and Harpswell campuses will be closed for at least a week. 

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

“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 an earlier letter to parents and community members. 

Staff from area schools are all expected to report to work Monday to help develop plans as the districts move to remote learning. 

There will be no district meetings or public school board meetings, including a public hearing on the Brunswick school board previously scheduled for Wednesday. 

Many districts are still ironing out plans to provide meals to students and expect to have more detailed plans available for parents in the coming days. 

Shawn Chabot, MSAD 75 superintendent, said in a letter that the district’s food program will run very similarly to the summer meal program. 

Officials also asked community members to help further the school’s efforts by not meeting in large groups and by practicing good hygiene. 

“Our success in combating this illness depends upon our collective civility, cooperation and kindness,”  Perzanoski said. “Please be patient with us as we work on projects while carrying them out at the same time.” 

In Brunswick, hourly employees will still be paid. 

The situation is not ideal, superintendents agreed.

We certainly understand the significant burden this may create for families in the coming days,” RSU 1 Superintendent Patrick Manuel said, “however, this decision has not been made lightly.”

Closing schools will be a hardship for all families, RSU 5 Superintendent Becky Foley said, and “for our most disadvantaged community members, it will represent an even greater hardship.” 

But as Chabot said, everyone needs to come to terms with “a new normal” for a period of time. 

According to the Portland Press Herald, 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, Robert Long, Maine CDC spokesman told the Press Herald. At least seven U.S. states and the District of Columbia have ordered public school closures in response to the virus.

Area schools join Portland, South Portland, Cape Elizabeth, Falmouth, Westbrook, Gray, Cumberland-North Yarmouth, Yarmouth, Old Orchard Beach, Bangor and Kennebunk-area schools among others in the decision to close for at least two weeks.

As of Sunday, Maine has recorded seven confirmed cases and five presumptive positive cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus. Presumptive positives are tests that resulted in positives in Maine, but those results need to be confirmed by a CDC lab.

The coronavirus strain was first reported in Wuhan, China and by Sunday, more than 156,000 cases and over 5,800 deaths from 118 countries. There are now more than 2,700 cases in the U.S. and 54 deaths recorded, according to a tracking project from Johns Hopkins University. 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.

The others quickly followed suit.

College campuses across the country, including Bowdoin College, announced last 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.

All school trips, field trips and any non-essential community outreach have been canceled or postponed across the region. 

The start of the spring sports season in both districts has been delayed until the end of April. 

This time will also be spent sanitizing classrooms, schools and buses, superintendents said. 

Remote learning will not replace classroom learning, they agreed, and according to Foley, the transition will likely be messy, especially at the beginning— “but we are determined to continue to provide learning opportunities for all students, and we ask for your patience and flexibility as we work through what will likely be many kinks in this process,” she said. 

According to Perzanoski, “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.”

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