April 08, 2020

Hope Amid Ruins> Schools; Students get another day off

Continuing power outages and a lack of heat have put classes on hold for another day at the majority of area schools.

“This is almost unbelievable,” said Betty Jordan, superintendent of Union 102, which includes Jonesboro and Machias. Schools in her district will remain closed today because the area still lacks a consistent source of power.

In Bangor, Downeast School, Abraham Lincoln School and Bangor High School will remain closed today, but all other schools in the city will be open. John Bapst Memorial High School also will be closed.

Bangor Superintendent Jim Doughty said he would like to open schools to allow students who still lack power, heat and water at their homes to have a hot meal and warm place to spend the day. However, he said, he wouldn’t reopen Downeast School or the high school because they still lack power. City officials asked that he not open Abraham Lincoln School because crews will be cleaning up downed trees in the area.

Owen Maurais, superintendent in Old Town, said he would wait until morning to make a decision. He advised parents to use their judgment in deciding whether to send children to school. If a parent is concerned with downed power lines or other problems in their neighborhood, Maurais said, schools will understand if parents decide it is too risky to send a child to school.

Most superintendents said their schools would make up the time lost during the ice storm and its aftermath. Commissioner of Education J. Duke Albanese, however, sent out a memo Monday to remind parents not to put children at risk for fear they will be required to make up the lost time.

By law, schools must offer 175 days of instruction per year. Because this storm has closed schools for so long, many of them would be under that minimum if they don’t make up the time later in the year.

In a memo circulated to the state’s superintendents, Albanese reminded school officials to “use caution in determining whether or not to hold classes” and to stay in contact with the power companies to determine if children would be put at risk by tree and utility line work.

He ended his message by saying: “Superintendents are reminded that Commissioner Albanese may waive days at the end of the school year if necessary given this emergency.”

As has been customary in other emergencies, individual schools may request a waiver from the commissioner if they are unable to reschedule the missed days. To get a waiver, the school must show that it tried to make up the lost days but is unable to do so for financial, contract or scheduling reasons.

“He wanted to let [superintendents] know that the state sees this as dramatic circumstances, and he will be open to granting waivers,” said Mike Higgins, who works in the commissioner’s office.

“Bangor’s intention is to make up the time,” said Bangor Superintendent Doughty. With Tuesday’s cancellation, the city is four days over what was allotted for storm days. He said the plan now is to make up the time at the end of the school year. He said holding classes Saturdays and during school vacations remained options.

Schools in central Maine were particularly hard hit. Corinna Junior High School remained without water and power Monday, while the Newport Elementary School and the Palmyra Consolidated School had no power.

SAD 48 Superintendent Bill Braun said he was becoming concerned about the snow and ice building up on the roofs of some of his school buildings. Until it became a serious problem, Braun said, it was too risky to send someone on the ice-covered roof to chip away at the buildup.

His schools also lost a lot of food that spoiled when the power went off. Frozen pizzas and vegetables from the Newport Elementary School were donated to a shelter in Benton.

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