Cea Jay Pitcher of Livermore, center, discusses mask wearing Thursday night during the Regional School Unit 73 board meeting. The board will meet again Aug. 19 to decide if masks will be recommended or mandatory when classes start Sept. 1. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

JAY — A decision on whether masks will be mandatory in Regional School Unit 73 for the new school year could be coming next week.

On Thursday, the RSU’s board of directors approved holding a meeting Aug. 19 regarding mask wearing in Spruce Mountain schools. The primary school is in Livermore while the elementary, middle and high schools are in Jay.

Prior to the vote, a dozen teachers, parents and students were given an opportunity to address the board. Heather Ahern Huish, an English teacher at the high school, said she is hopeful about returning to the classroom. Huish is among the staff and students in the district who are immunosuppressed.

“I am here tonight to speak for the immunosuppressed students and staff within the RSU73 district,” she said. “We are a population that is at huge risk. Even with both doses of the COVID vaccine, we are 485 times more likely to be hospitalized with severe illness or to die.”

The current data from Johns Hopkins Medical Center doesn’t cover the legions of students who aren’t old enough for the vaccine and are at risk, Huish noted. She asked the board to create a policy designating “mask zones” within schools, so immunosuppressed students and staff could be as safe as others within school buildings.

“Not having to wear a mask really means a lot,” incoming junior Joel Thornton of Jay said. “The 2020-21 school year was nothing but a year full of disappointment, stress and inconsistency.”

Thornton added that the cancellation of fall sports, not being able to see friends and constantly moving between remote and hybrid models were struggles for him, and going back to a somewhat normal school year is needed.

“Masks should be optional,” he continued. “It’s going to be hard to force kids who haven’t been vaccinated to wear a mask all day long.”

Bobby Jo Blodgett of Jay said students should be allowed to choose to mask up or not, but added wearing one could give classmates and teachers who don’t the impression they should be feared.

“I want my children to have a choice,” Blodgett said. “When you take that choice away, you take their well-being away too.”

Some educators are afraid to speak, are afraid for their jobs or being shamed by other educators, Roger Moulton of Livermore Falls said, while Cea Jay Pitcher of Livermore said his son developed extreme acne because of wearing masks.

“To segregate kids, to say you have a designated mask area, what’s the point of having masks in the first place if you are going to allow them to take them off at one point but wear them at this place?” Pitcher asked. “That’s just ludicrous.”

“Looking at the science, the masks aren’t supported and don’t work,” said John Benedetto, a Livermore Falls High School graduate. “Countries and states with strict lockdowns are seeing rapid spread.”

“I don’t want my little brothers growing up wearing masks,” James Regal, who will be in the sixth grade this year, said. “It’s not normal.”

Elementary teacher and parent Kelly Lake favors parental choice but said that as COVID cases begin to go back up, it may not be long before the state mandates masks, and supports Superintendent Scott Albert, who also strongly recommends masking.

A masking survey distributed within the district prior to the meeting received 940 responses. 589 were from parent/caregivers, 69 students, 233 staff and 63 community members.

Results showed:

• 169 want mandatory masking for all students and staff

• 140 want mandatory masking for any unvaccinated students or staff

• 580 want optional masking for all students and staff

• 112 want optional masking for only vaccinated students and staff (Some of these also answered about mandatory masking for any unvaccinated person)

When asked why teachers were able to vote twice, Albert replied that if teachers were also parents of students in the district, that allowed them to respond in both capacities.

District nurses are also in agreement to strongly recommend, but not mandate, masking, Albert said. The Maine CDC recommends districts follow federal guidelines requiring masks to be worn indoors, but implementation would be left to each district’s discretion.

As transportation falls under federal guidelines, masks will be required on buses and vans, Albert added, but parents may choose to transport their children to and from school instead.

“Our only remote option is the WMRSC Remote Academy, so the goal is to have every kid back in school five days a week,” Albert said.

“Let’s digest the information presented tonight; more information should be coming soon,” board Chairman Robert Staples said. “We’ve worked hard to make sure we have an open discussion with you all.”


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