The main entrance of Limestone Community School, pictured in August 2020. Credit: Melissa Lizotte / Aroostook-Republican

LIMESTONE, Maine — An uptick in COVID-19 cases among staff, students and the wider community has pushed Limestone Community School online for the first two weeks of the fall semester.

The school had already delayed the start of classes from Aug. 25-30 with the hopes of seeing cases drop, but ultimately decided to go remote. Teachers and staff are still preparing remote curriculums and distributing devices to students, and classes will start in earnest on Tuesday.

Once students return, the school will mandate masks for the foreseeable future.

Limestone will be the first school in Maine to start classes in the dreaded red-model — remote learning — though Van Buren and Caribou High Schools both went remote last week just days after classes started.

Other schools in The County that haven’t gone remote have begun to change their COVID-19 safety protocols too — rolling back optional mask decisions in favor of mandates. Presque Isle, Van Buren, Fort Kent, Madawaska, Easton and Caribou have all made the switch, along with schools downstate.

“It’s easy to say we’re all very frustrated,” Principal Ben Lothrop said. “We had a pretty good summer and I think everybody was very excited and positive about being back in school as normal as we possibly could be. I think we held out high hopes until the very end.”

Classes should begin in-person again on Sept.13, though Lothrop said he was waiting to see how the spread of the delta variant unfolds in The County and would reevaluate if the situation worsened.

While the circumstances are not ideal, Lothrop said he had confidence his teachers would be able to handle two weeks of remote learning after the chaos of the 2020-21 school year.

Returning to in-person learning will depend on parents following COVID-19 safety protocols and keeping kids home if they show even mild symptoms of the virus, Lothrop said. Limestone has made its school nurse available to parents who have questions or concerns about their child’s health.

“Just one person coming in here that’s positive and doesn’t know it can send us right back to red,” he said.

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.