The Regional School Unit 10 board directors met Monday at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School. From left are Directors Bonnie Child of Mexico, Jennifer Adams of Sumner, Gail Parent of Hanover, Administrative Assistant Peggy Therriault, Superintendent Deb Alden, Directors Greg Buccina of Rumford, Jerry Wiley of Buckfield, Abbey Rice of Rumford, Justeen LaPointe of Roxbury, Bill Hobson and Daniel Hodge, both of Rumford, Chad Culleton of Hartford, Janet Brennick of Mexico and Michelle Casey of Buckfield. Director Peter DeFilipp of Mexico attended the meeting via Zoom conferencing. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

BUCKFIELD — Roughly half of the 200 signatures on an anti-mask-mandate petition presented to Regional School Unit 10 directors are people who are not in the district, Superintendent Deb Alden said Tuesday.

During their last meeting in August, directors voted to mandate mask-wearing in its schools when children are present, but one board member is saying the board needs to acknowledge that many are not happy with the vote.

At the board meeting Monday, Director Michelle Casey of Buckfield said she thought the board “should at least acknowledge that there’s some people out there that are very unhappy” regarding mandated mask-wearing in the schools. Casey was one of the five board members who voted against the mandate. Also opposed were Chad Culleton of Hartford, Justeen LaPointe of Roxbury, Bill Hobson of Rumford and Jennifer Adams of Sumner.

Following the board meeting, Casey explained that each of the 13 directors and the superintendent had recently received copies of a petition with 200 signatures of people against mandated masking in RSU 10’s schools.

In an email response Tuesday, Alden said, “Roughly 50% of the signatures were from people outside of our seven towns. Based on the calls and comments I have received from parents and staff, I believe we have just as many, and actually more, people (who are) OK with the universal masking when students are present.”

The district includes Buckfield, Hanover, Hartford, Mexico, Roxbury, Rumford and Sumner.

Since July, beginning with summer school classes in the district, the district has had a total of 10 students and one staff member infected by COVID-19, Alden said.

“We’ve had a total of one staff member (with a) positive COVID (case) at Hartford Sumner Elementary School, no one at Meroby Elementary School, one student at Rumford Elementary School, five students at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, three students at Mountain Valley Middle School, one student at Mountain Valley High School, and no students at the (Western Foothills Regional Program),” Alden said.

There has been only one transmission of the coronavirus infection among the school population, and it occurred at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School, she said.

Alden also said that pooled testing for coronavirus infections will be ready to begin in the schools by the end of next week. Students’ parents must submit consent forms for pooled testing before they can be part of the testing, Alden said. “However, we do encourage (pooled testing) because if you’re in the pool, and you don’t test positive, you don’t have to quarantine, and that’s the difference there from somebody who has to quarantine,” Alden said.

Director Abbey Rice of Rumford told Alden “there’s been a lot of confusion about who needs to quarantine when regarding like if you’re vaccinated, do you need to quarantine if you’re a close contact, (or) if you’re masked. Is there a difference between the elementary school, and the upper grades, Rice asked.

Alden said that although the district looks to its nurses for information on COVID-19 practices in the schools, students and staff who have been vaccinated and exposed to COVID-19 cases in the schools do not have to quarantine. Once pooled testing is in place, those who are part of testing and don’t test positive when there is a positive case within the pool do not have to quarantine unless they are showing symptoms, she said.

Following a discussion about the confusion among parents and families on when students need to quarantine, Alden agreed to prepare an outline for families to have easy access to information on when students and staff must quarantine.

Also at the board meeting, Assistant Superintendent Leanne Condon gave an update on how the district will support those students who are in quarantine in September. At the elementary schools beginning the week of Sept. 7, quarantining students were given packets with their work assignments until the schools were prepared to send electronic devices home to the students, Condon said.

“If students need packets, and some elementary school students do better with packets, they’ll have those, and if they do OK with (computer applications) and assignments in those platforms, then that’s where their assignments will be,” Condon said.

As of the week of Sept. 13, elementary school students will receive their computer devices at home and their work will be assigned on computer applications, and those students who need learning packets will receive them, Condon said. Quarantining elementary school students will also have access to daily virtual or phone check-ins with a teacher at a minimum of 15 minutes or longer if a family needs more support, she said.

Condon also said that high school students who are quarantining will receive their assignments by computer applications and may email their teachers and advisers to ask questions, or set up a time for virtual support from their teachers.

In other news, Alden said the district held a vaccination clinic Sept. 9 at Buckfield Junior-Senior High School and 12 people, “mostly students,” were vaccinated. At Mountain Valley High School in Rumford nine people were vaccinated, she said. Clinicians will return to both locations Sept. 30 to administer vaccines.

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