After a recommendation from Maine Department of Education Commissioner Pender Makin, South Portland and Cape Elizabeth schools will continue with distance learning for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.

Both districts announced the decision on April 8. South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin acknowledged that it is a huge disappointment for families and staff.

On April 9, during a remote South Portland Board of Education workshop, Kunin said that the challenge will now be to ensure that students are able to continue to access their education through remote means.

“We know we have to prioritize the importance of equitable access to opportunity … access to technology and access to food because we know those things are key if children are going to access their education,” Kunin said.

The district served nearly 5,400 meals during the week of March 30, and planned to serve nearly 6,000 in future weeks, Kunin said.

Although April break begins on the April 16, he said that meals will continue to be provided at the five pickup locations: Brickhill Heights, Skillin Elementary School, Kaler Elementary School, Redbank Community Center and Pine Street Little League Field.

Another priority Kunin mentioned was ensuring facilities were prepared for the eventual re-openings, so that the transition back to in-person learning can be smooth.

“That is a very difficult place to be,” he said about keeping schools closed. “It’s some place I never thought I would be in my career and it’s tremendously challenging for our families and our students. I feel most particularly for the seniors who are ending their senior year in a way that nobody could have anticipated.”

South Portland High School plans to have several meetings about graduation, Principal Michele LaForge said in an email. The school is gathering feedback from students, parents and teachers in a survey sent out on April 14.

“Whatever it is, it will be a glorious celebration,” LaForge said.

Cape Elizabeth High School Principal Jeff Shedd said that the school district is talking about holding a ceremony on July 29.

“A group of students and staff are planning the details,” he said in an email. “The idea is that it will incorporate elements of our traditional graduation, our senior celebration, and the prom, as well as some other school traditions around the end of the year.”

Cape Elizabeth Schools Superintendent Donna Wolfrom said that the decision to keep going with distance learning allows the district to now consider what to do about end-of-the-year celebrations and ceremonies.

“I have heard from several parents of seniors who have written about how heartbreaking this all is for them,” she said. “I agree — it is very heartbreaking, but it is the reality that we have to deal with. As we make these decisions throughout the next two months we will continue to communicate the plans.

“We are all working in uncharted territory, never thinking we would have to finish out the year learning from home, not being able to engage in celebrations with family and friends. Who would have ever thought we might be planning for a graduation in July or August?”

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