Abijah Pignatello, a sophomore at the Ecology Learning Center in Unity, gets on a school bus after school Tuesday, April 27, 2021. Credit: Linda Coan O'Kresik / BDN

Gov. Janet Mills’ administration expects Maine schools to let students attend school full-time in person this fall, the governor said in a message to school districts on Wednesday.

Citing rising vaccination rates, Mills said schools should open their doors full-time and that they won’t have to follow physical distancing requirements that have been in place since students returned to classrooms last September. Mask requirements and symptom checks are expected to remain in place.

Vaccination rates are expected to be even higher when school resumes in the fall, with some hoping that children under 12 will also become eligible for the Pfizer-BioNTech shots.

Lifting the distancing requirements heralds a partial return to normalcy for the hundreds of thousands of K-12 students across the state.

Many school districts had students attend classes in person for part of the week throughout the school year and the rest of the time remotely. Even as districts tried to welcome students into school buildings for more days this spring as virus cases subsided, the physical distancing requirements meant they didn’t have enough space for everyone.

Mills also encouraged districts to participate in the state’s pooled virus testing program, which would detect COVID-19 in students who are not yet eligible to receive the vaccine.

Noting the importance of in-person classroom learning for social and mental development, Mills said the state’s rising vaccination rate would allow students, teachers and staff members to return to schools safely.

“With the progress we’ve made in vaccinating Maine people, we want to make sure that there are no barriers to getting our kids back into the classroom full-time,” Mills said.

Summer school programs will also be able to stop following distancing requirements if they participate in the state’s pooled testing program.