ELLSWORTH – Parents combined data, anecdotes and emotions as they pleaded with School Board members not to require masks when school started on September 1. They left the vote of 12. August with their wish partially approved.

In a 4-1 vote, the board approved mask-wearing guidance for the beginning of the school year, where masks would be optional for students and staff in classrooms but required in areas of the country. high traffic”, such as corridors when changing classrooms, and gathering and walking into school from the bus. Masks were required on buses in accordance with state regulations. The board will then use the state’s COVID-19 positivity rate to review future face covering rules.

Paul Markosian voted against mask regulation and said he was in favor of universal mask wearing, citing the recommendations of Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital pediatrician Dr Douglas MacGregor and Director MDI Hospital Pharmacy, Dr. Trevor Casey. Markosian said the Ellsworth plan “contains a lot of things that are difficult to interpret and difficult to execute”.

Both MacGregor and Casey recommend starting the new year with everyone wearing a mask to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19.

MacGregor said positive cases would close schools and send students home with mild cold symptoms.

“It happened last year,” he said. “Do it every day, every week. Keep an eye on the South… This community has a chance to learn from that. ”

Schools have reopened in many Southern states, with some school districts requiring masks and some counties not. Positive test data over the next two or three weeks could highlight any variation in case numbers between such school districts.

The decision in Ellsworth did not fully align with the recommendations of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Department of Education. Maine, all recommend people to wear masks inside schools.

“This has weighed heavily on each of our hearts,” said board member Beth Alteri. But Superintendent Dan Higgins and the board members keep their primary goal of getting students to school five days a week.

The mask supply expands for adult education and public use by schools, prompting Vice President Abigail Miller to say she can’t see how a Rotary pancake breakfast might currently take place in a school building as proposed.

The board addressed the use of the term “high traffic” to allow school staff and administrators to have discretion in determining where masks should be worn. It also unanimously approved the initiation of consent-based COVID-19 group testing, with Higgins noting that the school district “could still decide to forgo the path.” In pool testing, students and staff provide swab samples. Samples are combined and tested. If there is a positive test, individual tests for everyone in that group will come next. Anyone who tests positive will be sent home for isolation.

Higgins also said the district will follow the Maine DOE’s standard operating policy for responding to positive cases, which was revised earlier that same day. Close contacts of unvaccinated positive cases are recommended for isolation. If vaccinated, close contacts only need to be isolated if they have symptoms.

The Department of Education defines close contact as “an individual who has been in contact with a confirmed or probable case within 6 feet for 15 minutes or more (cumulative over a day) regardless of the individual is wearing a face covering or has direct physical contact with a person with confirmed COVID-19 during an infectious period (physical contact or direct contact with secretions or secretions of an infected individual). sick). ”

In a parent survey of over 900 responses, 23.5% of parents said they would choose to participate in the pool trial, 36% said they needed more information, and 40.5% said that they will choose not to participate.

The responses about wearing a mask showed that 54.8% of parents wanted masking to be optional. Additionally, 19.6% of parents wanted to follow CDC guidance, 13.5% wanted to follow CDC guidance with a separate mask-wearing plan, and 12.2% wanted masks to be worn only in areas where crowds of people pass by.

Parents and students have talked about how wearing masks is psychologically and developmentally damaging to children.

“They need to see each other face to face,” Casey Hendrick said. “In my opinion, I have a child who follows very aggressively.”

Much of the data shared indicates low case numbers in Hancock County and Maine, particularly among children, and extremely low rates of hospitalization and death for children exposed to COVID-19 due to pressing about optional mask wearing.

Bob Terwilliger told the board members before they discussed and voted: “My children will be out of this school depending on the outcome of this meeting.

He is not alone. Daisy Wight said neither of her school-age children would return if they were required to wear masks.

“That should be my decision. They are my children,” she said, trying to hold back her tears.

A heated exchange prompted the board to ask a member of the public to leave the meeting. She followed suit. Board members also admitted to receiving numerous emails from parents supporting the requirement to wear full masks at school this fall.

The board unanimously approved a return to school master plan, which details cleaning, contact tracing, isolation and other pandemic health and safety measures, in addition to provisions on mask and check the pool.

News reporter Anne Berleant covers news and features in Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Amherst, Aurora, Great Pond and Osborn. When not reporting, look for her hiking on local trails, reading, or watching pro tennis. Email her at the address [email protected]

Anne Berleant

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