FILE - Remote learning

(The Center Square) – With many of Maine’s schools shifting to online learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine’s two virtual charter schools are seeing long waiting lists due to state limits on how many students from each district can enroll.

The Maine Virtual Academy (MEVA), which has been operating since 2015, and Maine Connections Academy (MCA), which began in 2014, have experienced growing pains as their programs have drawn greater numbers, the Maine Monitor reported.

The MCA, which is based in Scarborough, currently has a waitlist of 300 students; at this time last year, there were 125.

“Many schools are attempting different options such as a fully remote option or a hybrid model,” MCA principal Walter Wallace told the Monitor. “If there’s a surge in the virus, anything can happen on any day, which we have seen in the past.”

While Maine law restricts charter school enrollment to 500 pupils per facility, both the MCA and MEVA have asked the Maine Charter School Commission to increase enrollment.

At its meeting earlier this month, the commission said MCA’s enrollment could go from 429 to 450, plus or minus 5%.

Last month, the commission said the Augusta-based MEVA could expand from 390 to 429 students. The MEVA increase is the first permitted since a January 2019 report found absenteeism there at 30%, its four-year graduation rate only 49%, and some students performing poorly on statewide standardized tests. By September 2019, the state Department of Education determined MEVA’s absenteeism had risen by 27 points.

Although the pandemic has made virtual schools an attractive option due to their prior experience with online education, they still face challenges like brick and mortar schools now face, including training teachers in remote instruction methods and working with students who choose to skip classes.

Those same problems may impact brick-and-mortar school performance as they transition to virtual learning, the Monitor reported.