Hancock County schools to close; court trials postponed

ELLSWORTH — Citing “extraordinary times” in the wake of the novel coronavirus, Regional School Unit 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman has announced the district’s schools will close for three weeks starting Monday, March 16.

Mount Desert Island Regional School System (AOS 91) made a similar decision Friday. In a letter to parents, Superintendent Marc Gousse announced a minimum two-week closure effective Monday, March 16. Gousse said the decision was made after a meeting with the entire administrative team, a school nurse, local public safety officials, a Mount Desert Island Hospital representative and a scientist from Jackson Laboratory.

“Based upon scientific data, guidance from experts in the field and the unanimous consensus of the entire administrative team, I believe the immediate closure of MDIRSS AOS 91 schools at this time is not only prudent but critical to support the health, safety and well-being of our students, staff and communities,” he stated. “To do otherwise represents a serious risk and overt threat to public health and safety.”

In his letter to RSU 24 parents, Eastman wrote, “In the end, there are a number of unknowns that exist that lead me to believe that we should shut down our schools to allow the state and federal government to gather the data necessary to provide the proper guidance to our schools.” Schools will remain closed until Friday, April 3.

Teachers in the district have been working to assemble remote learning opportunities for students. Eastman said the state DOE has permitted remote learning activities to be counted as school days.

In a March 14 letter to Union 76 parents, Superintendent Christian Elkington announced he was immediately closing all the districts schools for at least the next two weeks.

“As superintendent I think it is clear that we can help slow down the spread of the pandemic, thereby assisting our health, safety and first responder resources in Hancock County to be able to support our communities as they best can,” he wrote.

Schools in Ellsworth, RSU 25, Union 93, Hancock and Lamoine have also announced closures.

Maine’s high school spring sports season has been postponed until April 27.

Maine’s court system is also taking steps to try to prevent the spread of the disease. While courthouses will remain open to the public at this time, no criminal or civil jury trials will be heard in the Maine State Courts until after May 1, unless otherwise ordered by the court. No grand jury proceedings will be held.

“Persons identified as being infected by COVID-19, having had contact with those infected by COVID-19, or having visited areas identified as problematic due to the prevalence of COVID-19 should not come to Maine’s courthouses,” according to the order.

The Judicial Branch is monitoring and managing the number of people in each courthouse in order to reduce the likelihood of the spread of COVID-19. That will affect the scheduling and hearing of cases and the number of jurors called into courthouses.

Effective immediately, and continuing through May 1, with the exception of the events listed below, all in-person court events for family, civil, and criminal dockets are postponed. The courts will schedule and hear only the following:

  • Arraignments and first appearances of defendants held in custody
  • Motions for review of bail
  • Juvenile detention hearings
  • Protection from abuse requests and hearings
  • Protection from harassment requests and hearings
  • Child protection petitions and hearings
  • Mental health requests and hearings
  • Hearings granted on motion

All previously scheduled cases are postponed. Any trials in progress may be completed.

Jurors should not appear at the courthouse for jury duty. Except for trials that have already begun, all report dates between Monday, March 16, and Friday, May 1, are cancelled. Check the Maine Judicial Branch website for any updates. If you have been chosen to serve on a jury, call the courthouse before you appear.

All oral arguments scheduled for April 2020 before the Supreme Judicial Court, sitting as the Law Court, are cancelled.

All state Department of Corrections facilities have suspended visits for fourteen days as of March 14. “This includes visits from family, friends, other non-professional visitors and volunteers who lead programs and activities,” according to the announcement.

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