Local districts preparing for remote learning through end of school year

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Local school districts said they are preparing to utilize remote learning for the remainder of the school year, in the wake of new recommendations from Maine Department of Education.

Districts in western Maine, including Regional School Unit 9, 73 and MSAD 58, closed their doors for in-classroom instruction on March 15. Schools have since launched remote learning initiatives, utilizing combinations of digital platforms and take-home packets, as well as nutrition programs designed to continue providing breakfasts and lunches for students.

On Tuesday, Maine Commissioner of Education Pender Makin recommended that districts begin planning to replace in-classroom instruction with remote learning programs for the remainder of the 2019-20 school year. While calling the recommendation a difficult one to make, Makin said it was based off U.S. Center for Disease Control and Maine CDC guidance in response to community transmission of COVID-19. In another statement issued Thursday, Makin said that she had announced her recommendation this week to provide families and schools with time to plan alternative end-of-year events.

As of Thursday, the Maine Center for Disease Control was tracking 560 cumulative, confirmed cases of COVID-19 across the state, including seven within Franklin County. One hundred and five Mainers have been hospitalized and 16 have died; another 202 have recovered. More than 11,600 negative tests have been conducted. Public health experts in the United States and much of the world have advocated social distancing as a way of limiting the speed the virus can spread, preventing healthcare infrastructure from becoming overwhelmed.

“It is difficult to make such a recommendation, recognizing the profound challenge of reinventing public education and the many culminating events and rites of passage that educators and students anticipate all year long. I also realize that this recommendation will be difficult for families to hear, given the challenges of childcare and managing school expectations on top of the other significant impacts of this state and national emergency,” Makin said in Tuesday’s statement. “That said, I believe it is extremely important for school leaders to have as much information as possible in order to best prepare educators, students, and communities for a longer period of remote learning and to promote opportunities for redesigned celebrations and alternative ways to provide both continuity and closure.”

Wednesday and Thursday, RSU 9, 73 and MSAD 58 indicated via letters that they intended to prepare to utilize remote learning programs for the remainder of the school year. The Rangeley Lakes Regional School, currently closed for classroom instruction through May 4, indicated on its Facebook page that it was aware of the DOE commissioner’s recommendation and would be meeting today on the issue.

Also on Thursday, the Maine Principal’s Association announced the cancellation of the 2020 spring athletic season, following recommendations from the Governor’s Office, Maine CDC and DOE.

“We understand the importance that these athletic and performing arts programs play in the lives of students, their families, and their communities, but also recognize that these education-based activities are a part of the overall educational experience and at this time of uncertainty to adhere with the recommendations of staying at home, maintaining social distancing, and avoiding face-to-face instruction and large group gatherings, is crucial for us to persevere,” the MPA said in a statement posted to their website Thursday.

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