JAY — Directors in Regional School Unit 73 voted 6-5 Thursday, Aug. 19, that all persons are required to wear masks while inside with the board being able to revisit the decision should more information become available from the CDC.

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. Directors voting in opposition were Andrew Sylvester and John Johnson of Livermore; Patrick Milligan of Livermore Falls; and  Michael Morrell and Robert Staples of Jay. Lenia Coates of Livermore Falls and Joel Pike of Jay were absent.

A previous attempt to permit choice on the wearing of masks found five in favor with six opposed. The directors supporting the second motion were opposed to the first one. Those supporting the first were in opposition to the second motion.

“The question we have to decide, masks or no masks is a very emotional issue,” Staples said prior to 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.

“Let’s make sure whatever happens, we remain friends and neighbors,” he continued. “Let’s show our state and the country how adults act if things don’t go their way.”

Choice if at all possible was requested by Cea Jay Pitcher of Livermore.

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

Regional School Unit 73 directors voted 6-5 Thursday, Aug. 19, that everyone must wear masks while indoors. Director Pat Milligan of Livermore Falls speaks to the fact that Maine officials have left the decision up to school boards. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Everyone has a tendency to look at arguments supporting their thoughts then look at the other side, Milligan said. The federal and Maine governments are recommending masking, leaving the authority to school boards to make a decision, he noted. The board has to look at the impact of that decision in the community, how it is affected, he added.

In a letter to the board, administration and community members, school physician Dr. Michele Knapp wrote she supports a mask requirement. “The U.S. CDC Face Covering Recommendations for Maine states persons in counties with ‘substantial’ or ‘high’ levels of COVID-19 community transmission are advised to wear face covering in indoor public settings,” her letter continued. “Since Franklin and Androscoggin counties fall in this category, face coverings are recommended by the U.S. CDC.”

Children under 12 aren’t eligible for the vaccine and the Delta variant is affecting the younger population more than the previous variant, 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,” the letter stated. “Let’s all be responsible and think about the safety of our entire community rather than our own comfort.”

Masks will be required for all while inside RSU 73 schools this year, at least for now. Prior to the final vote on the issue, Director Lynn Ouellette of Jay supports masks as another layer of protection against COVID-19. Should more or new information become available the board may revisit the decision. Pam Harnden/Livermore Falls Advertiser

Not being experts, 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. “The agenda said masks are strongly recommended. Look around this room, less than 25% did so.

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

“We need masks,” said Beck, a registered nurse. “If you’re unhappy about that I’m sorry.”

She noted survivors of the Spanish Flu in 1918 had quite a story to tell and that 20 years from now children surviving this will have stories to tell.

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.”

The opposite of a suggestion to start the year with no masks and work up to that if needed was suggested by Phoebe Pike.

“I’m not happy wearing masks but I’m going to support them to protect everyone,” she said. “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. “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 prior to the first vote.

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