HARPSWELL — Harpswell Coastal Academy plans to open both its campuses to in-person learning on Monday after closing suddenly Sept. 15 when a faculty member tested positive for COVID-19.

Scott Barksdale, head of school, said no other students or staff had developed COVID-19 symptoms as of Thursday, and he feels the school is returning to in-person learning “stronger” than it was before. This is because the short stint of only online learning “allowed us to take a step back and focus on tweaking our remote learning to make that experience solid for our students.”

The school’s protocol for a positive case calls for it to transition to all-online learning for two weeks to both clean the school and distance staff and students to mitigate the risk of possible exposure to COVID-19.

While he declined to reveal the name of the faculty member who tested positive, what campus they work at and whether they’ll be back on campus on Monday, he said he’s pleased they immediately told the school they were experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

“That staff member followed our guidelines, which is why the impact was as low as it was,” he said. “Knowing our staff and students are taking this seriously is really reassuring. That one action kept all of us safe, and that’s something we teach our kids. The action or inaction of one person affects all of us. You matter, and your actions matter.”

Erin Mower of Brunswick, whose two sons are sophomores at the school, said she’s impressed by the way the school handled the temporary closure.

“Switching from being on campus to learning remotely, the only learning curve was learning how to use the technology, but having been there and done that in the spring made this transition much easier,” she said. “It has been successful. They’ve been able to do meaningful work and communicate with their teachers.”

But Mower, a former educator, knows school is more than learning a curriculum. It’s important for students to build and maintain a personal connection with their teachers and peers. She said she feels the academy managed to do that despite being limited to teaching and learning behind a screen.

“Some kids need a quick high five or being told ‘I believe in you’ during the day,” she said. “I know Harpswell Coastal Academy is giving that to our kids. They sent a dorky little care package to my kids with pencils and stickers, but it brought a smile to my kids’ faces. Keeping those connections is something Harpswell Coastal Academy is succeeding at.”

The academy opened to students Sept. 3 with 70% of the study body choosing to participate in in-person classes. The remaining 30% opted for full distance learning, according to Barksdale.

The academy’s 68-student middle school, located off Harpswell Neck Road in West Harpswell, started the school year with five days of in-person learning.

The high school, which has a four-day in-person learning plan, has 105 students and is located at Brunswick Landing.

Barksdale said the school continues to monitor the number of COVID-19 cases in the surrounding area, including the positive coronavirus case at nearby Mt. Ararat High School in Topsham reported Wednesday.

“We draw students from four counties, so we have a complicated mix of students, which we factor into our decision making,” he said.

The academy is a charter school, meaning students and staff from anywhere in the state can attend. Barksdale said the school has students from as far away as Auburn and Richmond, both roughly a 45-minute drive from Harpswell.

Cumberland County, which includes both Brunswick and Harpswell, has had 2,301 cases of coronavirus since the virus reached Maine in March, according to the Maine CDC. Of those, 2,033 people had recovered and 70 had died as of Thursday. Statewide, 5,215 Mainers have contracted coronavirus as of Thursday and 4,478 have recovered. Another 140 have died.

Brunswick has seen 35 cases of coronavirus and Harpswell has seen between one and five, according to the Maine CDC.

Midcoast Hospital in Brunswick has treated 20 patients for coronavirus since March, but is not currently treating anyone, according to spokesperson Judy Kelsh.

This story has been updated to correct Scott Barksdale’s title.

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