LEWISTON — In close votes Monday night, the School Committee rejected a motion to require masks in schools and approved a motion that makes mask-wearing optional.

The approval came after nearly two and half hours of debate on Superintendent Jake Langlais’ back-to-school recommendations for the fall.

Optional mask-wearing was among the proposals and the only one to evoke disagreement.

“This is a personal/family decision,” Langlais wrote in a memo to the committee. “We recommend that you wear a mask if you are unvaccinated.”

According to the recommendations, all students will return to classes in person and no remote instruction will be offered, even for those in quarantine.

Langlais noted that the district has 167 unfilled staff positions and not enough educators to provide lessons remotely.


He said that watching kids play together this summer without masks and seeing people in restaurants in close proximity also not wearing masks — and much feedback from teachers and parents — led him to the difficult decision of making face coverings optional in schools.

A microbiology professor at Bates College argued against the proposal. Lori Banks said she specifically works with novel antiviral drug development.

“This is my wheelhouse,” she said. “The minimum we should go back (to school) with is that people have to wear masks, at the minimum.”

She spoke about the replication rate of infected cells and noted that the more people are exposed to the virus, the more it mutates and learns new ways to hurt us.

“To say there is little risk for staff or children is not accurate according to the data we have on hand currently,” she said.

Committee member Kiernan Majerus-Collins said he didn’t blame anyone for not wanting to wear a mask.


“But how profoundly unfair is it to people with children too young to be vaccinated going to school with other kids not vaccinated and staff not vaccinated,” he said.

He said the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had recommended universal mask-wearing in schools.

He called the superintendent’s proposal “irresponsible and dangerous” and warned that if the committee approved it, “we will live to regret it.”

His motion to require face coverings for teachers, staff, students and visitors at all schools failed 5-4, with Chairwoman Megan Parks, Vice Chairman Bruce Damon, and members Ron Potvin, Lynnea Hawkins and Janet Beaudoin voting against.

“Zero students in Lewiston died last year from COVID,” Beaudoin said. “Zero students had life-threatening injuries from COVID. I don’t feel we should tell parents their kids need to wear masks.”

Parks said she could not support any policy that took away parental or personal choice.

Those voting against the proposal, including optional masking, were Majerus-Collins, City Council representative Alicia Rea and members Paul Beauparlant and Tanya Whitlow.

Langlais noted that the recommendations were subject to change if the number of infections in the city rise or new guidelines come from state and national officials.

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