The Portland High School lunchroom sits dormant Friday, with tables propped on their sides during a citywide closure of schools. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Schools across the state will stay closed through late April as the coronavirus continues to spread through Maine.

Many school districts – including Portland, the state’s largest – announced Friday that their buildings would stay closed until at least April 27. Students will continue to learn remotely during that the time, and extracurricular activities, including sports, are canceled.

Portland made its announcement late Friday after a wave of other districts did the same, including South Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Augusta, Bangor and many school districts in southern Maine. The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention announced earlier in the day that the number of coronavirus cases in the state had climbed to 56.

The Maine Department of Education does not have a complete list of all the schools that were extending their closure periods, said Kelli Deveaux, a former principal and spokeswoman for the department.

Deveaux said school administrators already are under enormous pressure to keep students on track while also providing other important school services like free breakfasts and lunches.

“(I)n light of the monumental tasks they are facing, as they are trying to stand up programs for learning, nutrition, emotional support for our students, we certainly didn’t want to create an extra task,” Deveaux said.

Education Commissioner Pender Makin has been in daily contact with many of the state’s public school administrators, and regular online meetings with officials from across the state were taking place about not only about response to the pandemic, but about keeping schools and their staffs going, Deveaux said.

“Our school leaders and their staff have come together to creatively, compassionately and heroically provide for the learning, nutrition and emotional needs of our students,” Deveaux said.  Teachers and administrators also are partnering with families, community organizations and each other, she said.

“This is not optimal, it is not easy,” Deveaux said, “but it is a tribute to the amazing resilience and indomitable spirit of Maine’s educators, students and families.”

In letters to families and to their communities, many superintendents said they were extending the closures in light of the civil emergency Gov. Janet Mills declared on Sunday.

In his letter, Lewiston Superintendent Todd Finn said the decision was made based on guidance from the Department of Education.

All of the districts are continuing their school food programs, allowing families to pick up breakfast and lunch each day, while some also are offering weekend meals to families that need them.

“We want to thank all of you for your continued support during these unprecedented times as we recognize the pressures school closure puts on your family,” Auburn Superintendent of Schools Katy Grondin wrote in her message to families and the community. “We appreciate all your efforts to support students working at home, practicing social distancing and universal precautions as we work as a community to flatten the curve and to be safe and healthy.”

Both the state and federal governments also were issuing waivers to schools for mandated assessment testing and minimum school day requirements.

“Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn” U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said in a prepared statement. “Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time.”

A classroom at Scarborough Middle School sits empty Friday. Scarborough public schools, and many other Maine districts, announced that they will remain closed until at least April 27. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Maine superintendents were urging students and their guardians to take advantage of all distance learning and online options that were being offered when possible.

Jeffrey Porter, the superintendent for SAD 51, which includes Cumberland and North Yarmouth, offered three tips for online learning at home: students should fully participate in any scheduled online video meeting and classroom sessions, complete assignments as they are given out, and behave as they would if they were in school.

“The long-term mass closure of schools, both here and nationwide, is unprecedented in American history,” Porter wrote. “This closure requires us to think very differently about how we approach learning. We cannot replicate what takes place in classrooms when we are physically in session, but we all must try to help our students continue their education nonetheless.”

Meanwhile some high-speed internet providers are offering free services for 60 days. Access to quality, high-speed internet has proven a challenge for school districts serving some of Maine’s most rural communities or for students in households with limited financial resources.

Parents and guardians also were being encouraged to check their local district’s web pages or social media accounts for additional information.

Some states have announced the will keep their public schools closed for the remainder of the current school year.

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