Many school districts in southern Maine, overwhelmed by staffing shortages and climbing COVID-19 cases, are reverting to remote learning for at least the rest of this week.

Biddeford, Saco, Kennebunk, Brunswick, Gorham, Scarborough, Windham and Portland are just a few districts where some or all schools will switch to remote learning Tuesday.

Educators had hoped remote learning, which was used last year before schools returned to in-person learning in September, was a thing of the past.

But holiday gatherings and other social events, combined with the rampant spread of the highly contagious omicron variant, appear to have contributed to a surge of infections in Maine and around the country.

Most public schools returned from winter break on Jan. 3, but many have reported high numbers of infected students, staff and teachers since then.

That was the case in Biddeford and Saco schools. Superintendent Jeremy Ray said in a phone interview Monday night that Saco Middle School, Biddeford Middle School, Biddeford High School and the Biddeford Regional Center of Technology will switch to remote learning for the rest of the week. The district’s elementary schools will continue with in-person classes. The district does not plan to close any other schools at this point, and will assess programs on a school-by-school basis to keep disruptions to a minimum, he said.

“As you’ve undoubtedly heard, in the last two weeks there has been a significant surge in COVID-19 cases across the nation, the State of Maine, and many of our schools,” the Biddeford/Saco district said in a Facebook post Monday.

“Following this weekend, our data shows positive cases have increased significantly within our adolescent and adult population,” the post says. “We want kids in school. We have kept schools open, and will continue to do everything in our power to keep our schools open. That said, as the public health picture continues to evolve, and increasing numbers of students and staff are testing positive for COVID-19 across the district, we must temporarily move to remote instruction.”

At least one in eight people who live in York County have been infected,” according to the district. New cases in York County are at their highest level since the pandemic began.

In RSU 21, which includes Arundel, Kennebunk and Kennebunkport, Superintendent Terri Cooper notified students and staff that Kennebunk High School and Kennebunk Middle School will go to remote learning through Monday, Jan. 18. All pre-K to grade 5 elementary schools will remain open.

“After consultation with Dr. Don Burgess – the district’s consulting physician – we made the difficult determination that keeping Kennebunk High School and the Middle School of the Kennebunks open in the face of the current post-holiday community COVID-19 surge is unmanageable,” Cooper said. Problems staffing buildings and a steady increase in cases among staff and adolescent students were the main factors, Cooper said.

Pre-K to grade 5 elementary schools will remain open, a decision based on parental feedback about the importance of keeping younger students in school whenever possible, Cooper said. All in-person co-curricular and extra curricular activities will also be paused starting Tuesday.

Brunswick High School will also go to remote learning this week because of the rising number of COVID-19 cases, Superintendent Phil Potenziano said Saturday. Potenziano attributed the increase in cases to a post-winter-break surge. The district expects in-person learning to restart on Jan. 18.

The Scarborough School Department decided Monday night to have Scarborough High School go to remote learning for the rest of the week.

“Due to the high number of COVID positive cases and approximately 15 percent of Scarborough High School student absences due to illness, Scarborough High School will be closed to in-person learning and switching to remote learning starting tomorrow, Tuesday, Jan. 11,” Superintendent Geoff Bruno told high school students and staff.

Bruno said there were 74 confirmed cases of COVID-19 at the high school last week and 26 cases reported Monday morning. All in-person extracurricular activities at Scarborough High School will also be suspended for the rest of the week.

Gorham and Windham high schools will both go to remote learning Tuesday and Wednesday because of staffing shortages. The two districts will re-evaluate on Wednesday before deciding whether to continue with remote learning for the rest of the week.

“A significant number of additional student and staff cases were reported to Windham High School over the weekend and today,” Windham Superintendent Christopher Howell said in a message to students, staff and their families Monday. “The number of staff absences has returned to a level that will prevent us from being able to adequately and safely staff the building.”

Portland Public Schools will continue to hold in-person classes this week except at the Gerald E. Talbot Community School, where staffing shortages will force kindergarten and special education students to go to remote learning. The 100 students affected are expected to return to in-person learning next week, a spokesperson said.

SAD 6, which includes Buxton, Hollis, Standish, Limington and Frye Island, went to remote learning last week because so many school bus drivers had been exposed to COVID-19, but there was no indication on the district website Monday whether that is continuing this week.

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