Portland High School on Cumberland Avenue. Credit: Troy R. Bennett / BDN

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland High School students are petitioning the school district to reverse a plan to return to in-person learning after Thanksgiving break as coronavirus cases in the state continue to grow at record pace.

Four students at the high school launched the petition Wednesday afternoon, calling the decision “premature and unsafe.” It had generated nearly 350 signatures by early Thursday morning.

The students started the petition because they thought a plan to “bring hundreds of students back into the school” for in-person learning after Thanksgiving break “was unfair to teachers who are working extremely hard to make online learning work,” according to Ella Anderson, a Portland High School student who made the petition with fellow seniors Audrey Watson and Charlotte Lachance and Tessa Boxer-Macomber, a junior who also serves as a school board representative for the high school.

There have been 11 coronavirus cases reported in the school district, according to a running tally maintained by school officials. More than 180 have been asked to quarantine, roughly half of those have been linked to Portland High School.


According to Anderson, teachers and students were confused to learn the plan to return to classrooms was still on after news of a third COVID-19 case linked to the school and while dozens, including the school’s principal, were quarantining and waiting for test results.

“Winter is coming and there’s a spike in Maine right now,” Anderson said, noting the heightened risk of transmitting the virus after a holiday that some could spend visiting family and friends.

Certain dynamics of the high school’s downtown location add to the concern, Anderson said. Many depend on public transportation to get to Portland High School, and there are fewer public areas available for outdoor learning.

Portland’s public school system has followed a hybrid model since mid-September, allowing first-year students partially indoors on a set schedule and upper-level students to work remotely. The school has also maintained in-person and online learning centers during the pandemic, where students can get additional help.

The petition went online after the group of students privately corresponded with a member of the school board Wednesday morning, who told them the city needed to prioritize in-person learning, according to Anderson.

The school board voted unanimously in late August to return to a hybrid model that would switch to fully remote when the state switched its tiered three-color system to “red.” It is currently green.

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