Some school districts across central Maine have begun announcing plans to continue distance learning for students through the end of the school year.

Following a recommendation issued Tuesday by Pender Makin, Maine’s commissioner of education, to suspend in-person group instruction for the remainder of the school year, central Maine school superintendents started announcing their plans Wednesday.

Makin said her decision was based on guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention that recommends avoiding large-group and in-person instruction for eight to 20 weeks.

Makin’s recommendation was supported by Gov. Janet Mills, who had previously ordered schools remain closed through May 1 to help slow the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus.

Other district superintendents have said they will take up the matter soon as their school boards meet.

In the Gardiner-area school district, which includes Gardiner, West Gardiner, Pittston and Randolph, Superintendent Patricia Hopkins made the announcement Thursday in a letter to staff and families in the district.

Citing continuing concerns about the coronavirus, Hopkins wrote that traditional classroom instruction will not resume this school year.

“As a result of the Commissioner’s recommendation, in MSAD 11 traditional classroom instruction will not resume this school year, unless guidance from the CDC changes between now and then,” Hopkins wrote.

“While the final day of distance learning has not yet been determined, distance learning will continue into June. Families will be notified as soon as that decision is made. Meal distribution will also continue through the remainder of the school year.”

The district’s schools deployed remote learning this week, starting Monday at the Gardiner Area High School and Wednesday at the Gardiner Regional Middle School. Elementary school distance learning is expected to start soon.

Area superintendents were expected to meet Thursday afternoon to discuss the possibility of schools remaining closed for the rest of the school year.

Jay Charette, superintendent of Maranacook Area Schools, which serve Manchester, Mount Vernon, Readfield and Wayne, said a letter would be sent to parent of students Friday morning informing them that remote learning would continue until the end of the school year.

He said the district would consider reopening its schools if state officials issued a recommendation to do so.

Craig Jurgensen, superintendent of AOS 93, which serves Bremen, Bristol, Damariscotta, Jefferson, Newcastle, Nobleboro and South Bristol, sent a message to families Wednesday making them aware of Makin’s statement.

In his message, Jurgensen wrote, “Neither the Maine Department of Education nor our school district have made an official determination regarding the remaining months of school.”

Jurgensen said he suspected students in his district will not return to the classroom this school year.

Eric Haley, superintendent of Waterville schools, said he had not made a decision on whether students will return to their schools this year. He said he has been operating on a month-to-month basis.

Haley also said there was some confusion with the commissioner of education’s recommendation, and parents have called to ask whether schools would remain closed. Haley said he planned to talk to the school board Monday night and explain the confusion.

Waterville is continuing its remote learning program.

Peter Thiboutot, superintendent of Winslow schools, also said a decision has yet to be made.

The commissioner’s recommendation, based on the U.S. CDC recommendation, is to continue with remote learning to the end of the year, he said.

“We’re continuing with remote learning plans,” Thiboutot said. “We’re continuing to refine them.”

St. John Catholic School in Winslow announced Wednesday night its building would remain closed for the remainder of the academic year and remote learning would continue, including Zoom sessions with students.

Roberta Hersom, superintendent for Maine School Administrative District 49, said the district will continue its distance learning program until it receives the OK from the state to open school buildings.

SAD 49 serves Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield.

The school board for Regional School Unit 19 plans to discuss whether it will keep school buildings closed for the rest of the academic year when it meets Tuesday, according to Superintendent Mike Hammer.

“Most likely we will adhere to the Commissioner’s recommendation to continue with remote instruction through the end of our school year and our buildings will remain closed to in-class instruction,” Hammer wrote in an email.

RSU 19 serves Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans.

RSU 82, which serves Moose River and Jackman, announced Wednesday it will continue distance learning for the rest of the academic year.

In an announcement posted to the district’s website, Makin’s recommendation was cited as the reason the schools will remain closed.

“We feel it is important to continue to follow the guidance and recommendations of the Maine Department of Education, Maine CDC and Governor Mills,” the announcement read. “Therefore, unless guidance changes, we are developing plans to continue with our remote/distance learning for the remainder of our school year.”

Many school districts started announcing March 15 they were suspending in-person classes for two weeks to protect students, faculty and staff from the coronavirus. Mills has since extended that closure to May 1.

Several area school districts initially announced they had no expectation of remote learning, but as the closures have continued, they have started offering online instruction and, in many cases, they are continuing to provide breakfast and lunch via curbside pickup for students.

Kennebec Journal reporter Sam Shepherd and Morning Sentinel reporters Amy Calder and Molly Shelly contributed to this report.

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