TOPSHAM — Maine School Administrative District 75 school board members rejected a resolution asking they call COVID-19 by its scientific name after one member referred to it as the “Wuhan virus,” which upset some community members.

Board member Kathleen Montejo suggested the resolution after the board’s May 28 meeting. At that meeting, Montejo said board member Eric Lusk referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” multiple times while speaking about school reopening plans.

Wuhan is the city in China where the coronavirus pandemic is thought to have originated. Coronavirus causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19. There has been a national debate over use of the term “Wuhan virus” or “Chinese coronavirus” and whether it is racist or xenophobic.

The World Health Organization no longer names new diseases after geographic locations, people or cultures in order to prevent discrimination, bias and mistreatment of people that could be encouraged by the name of the disease.

Lusk said Thursday that when he called the coronavirus the “Wuhan virus,”  he didn’t care about the origin of the virus and had no ill intent toward anyone from China.

Lusk said he was insulted that some have called him racist for using the term.

“If somebody wants to tell me because I used the geographic marker, that makes me racist, then somebody needs to take a long look in the mirror and say, am I labeling this guy a racist simply because he’s white and male,” Lusk said.

He argued that adopting the resolution would test the First Amendment.

Montejo argued that the resolution doesn’t limit free speech. She said it strongly encourages board members to use the scientific name for coronavirus, but doesn’t prohibit anyone from using any terminology.

Board member Frank Wright argued in favor of adopting the resolution.

“I believe that in our language we do have to be cognizant of all of our constitutes and we all have to hold ourselves accountable to the norms of society,” Wright said. “I don’t think we need to use terminology that … in any way could be construed as inflammatory or divisive.”

Some school members argued there are already policies in place regarding school board member behavior.

School board member Holly Kopp said she didn’t want to start a debate about the First Amendment. She said she was elected to work for the students in the district.

“Right now this is derailing us from our work,” Kopp said. “I would just ask that we’re able to move on and work together and get beyond this without taking formal action.”

The resolution failed by a 5-7 vote. Two board members, Kim Totten and Bill Keleher, abstained but did not say why at the time of the vote.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.