FARMINGTON — Masks and shields will be required for all Regional School Unit 9 students in grades pre-K through eight, and for unvaccinated students and staff in grades nine through 12, according to Director of Curriculum Laura Columbia.

Columbia presented plans for the district to return for the 2021-22 school year during a Board of Directors meeting Tuesday.

Social distancing, masking, learning structures and pool testing were among the topics covered.

The new masking guidelines differ from the district’s current ones, which require all people attending or visiting the schools in the district to wear masks while indoors, regardless of vaccination status.

Columbia said that despite the vaccine’s availability to ages 12 and up in the middle school, they are requiring all middle schoolers wear masks because, “that might be difficult to require some students have masks and some don’t.”

Columbia said that in the high school, unvaccinated students and staff will follow an “honor system” on masking. No one will be tracking unvaccinated students and staff.

We’re not going to be stopping kids or staff in the hall,” she said. 

The board meeting was the same day that the U.S. Center for Disease Control announced new guidelines that call for masking indoors and in schools in “high-transmission areas.”

Gov. Janet Mills and her staff are currently reviewing the guidelines amid a resurgence of COVID-19 due to the Delta variant that has resulted in Maine’s “highest single-day total (of COVID-19 cases) since late May.”

State health officials on Wednesday said Maine would follow the CDC’s lead and recommend that all people, regardless of vaccination status, wear a mask indoors in areas with high levels of community transmission.

However, The New York Times reports that the test-positivity rate in Franklin County is “relatively low,” with a seven-day average of one case. It is unclear at this point if the change in Maine CDC guidelines will affect the Mt. Blue School District.

In an email, Columbia stated, “we will be reviewing the recent recommendation and will update the board of any changes.”

Board Chairperson Carol Coles said she thinks the district’s current plans, “will shift and change as we get closer to the start of the school year.”

The other plans and updates presented by Columbia include a return to normal start times, traditional class sizes without spacing requirements and full capacity on transportation to school. Another vaccine clinic with Franklin Community Health Network is in the works for this fall, she added.

Columbia noted the district is also looking in to pool testing, where the district takes advantage of early detection by testing students and staff in batches once a week so that they can forgo quarantining for an extended period of time if there is close contact with a positive case.

HIRING CRISIS

In other business, Superintendent Chris Elkington spoke about the problems the district has encountered filling open positions. He said there are currently about 70 open positions across the seven schools in the district.

That is quite concerning, obviously, and they’re across the board. A large number of them are in special (education),” Elkington said, adding he will lead the district in strengthening its “induction process” for new hires, “to increase the amount of direct support we give.”

“We want people to stay obviously, (so) we are investing in them,” he said. “Maybe this will force us have the best induction program we’ve ever had so we can help our new staff be more successful and stay with us.”

Elkington said the district must look creatively at all opportunities, including bringing on more student teachers from the University of Maine at Farmington, offering part-time work to retired staff, increasing special education class sizes and creating job-sharing.

The hiring problems will be addressed in the district’s strategic plan, which will be outlined by Elkington and the Board of Directors.


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.