TURNER — School officials in Maine School Administrative District 52 are asking for community input on their universal masking policy in light of recent changes to the Department of Education’s quarantine policies.

At the school board meeting Thursday night, Superintendent Kimberly Brandt said the survey would be sent to the school community by email Friday.

She stressed that the primary benefit of universal masking is that all students and staff, regardless of vaccination status or pooled testing participation, are able to remain in school, unless they test positive for COVID-19. Students who test positive are required to quarantine for five days under the new quarantine policies from the DOE.

Students and staff at schools which do not practice universal masking must quarantine if they are a close contact. Students who participate in the district’s pooled COVID-19 testing program, were positive with COVID-19 in the last 90 days, or are fully vaccinated (or have received their booster shot, if 18 or older) would still be exempt from quarantining.

“We know there’s been so much school education, and family disruption related to the quarantining,” Brandt said, adding that she has heard concerns from parents about healthy children needing to quarantine.

According to Brandt, between 45% and 49% of students in the district are vaccinated and about 20% participate in the pooled testing program, meaning at least a third of students would need to quarantine if they were identified as a close contact.

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Three parents spoke during public comment to request that school officials eliminate the universal masking policy.

“You school officials were hired and elected to be leaders,” Anthony Shostak of Greene said Thursday. “But instead of leadership, I see only a sheepish willingness to follow orders and unquestionably accept recommendations from untrustworthy sources, people who’ve squandered the public trust. We need people who know how and when to question orders that diminish the learning environment of our schools, that violate the authority of parents, and psychological torture our children. It is time for this madness to end.”

Crystal Nicholas of Greene additionally likened the practice of masking to abusing children, and Jimmy Childs of Leeds asked the board to provide support for the effectiveness and safety of masking beyond expert opinion.

The results of the survey will be presented to the school community at the next meeting on Feb. 3.

Citing a desperate need for planning time, Brandt asked the board to approve a modification to the school calendar that would increase the number of half days for students during the second semester.

A survey answered by 153 teachers and educational technicians showed that more than 90% were in favor of Brandt’s proposal to change three full days to half days for students only and make up the Dec. 22 half day, which was a snow day, in May instead of June.

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The board ultimately approved making March 30 and May 3 half days for students only. Teachers and educational technicians will use the time not spent teaching to catch up on work and prepare for future lessons. May 27 will become a half day for both students and staff.

Another half day for students only was proposed for Feb. 3, but was shot down due to concerns it would create problems for parents with just two weeks to plan.

The board unanimously approved the receipt of a $30,000 grant from the Hanafin Foundation for additional renovations to the Turner Elementary School library. Administrative Assistant Cassandra Roy was credited with writing the grant proposal.

“Some of the work has already been done, but we did not have enough funding to finish it,” Assistant Superintendent Theresa Gillis said. “I believe this piece of it will get us that much closer.”

Additionally, Steven Bailey, executive director of the Maine School Management Association, gave a presentation to the board about their superintendent search services. Bailey said the association offers several services, for a fee, to help school boards, including creating the job posting, advertising the position, and assisting with the selection of the final candidate.

Brandt announced recently she would retire at the end of the school year.

“I will tell you that you have an attractive superintendent seat here, partly because of the size of the district, the compactness of the district, as well as the offerings and the programs you have here,” he said, adding that the district’s proximity to urban areas will also be appealing.

MSAD 52 serves Turner, Greene and Leeds.

The board will decide at its Feb. 3 meeting which, if any, of the nonprofit’s services they wish to use.


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