BETHEL — SAD 44 school district voted last night to reopen the school with no mask mandate, albeit wearing masks strongly recommended. It was a 10 – 4 vote, with the majority of the ‘yes’s’ not wearing masks themselves among the library filled with over 20 people, most not bearing masks.

The Superintendent of SAD 44, David Murphy proposed starting off the school year with universal masks then slowly unmasking depending on if the circumstances allow for it and what the CDC recommended. The guidelines could be relaxed down the road. Murphy proposed it was better to start this way than the latter to avoid confusion. He said it was in the best interests of the students. Tammala Goodwin, School Board Member, disagreed.

The community was allowed to give a statement defending their opinion.

Stephanie Herbeck, a mother of two, who works in healthcare, and a board member, said that in the past, the students have exceeded their expectations when it came to standing up against COVID-19. She emphasized that if a child is under the age of 12-years-old, they cannot be vaccinated. Following this she said there are kids who are under the age of 12 who cannot get vaccinated, and they are in contact with adults with serious health problems. There should be masking for all.

Board Member Maggie Davis supported Herbeck’s argument, stating the school can show the students it cares by the way of masks, by putting the communities wellness above the individual needs.

This was met by loud voices from attendees as they hammered the comment apart, with everyone spitting out “it is an individual choice,” to which Davis replied, “It is not an individual choice when your individual choice affects my individual choice.”

Board member Marcy Winslow, a nurse, said, “Cloth masks help to slow the spread of COVID,” but she said it doesn’t do much.

However, according to the the CDC website, “Mask use has been found to be safe and is not associated with clinically significant impacts on respiration or gas exchange. Adopting universal masking policies can help avert future lockdowns, especially if combined with other non-pharmaceutical interventions such as social distancing, hand hygiene, and adequate ventilation.” Further, it states, “Data were added from studies published since the last update that further demonstrate that mask wearing reduces new infections.”

Murphy’s motion was dismissed and the board almost unanimously passed the no mask mandate.

Board Member Carol Everett asked who would be mandating the mask wearing at the school? She said if she told her child to wear a mask and then her child saw their friend wasn’t wearing a mask and she wasn’t there to intervene, what new pressures were now being added to teachers?

Chairman Danny Bartlett said it was like smoking cigarettes. If you preached for your child not to do it, they wouldn’t. This was greeted by silence.

When asking Murphy what would happen to the high-risk children whose parents were immunocompromised, he said there concerns from others about this, but there was not yet an answer.

School board members agreed to continue to meet in person for future meetings, despite having the option to meet virtually if they wanted to bring it up to policy.

To date, the total number of confirmed and probable COVID-19 cases among youth/young adult is 21,254, according to maine.gov. Of those, 5,778 are kids ages 15-19. Fifty is the number of kids who were hospitalized due to COVID-19.

“Individual choice is a false idea,” concluded Davis before she was interrupted by everyone at the meeting.

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