Although South Portland Public schools are closed until at least March 30, breakfast and lunch pickup is available for children through ages 18 who are in need of a meal at Kaler Elementary, Skillin Elementary, Brick Hill Heights, the Redbank Community Center, and the Henley Ball Field from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Friday. Pickup will be via school buses that are parked in the lots.  Catherine Bart/Sentry

SOUTH PORTLAND — To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, all South Portland Public Schools as well as municipal facilities have been closed until March 30.

In a letter to the district, Superintendent Ken Kunin said that South Portland would be closing its eight public schools, as well as before-care, after-care, and recreation services as a precautionary measure to the COVID-19 pandemic. He said that details regarding remote learning would be released later in the week.

“As you know this has been a rapidly evolving situation,” he said. “While we have no cases reported in the South Portland Schools yet, after consulting with our district physician, my administrative team and state and other school district officials, I have determined that this two-week closure is a responsible and prudent step.”

It’s possible that schools and facilities would be closed beyond two weeks and asked that families practice social distancing, said Kunin.

Children and youth through the age of 18 can pick up brown paper bag lunches and breakfasts from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., Monday through Friday, at Kaler Elementary School, Skillin Elementary School, Brickhill Heights and Redbank Community Center, he said in an update.

Meals will be distributed out of school buses in the parking lots.

Kunin said in an email that he is very proud of Martha Spencer, nutrition staff director, and her staff for the work she’s done in helping to provide the service.

The Henley Ball Field location was added on March 18, said Spencer.

“We are providing a bag lunch which consists of a sandwich, fresh vegetable, fresh fruit, and milk. In addition to their lunch each receives a bag breakfast for tomorrow,” she said. “The items in the breakfast bag vary from muffins, bagels, cold cereal, super buns, yogurt, etc plus fresh fruit, juice, and milk.”

“Also, for families without internet access at home, recently Spectrum has begun offering free or heavily discounted internet access to our students,” Kunin added. “That said, South Portland is Maine’s most densely populated city. If families are comfortable temporarily changing their WiFi network ID to ‘Neighbor’ with a password of SouthPortland##2020, that might help out a neighbor in need as internet service becomes more universal.”

Municipal access closed

Besides public schools, access to municipal facilities is also suspended. Mayor Katherine Lewis announced on March 16 that the city would be suspending board, committee, and commission meetings through March 30.

“Meetings attract a wide variety of participants, including staff, citizens, applicants, and volunteer committee members, some of whom are in at-risk population groups for the novel coronavirus,” she said. “Canceling these meetings for at least two weeks will mitigate the risk posed to these individuals from the spread of the virus. It also models behavior we hope other businesses and agencies will emulate.”

The City of South Portland Facebook page urged residents to stay informed through the latest information on the Maine CDC page. A coronavirus updates page can be found on the South Portland website: https://www.southportland.org/coronavirus-covid-19/, which contains information about closures, safety precautions, etc.

While municipal facilities are now closed, online services are still available, according to the South Portland website. To find out more, call 767-3201.

While Kunin said that South Portland Schools have not had any coronavirus cases at the time of closing, as of March 17 at 11 a.m., Maine has 23 confirmed cases, said Dr. Nirav Shah, director of the Maine Center for Disease Control. One positive case had been found in a student at Cape Elizabeth Middle School.

“While I have seen much in my 42 years as a teacher, principal, and superintendent, this is certainly an unprecedented event for our community and our country in my lifetime,” said Kunin. “Many people are frightened and anxious. Please take time to talk with your children about how they are feeling. It is very important to check in about our emotional well-being along with our physical health.”

The Maine CDC page has suggestions for how parents and guardians can talk to children about the coronavirus.

“Also, as we get started with a period of remote learning for our 3,000 students in pre-K to grade 12, we are starting with a simple message,” said Kunin. “Our goal for this week will be to connect, to have some structure, and to find some success. Please know that you will continue to hear me with updates. More importantly, you will hear from your child’s teacher, and other school staff, as work to keep your child or young person engaged in learning for their future.”

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