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School officials 'kind of inventing the process' following coronavirus closures

Dozens of schools across the state are scrambling to support students and parents as they close to avoid the spread of COVID-19.

BIDDEFORD, Maine — School officials across the state are working around the clock to address the needs of students and parents amid the coronavirus outbreak.

Dozens of schools closed their doors Monday to try and stop the spread.

As of Monday morning, there were 17 total positive and presumptive positive cases in Maine.

Gov. Mills declared a civil state of emergency and recommended all schools stop classroom instruction for an indefinite period of time in a press conference Sunday night.

Many school districts, including Portland, Bangor, Lewiston, and Biddeford announced plans to cancel classes for up to two weeks.

A number of school administrators met in a make-shift command center set up in the Biddeford High School gym over the weekend to formulate their response plan.

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Biddeford Schools are planning to be closed for at least two weeks.

"There's nothing for a crisis like this," Biddeford Asst. Superintendent Chris Indorf said. "It's really unprecedented. We, like every other school in the state of Maine, are really kind of inventing the process as we go. We never expected to be out of school for weeks and weeks at a time."

RELATED: Coronavirus in Maine: 7 confirmed cases, 5 presumptive positive

Indorf and Superintendent Jeremy Ray said they have been taking every step possible to keep parents and families informed. 

Right now their biggest concerns are to establish some kind of remote learning option and ensure students who depend on school meals still have access.

According to the Maine Dept. of Education, federal waivers were approved to continue to provide meals to students who need them. 

"People are asking 'What's next?' and a lot of times we have to say 'We're not quite sure yet, but we're working hard at it,'" Indorf said.

Ray said a third of the Biddeford student body does not have access to internet to receive communications and lessons on an online platform. He said they are doing the best they can. 

RELATED: Governor Mills, Maine Legislature planning for quick decisions on budget and other issues

It is unclear how long schools will remain closed. 

Some have been critical of the decision to close because many parents cannot access adequate child care and question if doing so defeats the purpose of social distancing. 

Commissioner Pender Makin with the Maine Dept. of Education released a statement saying in part:

"School superintendents across the state have been making extremely difficult decisions during the past several days. They have had to weigh the medical guidance from Maine and the National CDC with the unique needs and capacities of their individual communities and they have received calls from all sides of this issue. Their equally courageous recent decisions to close or not to close have been made with extreme care and under unprecedentedly challenging circumstances, and with the best interests and well-being of their students and communities at the absolute center."Their equally courageous recent decisions to close or not to close have been made with extreme care and under unprecedentedly challenging circumstances, and with the best interests and well-being of their students and communities at the absolute center."

"It will be a situation where we can understand that people think we're overreacting," Ray said. "At the end of the day, we have to live with those decisions. If I'm judged by an overreaction after this I can live with that, but if we under-reacted and we have to live with that too, and I can't let that happen to our families and students."