Biddeford Middle School, like all other schools in Biddeford, Dayton, Saco and Old Orchard Beach are closed because of the threat of the coronavirus. The earliest they will reopen is Monday, April 27. Courtesy photo

Earlier this week local school superintendents for Biddeford, Dayton, Saco an Old Orchard Beach announced school closures would last through March 26. But only a few days into the first week of schools being closed, they have announced that the soonest students will return to the classroom is April 27.

In his letter to the Old Orchard Beach community on Friday, March 20, OOB Superintendent of Schools John Suttie noted that Governor Janet Mills on March 15 stated schools should be closed for the duration of Maine’s state of civil emergency, although the length could be re-established for as many times as the situation warrants.

The current school reopening, scheduled for April 27, coincides with when students are scheduled to return from April vacation.

Saco Superintendent of Schools Dominic DePatsy notified parents, guardians sand school staff members of the extended closure on March 18.

He wrote, “We want you to know that we are thinking of you and our school community as we all navigate this uncharted territory. We understand you are making difficult decisions for how to best support our students, and for many of you, your own children. Families are facing an ever-evolving new reality. During this dynamic time, supporting you is our top priority.”

“As the Coronavirus/COVID-19 picture changes, we are also working daily to keep you informed as soon as possible,” DePatsy said. “These changes are undoubtedly causing substantial interruptions to many aspects of our daily lives. This can be especially stressful for our students and community members who are facing disruptions to their normal routines. The Saco School Department will do whatever we can within our means to minimize these issues.”

Noting the state of civil emergency by the governor and confirmed cases of COVID-19 immediately to the north and south, Jeremy Ray, superintendent of schools for Biddeford and Dayton wrote to parents/guardians and school staff on March 18 that “we simply don’t see a way to safely convene students and staff in a shared space. Indeed, some of our neighboring schools are currently grappling with confirmed cases; therefore we have made the decision to keep schools closed until after the upcoming school vacation — April 27th. We are working directly with some York and Cumberland County Superintendents and collaborating with the Maine Department of Education on the implications of that extension.

“We continue to work on extended learning plans, internet and laptop access, as well as collaboration with MaineHealth on a plan for childcare specific to essential healthcare personnel,” he said.

“This unprecedented situation is new to all of us,” Ray said, “and the one thing we have some modicum of control over is improving the distance learning experience.”

Ray said he will communicate through weekly updates and school principals will be in direct contact with parents.

Headmaster of Thornton Academy in Saco Rene Menard also sent a letter on Friday, March 20 to families that both the upper and middle schools were not scheduled to reopen until April 27. He said schedules were modified and remote learning would take place between 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. starting Monday, March 23.

Local schools are also providing breakfasts and lunches for children up to age 18 during this time.

• Arundel students: Kennebunk High School from 7:30 to 11 a.m. Pick up is at the delivery entrance, which is across from the
field as you first enter the complex.

• Dayton Students: Dayton Consolidated School from 9:30 to 11:30 a.m., Monday through Friday. Pull up in front of the main entrance and someone will
bring food to your car.

• Saco Students: Starting Monday, March 23, Saco School Nutrition Program will offer three mobile meal sites. Grab and go breakfasts and lunches will be available Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Food will be provided for multiple days. A Saco School van will be parked at the mobile meal locations. People are being asked to remain in their cars and volunteers will bring meals to the car. Sites include: Fairfield School, 75 Beach St., Saco; Water Street/Riverview Falls, 35-40 Water St. across from Lord Pepperell Apartments, Saco; Blue Haven Mobile Home Park, 885 Portland Road, Saco; and Boothby Park, at the corner of Virginia Ave. and Boothby Rd., Saco.

• Biddeford students: curbside distribution site at Biddeford Middle School from 10:30 a.m. to noon. Four bus routes with 60+ stops will be delivering meals to Biddeford students. To access meals, be present at the bus stop at the designated time shown on the bus schedule.

• Dayton: curbside distribution at Dayton Consolidated School from 9:30 to11:30 a.m.

• Old Orchard Beach: Loranger Memorial School between 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Pick up will happen behind the school. Please remain in your car and meals will be delivered to you. Meals will also be available at 39 Smithwheel Road (Smithwheel Farms Condos) from 11:30 to 11:45 a.m., Pinebrook Terrace’s playground at 11:50 a.m., Memorial Park on 1st Street from noon to 12:15 p.m., and at the Beaver Creek Condominiums from 12:30 to 12:45 p.m. Children will receive both lunch for the current day and breakfast for the next day. Children must be present in order to receive a meal.

Local school districts are also helping students and families in other ways.

Saco community members that are looking for a way to help, can drop off non-perishable food and toiletry donations outside the Superintendent’s Office at 90 Beach Street starting March 19, DePatsy said.

In addition to food distribution for youth 18 and under, Ray said, “we are working to gather local resources on one document for those in need of assistance with food, housing and more. The United Way of York County, Tom’s of Maine and many other local businesses are reaching out to us to provide help. We hope to share this on in the coming days.”

Ray also stressed the importance of social distancing — staying away from others. “Many parents and staff are concerned that some in the community may not understand the call for ‘social distancing,’” he said. “There is a sense that students are gathering in groups, holding play dates and sleepovers, roaming the neighborhood, etc. Health officials throughout the country are telling us to cease gathering with others, and we should heed their advice. Please join me in practicing social distancing and expecting that our children will, as well.”

Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin also emphasized the importance of social distancing. “The best thing that Maine people can do to protect their health is to practice social distancing and take the same preventive measures that avoid catching a cold,” he said. Wash your hands often for 20 seconds. Cover coughs and sneezes. Stay home if you are sick. Symptoms of COVID-19 include fever, shortness of breath, and lower respiratory distress. Call ahead to a health care professional if you develop a fever and symptoms of respiratory illness.”

Note: According to Spectrum’s website, due to the coronavirus, beginning Monday, March 16, the company is offering two free months of internet and WiFi services to new customers in households with Pre-K to 12 or college students who need remote education. This discount will be applied as a credit for your first two months of internet services. Spectrum says it will waive any installation or pre-payment fees to help get folks started. Qualifications include having a student of qualifying age at the service address with remote education needs and not having subscribed to Spectrum’s internet services within the past 30 days. To sign up, call 1-855-243-8892.

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