PARIS — With COVID-19 on the rise in Maine and Oxford County schools in the state’s moderate risk category, School Administrative District 17 directors voted to require masks be worn at all board meetings, with some exceptions.

Online meetings via Zoom will be held, but directors and members of the public will be able to attend in-person if they do not have an adequate internet connection. Any in-person attendees who have medical exemptions from wearing face coverings will be given the option to attend the meeting using Zoom from a separate room at the Administrative Office building next to Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School on Route 26 in Paris.

The board had to first vote to add the measure to the agenda, and then vote to pass it.

Directors William Rolfe of West Paris and Troy Ripley of Paris asked Chairperson Diana Olsen of Otisfield and Superintendent Rick Colpitts to clarify whether a dozen or more meeting visitors without a mask could be safely accommodated under Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control guidelines to maintain social distancing. Colpitts said they could.

Rolfe said alternative face coverings such as gators have recently been shown to not only be ineffective against the virus but possibly increase exposure to it. He noted that the motion did not include language that would exclude gators and so voted against it.

Director Scott Buffington of Paris also voted against the motion, although he gave no reason for his opposition to mandating masks.


After all other board members voted in favor of the measure, Ripley, who was not wearing a mask, was directed to leave the meeting room and participate in a separate room, which he did.

The board also voted to return to the pre-COVID-19 meeting schedule of the first and third Monday of each month. Meetings had been held once a month since March.

In his update Colpitts summarized the steps for SAD 17 to transition to hybrid education. He also noted that administrators are considering what disciplinary action may be taken against students involved in recent violent brawls and assaults on other teens as Norway and Paris Police Departments continue their investigations.

Director Bob Jewell of Paris floated the idea of building a wall along the boundary of school grounds to block access to trails where some of the fights  have occurred. Other board members disagreed, citing the trails provide community benefits to many families who do not have the option of traveling to other locations for outdoor activities.

Some directors spoke about communications from administrators, stating that decisions were being made in relation to handling the pandemic without input from the board of directors.

“I’m frustrated at not having more communication or information,” Buffington said. “Did we as a board really approve this [switch to hybrid]? It’s like we’re a paper board, I am hearing what’s going on from the community rather than administrators.”


Colpitts countered that Buffington, and all directors, had been informed of the plan as it was developed over the summer and voted on it in August.

“But the board can choose to change it,” Colpitts said. “It can be revised.”

Director Barry Patrie of Waterford took issue with Buffington’s assertion.

“I have gotten emails from the superintendent at every situation that has come up,” Patrie said. “It is not our place to micromanage.”

Director Natalie Andrews of West Paris added that she found Buffington’s words inflammatory and work against the board.

Buffington said it was OK to disagree with him and asked a series of questions, including confusion about how data is shared, how many students have had to quarantine in SAD 17 and how many may have tested positive to date. He said he had not been informed about the recent cases of possible community spread.


Colpitts said communications were made and the situation had been well-publicized in the Sun Journal. He recapped the positive COVID-19 case of a youth soccer coach and the resulting quarantine of students who had been exposed to the person. Colpitts also reported that as of Friday there had not been any positive COVID-19 diagnoses of SAD 17 students.

“Everyone has worked very hard to contain this and keep our students safe,” Colpitts said. “The data comes from the CDC. We have placed some teachers on leave since school started, either because they had been exposed to the virus or had traveled.”

While conceding that the board had indeed voted for the reopening plan even though he could not recall all the exact details, Jewell maintained that the board needed more and better communication. He said officials seemed to alert the public before the board and called it disrespectful.

Buffington agreed that his frustration stemmed from members of the community seeming to know more than he did as changes were made.

“I have to tell them I don’t know, and it’s frustrating,” he said.

Directors voted to adjust the agenda to discuss a matter involving an alleged violation of the Code of Ethics by a board member. Colpitts said Tuesday morning that he was unable to comment on the complaint.

“I was not part of the executive session,” Colpitts said. “It is something the board needs to work out apart from administration and policy.”

Olsen was reelected chairwoman and Curtis Cole of Norway was reelected vice chairman. Both votes were unanimous and for one-year terms. Patrie was selected as SAD 17 delegate to the annual Maine School Boards Association Assembly and Stacia Cordwell of Oxford as the alternate.

Colpitts also told the board that while SAD 17 is safe from curtailment of state funds for now as the economic fallout of the pandemic continues, directors should be prepared for budget cuts during the next school year. The governor’s office will release projected budgets next February.

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