JAY — As of  2 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 7, Regional School Unit 73 has 40 students and six staff test positive for COVID-19 since schools opened in September. Friday the community was notified of two more student cases. 

The initial numbers were shared by Superintendent Scott Albert during the school board meeting.

“That’s 2.7% of our student population,” he said. “Some of those students have returned.” Half were to be back Tuesday, he noted.

In August the board voted to require masks be worn in all school buildings.

Teachers are feeling very overwhelmed, as are families who have had to quarantine, Albert said.

“The biggest issue is we have had to quarantine 296 students because of these 40 exposures,” Albert said. “However, because of the mask exemption we would have had to quarantine 76 other students that we didn’t have to.” Those 76 students do have to quarantine at home and from after-school activities, he noted.

“One of the biggest hits is busing,” Albert said. “That’s a federal rule. There’s a 6-foot rule on buses even if wearing masks. If there’s a kid sitting in the middle of the bus, it takes out quite a few kids.” Older, vaccinated students aren’t affected but there is no vaccine yet for those 11 and under, he noted. Efforts are underway to get the rule changed, he added.

Are systems in place for students to maintain what they were doing, Director Patrick Milligan asked.

“Teachers and staff are working on it,” Albert said. “They’re overwhelmed right now because we have so many kids in quarantine.” The required 10-day quarantine can include a weekend, he noted before adding, “normally, if out sick you wouldn’t have as much to catch up on.”

“Kids coming in, going out, keeping track of everything, it’s been a challenge for staff,” Spruce Mountain Elementary School Principal Pat St. Clair said. Calls are being made daily, teachers are doing lessons for kids that are in school and getting work together for kids in quarantine, having work available for parents when they stop, he noted.

“It’s been quite a process, tweaking it to make it work for the students,” he said.

About 21% of the student body has had to quarantine with about half out now, Albert said when asked.

“That’s what is making it difficult for teachers,” he said. “Certain kids are coming back, others are going out. It would be easier if two classes were to leave then come back at the same time.”

Director John Johnson asked about methods of determining close contacts during sports or outside where masks aren’t required.

In sports, any physical contact is considered a close contact, Albert said. It’s trying to look back through video, see if there was actual physical contact with the student testing positive, he noted.

Have there been any issues with the process, Milligan asked.

“The students have done very well,” Albert said. “We have had some upset parents. I understand. If you quarantine that disrupts your life dramatically.” Last year some kids had to quarantine and coming to school two days a week was a great upheaval for families, he noted.

Understanding the rules can be hard, there’s a lot of calling back and forth with the Maine CDC, sometimes they listen to us, Albert said.

“I think we all dreamed, pictured back in the spring that this was going away, we would have a normal school year and people wouldn’t have to worry,” he said.

In other business it was noted an error had been made regarding public comments at board meetings.

“A month or so ago there was a lot of discussion about masks and we were informed the public didn’t have the opportunity to speak or bring up things not on the agenda,” Livermore Falls resident John Benedetto said. “Looking into this further, it seems that is not the case. I was wondering if the board is going to retract any of the articles and explanations that were put out to the public.”

Those are two separate issues, Board Chairman Robert Staples said. The district’s policy on public comments was reviewed by attorneys and we interpreted it wrong, he said. “(Our lawyers) said the way it should be interpreted is people are allowed to speak.”

The other issue is that board members actually represent the school as a whole, its students and staff, Staples said. “They’re unique in elected officials in that they don’t necessarily represent the electors.”

Staples had shared the information at the Sept. 9 board meeting because of negative responses to the board’s decision to mandate masks in August.

“As far as the public comment, that’s something that we interpreted wrong and we’re sorry about that,” he noted. “That actually changed.”

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