MSAD 58 going to optional masking in schools on Feb. 28

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The MSAD 58 school board voted to make the wearing of face masks optional in district buildings at the end of the month.

PHILLIPS – The MSAD 58 school board voted, 7-5, to make masking optional within schools. This motion will go into effect on Feb. 28, following the February break.

During the monthly board meeting on Feb. 17, Superintendent Todd Sanders referenced a “whirlwind” of changes in guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control and changes to the Standard Operating Procedures for schools.

Previously, if a school district adopted universal masking policies, they would not be required to perform contact tracing for positive cases. Contact tracing requires a considerable amount of time and effort on an already taxed staffing system. The changes in the standard operating procedure suspends that requirement of contact tracing even if schools do not have a universal masking policy. Contact tracing is still permissible and recommended if ‘feasible’, which by definition means ‘possible to do easily or conveniently,’ Sanders said.

Contact tracing has been “uncoupled” from universal masking, Sanders explained.

Two parents spoke during public comment, urging the school board to make masking optional.

Andrea Poole of Phillips asked that the board survey parents to determine the community views on optional masking policies. She stated that she frequently sees board members and teachers outside of school who are not following masking guidelines, and that when children’s faces cannot be seen, their mental state and signs of distress may be missed.

Luisa Stearns, of Phillips, said that Maine is nearly 80 percent fully vaccinated, with one of the highest vaccination rates and one of the lowest death rates in the nation. “It is time for masks to become optional,” Stearns said. “I ask you to carefully reevaluate the mask policy.”

There is still a requirement for masking on buses and public transportation. This requirement is from the federal government. The ‘sunset’ date for that requirement is March 18. Sanders said he did not know if the requirement would be extended for a longer period of time or not.

Board member Sue Pratt said that if universal masking guidelines are in place, there is only a five-day quarantine requirement. If universal masking is not applied in a school, a positive case requires a full ten-day quarantine.

The CDC still recommends masking. In addition, there are free test kits available to help identify cases, with a strong push to make them available through February break.

Sanders asked that any change, if made, not go into effect until after break or at least after school on Friday, Feb. 18, to allow time to communicate updated expectations with parents. He added there was a recommendation to continue with universal masking for the week of school following the break, to see if there was a spike of cases following the break.

Pratt said that there is a new SOP expected to be released in the week after break.

Julie Talmage recommended waiting one more month, to see what the guidance from the federal government is with regards to busing and to see if there is a new SOP after the break.

Barbara Barnes made a motion to make masking optional, effective Feb. 28. Pratt called for a weighted vote.

The motion passed with a 7-5 vote, and a weighted vote of 500 in favor and 360 opposed. Joe Ford, Barbara Nickerson, Stephen Hagarstrom, Joanne Bachelder, Jessica Cain, Lois Barker and Barbara Barnes voted in favor of the motion. Sue Pratt, Cindy Dixon, Jessie Stinchfield, Kim Jordan and Julie Talmage were opposed. Kim Robinson and Dennifer Searles were absent.

Effective Feb. 28, masking will be optional in MSAD 58 schools.

Sanders said the district will need to work out a solution to ensure that students are masked on buses, per current federal regulations.

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