St. John Catholic School on Jan. 17 in Winslow. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Catholic schools in Winslow and Augusta received word Tuesday from the Archdiocese of Portland that they will continue with distance learning through the end of the 2019-2020 school year due to the coronavirus pandemic.

All schools overseen by the Office of Maine Catholic Schools are subject to the decision that is based on the recommendation made last week by Maine Education Commissioner Pender Makin that schools should plan to continue remote learning for the remainder of the year.

“This is obviously a difficult recommendation to accept but, as always, the safety of everyone in our school communities is our primary concern,” Superintendent Marianne Pelletier said in a news release.

Noah Parker, 11, communicates with Mrs. Boucher through his Chromebook as part of her fifth grade class at St. Michael School in Augusta. Photo courtesy of Virginia Parker

Makin’s recommendation, which was announced April 7, 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. The decision was supported by Gov. Janet Mills who originally ordered schools to continue distance learning until May 1.

St. John Catholic School in Winslow, which had as many as 350 students enrolled in the 1960s, is scheduled to close at the end of the 2019-2020 school year, with enrollment at 34 children in kindergarten through sixth grade. Declining numbers and prolonged financial struggles to keep the 92-year-old institution afloat were the causes, officials said in January.

More than 170 students are enrolled in kindergarten through eighth grade in St. Michael School in Augusta, which was created out of a merger of two schools in 2007. The school was well prepared for the onset of distance learning as its principal, Kevin Cullen, started looking at technology five years ago as a means to teach kids on snow days. The school and its staff started preparing for distance learning when they came back from February vacation and coronavirus had secured a foothold in Seattle.

In addition to St. John Regional Catholic School in Winslow and St. Michael School in Augusta, All Saints School in Bangor, Holy Cross School in South Portland, Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn and Lewiston, St. James School in Biddeford, St. John’s Catholic School in Brunswick,  St. Thomas School in Sanford and Cheverus High School in Portland will continue with their distance learning programs.

The decision to continue with distance learning to the end of the year is especially disappointing for the senior students at Saint Dominic Academy in Auburn and Lewiston, and Cheverus High School in Portland, according to Pelletier.

“We are working to develop creative ways in which we can provide these hard-working students with the end-of-year recognition they deserve,” Pelletier said.

After Makin’s recommendation, a number of districts across the state began announcing the decision to continue with remote learning until the end of the year.

Some of these districts include: Waterville Public Schools; Maine School Administrative District 11 which serves Gardiner, West Gardiner, Pittston and Randolph; Regional School Unit 82, which serves Moose River and Jackman; RSU 19, which serves Corinna, Dixmont, Etna, Hartland, Newport, Palmyra, Plymouth and St. Albans; and RSU 2 which serves the Hallowell area.

MSAD 49, which serves Albion, Benton, Clinton and Fairfield has announced the district will continue distance learning until the Maine CDC announces it is safe to resume in-person instruction.

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