JAY — Directors of Regional School Unit 73 voted 6-5 Thursday that all persons are required to wear masks while inside buildings, and they will revisit the decision should new or more information become available.

“The question we have to decide, masks or no masks, is a very emotional issue,” Staples said before opening the meeting to discussion. “This board has an impossible task. No matter how the vote goes half the community will be upset. Like it or not, we have to live with it.”

Directors Stephen Langlin of Livermore, D. Robin Beck and Phoebe Pike, both of Livermore Falls, and Doug DiPasquale, Elaine Fitzgerald and Lynn Ouellette, all from Jay, supported the motion.

Opposed were Andrew Sylvester and John Johnson, both of Livermore, Patrick Milligan of Livermore Falls and Michael Morrell and Robert Staples, both of Jay.

Lenia Coates of Livermore Falls and Joel Pike of Jay were absent.

A previous motion to permit personal choice on wearing masks was defeated with five in favor and six opposed. The directors supporting the second motion were those who opposed to the first. Those supporting the first were those opposing the second.

Parent Cea Jay Pitcher of Livermore requested people have a choice, if at all possible.

Parental choice was favored by several at the Aug. 12 board meeting as did the results of a districtwide survey, Roger Moulton of Livermore Falls said. Lots of studies are missing appropriate control groups, he noted.

The federal government is recommending masking, leaving the authority to school boards to make a decision, Milligan said. The board has to look at the impact of that decision in the community, he added.

In a letter to the board, administration and community members, school physician Dr. Michele Knapp wrote that she supports a mask requirement. She noted people in counties with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ levels of COVID-19 community transmission are advised to wear face coverings in indoor public settings. “Since Franklin and Androscoggin counties fall in this category, face coverings are recommended by the U.S. CDC,” she wrote.

Children under 12 aren’t eligible for the vaccine and the delta variant of COVID-19 is affecting the younger population more than the previous one, Knapp’s letter noted.

“I understand that wearing a mask is not fun or comfortable, but it is a simple task that can prevent a deadly virus,” her letter stated. “Let’s all be responsible and think about the safety of our entire community rather than our own comfort.”

The directors look to organizations with expertise to guide them, Ouellette said. All are saying layers of protection are the best way to prevent spread, she noted. “I’m in favor of masking, that would be another layer,” she added. “Tonight’s agenda said masks are strongly recommended. Look around this room, less than 25% did so.”

Almost a year ago, Sylvester tested positive for COVID-19. He quarantined, has had no effects since and to his knowledge hasn’t passed it to anyone. His recommendation is that people should have a choice, although masks will need to be worn on buses because that is a federal requirement.

Director Beck, a registered nurse, said, “We need masks,” she said. “If you’re unhappy about that I’m sorry.” She noted survivors of the Spanish flu in 1918 had stories to tell, 20 years from now a child surviving this will have a story.

The No. 1 priority for the children under the board’s care is their safety, Fitzgerald said. “If wearing a mask keeps them all safe, I’m willing.”

Director Pike said, “I’m not happy wearing masks but I’m going to support them to protect everyone. Even if it stops one person from getting sick isn’t it worth it?”

There are negative sides to wearing masks, Johnson said. With masks, immune systems get weaker, one is more likely to get other diseases by wearing them, he noted. The size of the virus hasn’t changed, he added.

“I try to put my trust in the superintendent, his decisions,” Morrell said, speaking of Scott Albert. “I trust the people who work for him in making a recommendation to the board.

New information obtained after the last board meeting had Dr. Knapp changing from recommending masks to requiring them, Albert said.

“I’m still a believer in choice; however, I want the kids in school as much as possible,” he added.

No filter stops all the virus, Staples said.

There are different opinions, all are trying to do what’s best for education, Pike said before the first vote.


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