Fourth-grade teacher Michelle Dunham organizes bagged lunches Monday at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston. Teachers and school administrators handed out breakfast and lunches to students or to their parents from 10 a.m. to noon. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Although Lewiston schools were closed Monday, the district’s meal program was in full swing.

Free food was offered at 18 sites, no questions asked, Superintendent Todd Finn said.

Distribution will expand as soon as Tuesday, with meals delivered to bus stops by Hudson Bus drivers, he said. Pickup times at all sites are 10 a.m. to noon.

“We need to make sure our students and families are taken care of,” he said, noting more than 64% of Lewiston students come from economically disadvantaged households.

First-grade teacher Ben Allen hands a bagged breakfast to a student Monday at Farwell Elementary School in Lewiston. Teachers and school administrators handed out breakfast and lunches to students or to their parents from 10 a.m. to noon. About 40 meals were handed out, Principal Amanda Winslow said. School faculty, from right, are: Rachel Sirois, Allen, Elizabeth Leo, Michelle Dunham, Winslow and Sadie Beaudin. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

Breakfast, lunch and dinner will be available at the pickup sites for anyone in need, even Saturday and Sunday, if needed.

Getting a meal program up and running on Day One is part of Finn’s “operations order” for dealing with the coronavirus pandemic.

“This is certainly a crisis situation,” he said Monday. “I have been part of many operations as a paratrooper and special operator (in the military). It’s a very effective way to disseminate information.”

He has created leadership teams with specific orders and marshaled 200 volunteers to prepare for a three-week school closure. Most schools are closing for two weeks, but Finn said he did the math.

The average incubation and recovery time for those infected with COVID-19 has been 18 to 21 days, he said.

“I knew two weeks wouldn’t cut it,” he said.

If three weeks is not long enough, a second contingency plan will be put in place.

The current plan is simple: The top priorities are to feed families and disinfect buildings. No one who shows up for meals will be asked for identification, he said.

He said the U.S. Department of Agriculture “has been incredible with us,” providing meals at no extra cost to the district. Local businesses and food pantries have offered to help.

Finn’s operation also is prepared to shift to the next phase, with a curriculum team working on “tactical” delivery of educational materials and laptops.

Materials will be dropped at meal sites.

“We are by no means requiring instruction or parents to teach kids,” he said. Practice work will not be assessed and no standardized testing (scheduled to begin March 16) will take place.

“Staff have been told to sit tight,” Finn said. “They are compiling resources so kids can stay sharp while they’re at home.”

The Maine commissioner of education has granted waivers for students, so they will not have to make up the time. Teachers will continue to work in Lewiston and Auburn.

In Auburn, the staff “will continue to work in the buildings or remotely or both,” Superintendent Katy Grondin said. “Staff made plans as to how they will meet their professional responsibilities over the next two weeks.”

Auburn will begin offering free breakfast and lunch for anyone 18 or younger from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesday at all schools and the Auburn Recreation Department. The next day’s breakfast can be picked up with lunch.

Grondin said school officials are keeping in touch with parents so they do not feel isolated.

“Starting Tuesday, we will give direction on what parents can do to pick up learning materials,” Grondin said. “We need to make sure we’re meeting every family where (their children) are to engage in learning.”

She said that during the extended closure, activities would be available to help students maintain skills. Middle and high school students can access materials electronically and stay in touch with teachers by email, Grondin said in a letter to the community.

For those who cannot access materials electronically, the main offices will be open from 9 a.m. to noon Monday through Friday. Students will not be allowed in the building, but someone will meet them at the door.

Materials for elementary school pupils can be picked up from 7:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at the entrance to each school’s main office.

Auburn schools are “initially” closed for two weeks, she said.

“We’re taking it week by week, adjusting as we learn more information,” Grondin said. “We’re doing our part to make sure the community is safe, really highlighting social distancing.

The Auburn School Department child care program will be closed starting Tuesday, March 17, and officials will continue to assess the threat, Grondin said.

She said no students in Auburn school buildings had been diagnosed with the virus.

Both superintendents had high praise for their administrators and teachers.

“I want to give a huge shout-out to staff for their commitment, flexibility and dedication to work through what needs be done,” Grondin said.

Finn said he was “very proud of our leaders’ ability to adapt,” and he called Nutrition Director Alisa Roman “a rock star.”


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