TURNER — After listening to two hours of public comment, the first hour entirely from parents and students vehemently against masking in the schools, School Administrative District 52 directors on Thursday night decided to keep its universal mask mandate in place.

“Masks are a tool of suppression and control to kill the light of one’s spirit,” said one mother who declined to tell the board her name out of fear of retaliation against her children, but ended up writing it down for them. “Unmask our children, stop treading on the line of emotional abuse and neglect, stop pushing LGBTQ lifestyles, stop indoctrinating our children into politically charged propaganda. Let’s stand up and unite and do what’s morally and respectfully right in the best interest of our children.”

Another mother pleaded that her son has asthma and “on a daily basis I have to max him out on everything possible — he says he can’t breathe in. As soon as he comes out of school, he’s coughing, he’s wheezing. I just want my son to breathe … I am begging you.”

Thirteen people stood to ask the board to lift the mandate, three to reconsider quarantining requirements and five in favor of staying masked.

A physician said she’d seen a number complications and long-time COVID symptoms in some of her teenage patients, “so that’s been difficult to watch … I also will say that rates overall in Maine have been going up quite a bit and we don’t know who we’re protecting when we wear a mask — that’s the thing about public health, it’s not really sexy and if it’s working, you don’t really know.”

The board voted to require masks indoors and on buses in August, and in not acting Thursday night, kept that in place.

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“As conditions change we’d certainly be remiss if we did not continue to consider our options,” Board of Directors Chairwoman Betsy Bullard said.

Superintendent Kimberly Brandt said the district has had 84 positive COVID-19 cases in the last two months and with the masking and distancing requirements in place, 358 students have not had to quarantine out of school because they were a close contact.

A teacher who also has students in the system questioned the district’s quarantine policy and said she had ethical concerns around pool testing, which the district just put in place this week.

Students who do pool test don’t have to quarantine if they’re determined to be a close contact with someone who tests positive for COVID; students who don’t pool test have to quarantine, even if they test negative at a doctor’s office or pharmacy.

Brandt said the district was following Maine Department of Education and Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Over the course of the two hours, there was applause after each speaker arguing to lift the mandate. After the speakers in favor of keeping it, no sound.

One father presented a contract to the board, to hoots and applause, asking directors to “accept all responsibility for any adverse reactions, injuries and/or long-term effects caused by the mask mandate” and another showed a poster board chart that he described as a risk assessment and the hazards of mask wearing.

“This is not a decision that should be made on a round of applause. This is not a pep rally,” said one mother. “This is a public health issue and the deciding factor should be what is safest for our children and teachers.”

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