Freshmen orientation at Carrabec High School in North Anson was canceled Wednesday after district officials learned of a handful of COVID-19 cases just a day before classes were scheduled to begin.

The decision came as some school districts in central Maine announced positive cases as the school year launches while others report no confirmed cases and a first week of school that’s been trouble-free.

A post on the Facebook page for Regional School Unit 74 said six cases were identified at Carrabec High, while the district’s website indicated there were five cases.

District officials had planned for students at RSU 74 schools to return at 100% capacity full-time. The district serves the towns of Anson, Embden, Solon and New Portland.

Elsewhere, in RSU 3 — serving Brooks, Freedom, Jackson, Knox, Liberty, Monroe, Montville, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Waldo — schools remained open this week after officials learned of several cases at district schools.

But other districts in central Maine, like Madison-based Maine School Administrative District 59, reported no COVID-19 cases or other hiccups as students returned to classes this week for in-person learning.

Both Madison Area Memorial High School and Carrabec have opted to just recommend that masks be worn and not require it for students or staff to begin the school year. An Aug. 11 letter from RSU 3 says all students and staff are required to mask up in district schools, regardless of vaccination status. The plan was approved by the district’s school board on Aug. 9.

“As we did last year, RSU 3 will follow Maine CDC, Maine DOE and Governor’s Orders and recommendations in the implementation of a Return to School plan,” RSU 3 Superintendent Charles Brown said in the Aug. 11 letter. “The safety of our students, staff and community is of the utmost importance.”

Positive cases of COVID-19 in RSU 3 were identified at Mount View Elementary School, Mount View Middle School and a presumptive case at Mount View High School. Classes in the district began Monday.

Additionally, Brown said in a letter to families on Tuesday that officials “have been informed of positive cases involving RSU 3 students or staff that have not been in attendance at school or school activities.”

Another letter from Brown, sent on Monday, alerted families to an “outbreak” of COVID-19 at Mount View High School in Thorndike. While the letter did not indicate how many cases were identified at the time, the Maine Centers for Disease Control & Prevention classifies an outbreak as more than three positive cases of COVID-19 within a 14-day period. Brown said he was advised by Maine CDC to continue operating as planned.

Public schools throughout central Maine are opening this week, many with plans to operate in full swing after a year of remote learning, coronavirus cases and uncertainty. Maine school districts have been tasked with creating their own plans while considering recommendations provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and other agencies.

Mike Tracy, superintendent of the Anson-based RSU 74, recommended to the Board of Directors at a meeting last month to begin the school year with masks for students and staff.

“As superintendent, there are always times when we respond to the overall safety conditions while balancing educational best practice at the time based on the circumstances at hand,” Tracy said in an Aug. 25 letter to parents. “With that said, please know that there may be times based on conditions within a school that may force a mask mandate for a short time, such as multiple COVID cases in a school.”

Administrators in the district have also developed a COVID response plan that outlines what physical distancing, masking and hygiene practices will be implemented and how they will shift if there are new or an increasing number of virus cases.

Calls to Tracy and Brown’s offices for more information were not returned Wednesday.

Officials in Winslow announced several days ago that they were aware of “an individual associated with a Winslow athletic team” testing positive for COVID-19. The superintendent did not respond to an inquiry Wednesday regarding case numbers in the district.

Bonnie Levesque, the superintendent of MSAD 59, said the opening of classes Wednesday for kindergarten through ninth grades “was smooth.” Older students start school Thursday.

She said the district’s nearly 575 students are returning to in-person learning. Officials in Madison “have not received any requests for remote learning,” she said.

“Students and staff are glad to be back,” Levesque said.

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