MADISON — The school district abruptly shifted to remote learning this week as COVID-19 outbreaks are causing a ripple effect across several Somerset County communities that officials say has also lead to business closures and staffing shortages.

Bonnie Levesque, the MSAD 59 superintendent in Madison. Morning Sentinel file photo

Officials at Madison-based Maine School Administrative District 59, which was not requiring its students to wear masks inside school buildings, decided this week to close schools and provide remote learning for all 560 students. Superintendent Bonnie Levesque confirmed the change in an email Tuesday, explaining that the district is aware of at least six cases of COVID-19 among students and two additional staff members.

“The ultimate decision was made by me after speaking with the administrative team and the school board chair,” Levesque said. “We are still waiting on the final word from Maine (Center for Disease Control & Prevention) in reference to the (potential) outbreak at Madison Elementary.”

The district’s board of directors decided Aug. 17 for a mask-optional policy for students and staff. The decision was based on a recommendation from Levesque in an effort to “take the politics out of it by giving the parents the option.”

Levesque said several factors were discussed when making the decision to close schools for the week, including a day care center in town that had to close because of COVID-19 cases. The day care “provides care for several of MSAD 59 staff’s children, thus leaving us shorthanded in schools for staff, and the number of students quarantined is significant.”

“We are hopeful this brief closure will give everyone a chance to catch their breath and get things back to normal by the first of next week,” Levesque said.

Just across the river, in North Anson-based Regional School Unit 74, students at Carrabec High School shifted to remote learning last week after the school board decided to uphold an optional mask policy for staff and students.

The cases in RSU 74 have impacted the school’s busing for students. Officials sent a letter to parents Sunday evening announcing that a bus driver was out due to COVID-19 cases in the area and students would need transportation to school. By Monday afternoon the bus routes had been reworked and students had the necessary bus transportation.

RSU 74’s board of directors has scheduled a special meeting for Wednesday evening to reevaluate the district’s COVID-19 response plan.

Maine health officials reported 667 new cases on Tuesday across the state over a three-day period, with nearly half of those cases among people 20 years old or younger. A year ago, people in that age group accounted for less than 1% of all new cases, but that is now up to 48%.

A total of 81,177 cases of COVID-19 have been reported statewide, as well as 969 deaths and 2,381 hospitalizations. In Somerset County, there have been 2,860 cases to date, with 37 deaths and 98 hospitalizations.

Somerset County continues to trail the rest of the state in vaccinations — while 64% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, only 51% of Somerset County residents have been vaccinated.

Tim Curtis, Madison’s town manager, expressed his concerns about the recent cases in the community at a select board meeting on Monday.

“The school district sent out an announcement that due to complications with COVID they’re going to do remote for the rest of this week and these complications are impacting every business that’s open to the public,” Curtis said.

He added that when businesses like child care centers have to close, the impact is felt throughout the community.

“That affects how parents can go to work, so you’re short-staffed, which is one of the reasons the school has gone remote,” Curtis told the select board. “At the town office we’re under the same impact, if kids are home from school and they can’t go to day care, that impacts our staffing as well.”

MSAD 59’s school board has a meeting scheduled next Monday at Madison Area High School at 6 p.m.


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