Tom Danylik, interim principal at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford, addresses Regional School Unit 10 directors meeting Monday at school. Danylik spoke about the district Equity Committee. Marianne Hutchinson/Rumford Falls Times

RUMFORD — The Regional School Unit 10 board of directors voted 8-3 Monday to continue a mask mandate while students are in school buildings to limit the spread of COVID-19.

Voting in favor were Jennifer Adams of Sumner, Chairman Greg Buccina and Abbey Rice, both of Rumford, Bonnie Child and Peter DeFilipp, both of Mexico, Chad Culleton of Hartford, Gail Parent of Hanover and Jerry Wiley of Buckfield.

Voting in opposition were Justeen LaPointe of Roxbury, Bill Hobson of Rumford and Michelle Casey of Buckfield.

Dan Hodge of Rumford and Janet Brennick of Mexico were absent.

At the start of the school year, the board agreed to vote monthly on the masking requirement, but since there is only one board meeting in November because of the Thanksgiving holiday, the next vote will be Dec. 13 at Mountain Valley High School in Rumford.

The entire state has a high rate of COVID-19 community transmission, according to the webpage maine.gov/COVID-19.

Superintendent Deb Alden wrote in her masking recommendation to the school board Monday that the district “continues to have multiple COVID-19 cases in all of our schools.” She said the vaccination rate in Oxford County is 65%, compared to the state average of 70%.

“I don’t believe my kids should be sitting in school all day long wearing a mask,” LaPointe said. “We have a handful of parents that believe (masks don’t work) and don’t want their kids wearing a mask every single day to school. (Kids) get out of school, they all hang out, they go to fairs, they go to dances.”

Buccina told LaPointe board members have to learn to agree to disagree. “But we have to follow what the majority (of the board) asks us to do. And right now, the tool is that the masks are supposed to stop the spread of the virus, that’s the tool that we have to work with.

“I don’t disagree with what you’re saying,” Buccina said. “I don’t think anybody wants to wear a mask all day. But if we can look at the greater good, and say, I’m helping somebody else stay safe. I believe that that’s what we should do.”

“I get what you’re saying because we have (student school board representatives) right here,” Casey said,
“but really this violates everything I believe in. I’ve been sitting here with this mask on and I am not happy about it because I didn’t choose that our school (should mandate mask wearing).

“I’m not a subject, I’m a citizen,” she said. “I have free will and the freedom to look and believe in what I believe in. There is no government mandate right now to wear this mask and I shouldn’t have to do it.”

Buccina asked Casey and LaPointe to respect the students in the room by wearing masks, and he reminded them that they can participate in meetings virtually if they don’t want to wear masks at meetings.

Alden reported that for the week ending Oct. 22, there were a total of 11 cases of the virus in all seven schools. There have been 81 positive cases since the start of the school year in September.

The district has been participating in pooled testing for coronavirus for over five weeks, Alden said.

“It is truly the best way for anybody that hasn’t been vaccinated to be able to have an opportunity to stay in school if you happen to be (a close contact of) a positive COVID-19 exposure,” Alden said.

In other business, members of the district’s Equity Committee presented a mission statement it developed.

“Our statement is that at RSU 10 it’s our collective responsibility to create and maintain a safe space for all students, families and staff,” Rumford Elementary School Principal Jill Bartash said. “We’re committed to elevating marginalized voices in order to grow and learn, and to become an anti-racist and anti-biased (community).”

The 35-member committee includes Bartash, Mountain Valley High School’s interim Principal Tom Danylik, Special Education Director Clarissa Fish, along with teachers, educational technicians, bus drivers-custodians, school resource officers, school psychologists, high school students, school board members and administrators, Bartash said.

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