Portland, South Portland, Westbrook and Yarmouth are just a few of the growing number of school districts that will shut down school buildings and in-person classroom instruction for the rest of the 2019-20 academic year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Many districts notified students’ families Wednesday night, a day after Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin recommended that districts across the state stick with remote learning rather than try to reopen schools that were closed in mid-March.

Makin said Gov. Janet Mills based the recommendation on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which suggest large-group and in-person instruction be avoided for eight to 20 weeks once a region experiences community transmission of the coronavirus.

School district leaders said that they are unhappy with having to make students learn remotely, but that closing school buildings through at least June is the only way to ensure the health and safety of students and staff during the pandemic.

Several administrators expressed sympathy for working parents forced to balance helping their children do classwork with their jobs and personal needs. They also said they regret that some traditional ceremonies that highlight the end of an academic year, such as proms and graduations, will likely be lost to the class of 2020.

“Closing schools through the end of the academic year is a painful decision to share with you for several reasons,” Yarmouth Superintendent Andrew Dolloff wrote. “First and foremost, I know the burden this places on families and staff as we all struggle to balance the many aspects of our busy lives during this demanding and stressful time.”

Portland Superintendent Xavier Botana also notified parents and staff Wednesday night that remote learning would continue through the end of the school year – Portland had set a target date of May 4 for reopening school buildings to students.

“This is a difficult decision for us,” Botana wrote. “I acknowledge the difficulties that extending remote learning to the end of the school year now poses for everyone … However, the safety of every one in the Portland Public Schools community is our primary concern.”

Peter Lancia, Westbrook superintendent, also expressed regrets.

“This is hard news to hear, and very disappointing for students, families and our school staff,” Lancia wrote. “I acknowledge the challenges that this poses for everyone in our community. While we have begun to adjust to this new model of school, we would all prefer to be back in person.”

Ken Kunin, South Portland’s superintendent, said he struggled with his decision to keep school buildings closed and continue with distance instruction.

“While the recommendation from the state is guided by solid and convincing public health and medical information, this remains a very difficult decision for us,” Kunin wrote in a letter to the school community. “We know this decision also brings with it considerable disappointment. Young children are confused about why they cannot see their friends at school. All students, families and staff will miss those special gatherings in the life of a school when we are together to enjoy a performance, cheer on our Red Riots or celebrate our students’ accomplishments.”

Scarborough, Windham, Falmouth and Regional School Unit 5, which includes Freeport, Pownal and Durham, also announced that they would keep schools closed, but not all districts were yet on board Wednesday night.

Brunswick Superintendent Paul Perzanoski said in a letter Wednesday to the school community that he has questions about the state’s recommendation. Perzanoski said he needs more information before making a final decision, which he expects to render Thursday.

Dolloff said that while teachers and staff in Yarmouth have done a good job managing remote learning, Google hangouts and video lessons are no substitute for face-to-face classroom instruction. Some type of high school graduation ceremony may still happen, Dolloff said, but the situation would have to improve dramatically before any large gathering could occur. He said the school district might be forced to hold a virtual graduation ceremony.

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