SCARBOROUGH — School officials in Scarborough, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth have followed suit with other school districts throughout Maine in announcing schools will remain closed through the end of the school year.

Now, as classwork continues online, administrators are beginning to look to the difficult question of how to ensure students are meeting requirements to progress despite the teaching environment that everyone, from educators to students, has said is not ideal.

Cape Elizabeth School Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said she issued the order to remain closed on April 8, one day after Commissioner of Education Pender Makin, with the support of Gov. Janet Mills, recommended all schools statewide continue with distance learning through the end of the 2019-20 school year.

“It was a very tough decision,” Wolfrom said.

South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin and Scarborough Superintendent Sandy Prince issued similar orders. The last day of scheduled classes was June 18 for Cape Elizabeth, June 12 for South Portland, and June 18 for Scarborough.

All three administrators said it was impossible to know just what the impact of remote learning from March through June will be, but some students will likely need remediation. However, all the administrators hope that the number of students will be small.

Scarborough Superintendent Sandy Prince

Prince

“I’m an optimist, but I’m also a realist,” Prince said.

From the beginning, administrators in all three districts noted their teachers were keeping kids connected with their lessons, but it’s not an ideal environment. Kunin has concerns about kids with special needs, who may find virtual instruction particularly challenging. Wolfrom noted that a burden has fallen on parents to keep their children engaged through as much of the day as possible, and some have fared better than others. There’s also concern about technological challenges. Prince said he knows of 16 families in his district who don’t have internet access. The district is distributing several wifi “hotspot” modules to affected families, and Prince has always encouraged those with no internet access to use the schools’ wifi, which can be accessed remotely from the school parking lot.

“If kids don’t have access to a computer, I do worry about that,” he said.

Wolfrom noted state assessments have been waived for this year. Normally, these would include the Maine Educational Assessments (MEAs), which measure literacy and math from third to eighth-grade level, typically administered in March, and the SATs, which measure literacy and math for high school seniors, typically administered in early spring. While required by the federal goverment, the waiver, issued this year due to the coronavirus, gives districts a little time to catch up.

“We wouldn’t feel the impact until next year,” she said.

Right now, Wolfrom said decisions about summer school or other remediation programs are still in the works.

“It’s in the conversation, but we haven’t made any definite plans yet,” she said.

Kunin said in South Portland, the district typically has about 300 students in summer school in a typical year. Now, with the schools remaining closed, he’s concerned about maintaining the normal levels of summer remediation, let alone additional work.

“We’ll only do what we can do safely,” he said.

More likely, he said, any necessary additional remediation will have to happen in summer 2021. Some instruction, such as summer academy for high school students, he said, will likely continue, even if the school buildings remain closed.

“I think we can still do those in a virtual environment,” he said.

Prince said budgetary constraints are also going to impact any additional remediation, at least for this summer.

“I just don’t know if that can be done realistically,” he said.

All three administrators praised the efforts of their respective staffs in maintaining connections with a majority of the students and keeping them engaged.

“It’s difficult, but I’m so proud of the teachers and the administrators and the work that they are doing,” Wolfrom said.

Sean Murphy (207)780-9094

Email: [email protected]

Comments are not available on this story.