About two dozen residents of Regional School Unit 10 attend Monday’s meeting of the board of directors at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford. The board voted to require all students and staff to wear them when students are present for the first month of the school year. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — The Regional School Unit 10 board of directors voted Monday to require everyone for the first month of the school year to wear masks in buildings when students are present to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The weighted vote was 556-378, which was based on the populations of the seven towns represented by the 13 directors.

Supporting Superintendent Deb Alden’s recommendation to require masks were Jerry Wiley of Buckfield, Gail Parent of Hanover, Bonnie Child and Janet Brennick, both of Mexico, and Abbey Rice, Greg Buccina and Dan Hodge, all of Rumford.

Opposed were Michelle Casey of Buckfield, Chad Culleton of Hartford, Justeen LaPointe of Roxbury, Bill Hobson of Rumford and Jennifer Adams of Sumner.

Peter DeFilipp of Mexico was absent due to health issues.

“Beginning on Wednesday, Sept. 1, through Friday, Oct. 1, all persons inside our school buildings need to wear masks when students are present,” Alden said in her recommendation to require face coverings. “Persons not vaccinated are expected to wear masks at all times inside our school buildings, as well. Exceptions are when eating or taking mask breaks (outside if possible).”

According to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, masking is mandatory on public transportation, including all RSU 10 buses and vans, Alden noted.

Alden said among the reasons for her recommendation were:

• Students can attend school full-time. “We don’t want students to quarantine all the time.”

• The school physician thinks masks can make a difference in limiting the spread of COVID-19.

• Oxford County has “substantial transmission” of the virus and was recently listed as having high transmission.

• The Maine Center of Disease Control and the Maine Department of Education recommend mask-wearing.

• She’s talked with other western Maine school superintendents.

• She’s received emails and messages from parents and other district residents.

• The vaccination rate for eligible people in Oxford County is 59%, which is below the state average of 66%.

The superintendent said she will bring another masking update and recommendation to the school board at their Sept. 28 meeting at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.

Before the vote, about two dozen residents listened and spoke about masking, many saying it should be optional and left to parents to decide.

Lisa Russell, a teacher at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, advocated for masks in the district’s six schools and day treatment center.

“I’m asking (the board) to listen to the voices that are encouraging you to help keep us and our students safe,” she said. “I’m asking you to consider starting the school year by wearing masks indoors.”

Allison Long, who has two students at Hartford-Sumner Elementary School in Sumner and was an educator for 10 years, said she there “to implore (the board) to require universal staff and student masking at RSU 10.” She said it keeps all students and staff “healthy and safe” and the school open as much as possible.

Adam Hanna of West Paris, who has a son attending Meroby Elementary School in Mexico, said his concern was mostly students’ civil rights.

“If masks are mandated, my son will not be attending RSU 10 public school system this year,” he said. “It is an overreach of my son’s civil rights and as caring parents we will not allow him to be forced to mask, or to be discriminated against in any way for his medical condition, disabilities, and/or personal health decisions.”

Hanna said he thinks masks are harmful for children and forcing them to wear them is abusive.

“Children are not severely affected by COVID at all,” he said.

A family nurse practitioner from Hartford said masks should be optional and the choice left to parents. She said she read medical research that cloth masks are very highly penetrable, and reuse and infrequency of washing material ones can increase the risk of infection.

Others speaking against the mandate mentioned the “bacterial acne” from wet masks, parents not given a choice and the need for students to see faces of schoolmates and staff in order to learn.

Other comments included: “masks don’t do anything for any virus,” “children need to breathe freely” and wearing masks for up to seven hours a day amounts to “child abuse.”

Directors Justeen Lapointe of Roxbury and Michelle Casey of Buckfield spoke strongly against mandatory masking.

“I’m a parent,” Lapointe said, and not masking my children is “my choice.”

Casey said, “This is not going away. There is not going to be herd immunity with the vaccination rate … It’s not for you to tell me that I need to be vaccinated or that I need to put a mask on.”

Director Abbey Rice of Rumford said she didn’t want her children to wear masks either, but “your choice effects everyone around you. I feel it’s a responsibility to protect all the students in our schools. There are students who are immunocompromised.”

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