RSU 9 board approves adjusted mask mandate

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FARMINGTON – Members of the Regional School Unit 9 Board of Directors approved adjusted expectations for the fall return. Board members and a considerable audience gathered in person Tuesday night at the Mt. Blue Campus Forum.

Several community members shared their thoughts during the public comment portion of the meeting. Board member Jesse Sillanpaa attended the meeting as a parent in order to be able to participate in the public comment; Sillanpaa said he is disappointed in the actions and governing of the board.

“We’re suppose to follow a democratic way of decision making, but that’s not what is happening,” Sillanpaa said in a phone conversation Wednesday morning.

Sillanpaa, along with several other parents, said there should be a public conversation and vote on the decision of mask-wearing protocols.

As it stands, students in grades pre-k through 8 will be required to wear a mask while indoors. Students in grades 9 through 12 will need to wear a mask, but any student who is fully vaccinated will have the option of wearing a plastic face shield.

Sillanpaa and others feel as though it should be up to the families and students.

“We know what is best for our kids. We are their best advocate,” Sara Abbott Pinkham said during the meeting.

Maine is currently following the US CDC guidelines, which recommends face masks for all individuals when indoors in areas that are deemed substantial or high risk. Currently Franklin County is at a moderate level of risk, but board chair Carol Coles pointed out that students and staff travel from Oxford and Somerset counties as well, which are currently at substantial levels of risk.

Board members passed the new guidelines in a vote of 7-5. Judith Kaut, Scott Erb, Lisa Park-Laflin, Cherieann Harrisson and Kirk Doyle voted against the motion, while Carol Coles, Debbie Smith, Gwen Doak, Doug Dunlap, Irv Faunce, Wayne Kinney and Gloria McGraw voted in favor. Votes are weighted based on towns represented, and the final vote was 458 to 359.

Masks will be required on all buses.

A number of board members expressed how difficult it has been to make decisions around mask guidance. Several of them said they recognize how challenging it has been for families, and especially for students, and they struggle with balancing the social/emotional damage that mask-wearing can cause with a need to protect the entire student body.

“We need to look at this choice for all children. We know parents can make the best decision for their own child, but they are making that decision for ONLY their child. We have to do what is best for all of the students,” Vice Chair Debbie Smith said.

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