FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 (RSU 9) Board of Directors is faced with a decision to again amend the district’s pandemic procedures for isolation of COVID-19 positive individuals.

The consideration discussed at the Tuesday, Jan. 25, meeting follows an update on guidance from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The updated procedures offer the board two choices on isolation for staff and students who test positive for COVID-19. The board will vote to adopt one of them at a special meeting Tuesday, Feb. 1.

Under Option A, a COVID-19-positive individual in the district would have to:

• Isolate for five days.

• Return on day six if symptoms are improving.

• Mask all day, even while outside.


• Stay three feet from others while eating.

Under Option B, a COVID positive individual would have to isolate for 10 days and return to school only if symptoms are improving.

Under both options and the current policy, nurses consult with students to confirm that symptoms are improving before they are given the go-ahead to return to school.

RSU 9 administration is recommending Option B for a variety of reasons, Director of Curriculum Laura Columbia said.

Option A would identify COVID-positive students to classmates and compromise their privacy because they have to mask and distance more than other students. Additionally, she said, enforcing the policies of Option A would be “difficult to manage and track” for staff who are already at capacity with the added responsibilities of COVID-19 safety procedures and amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 omicron variant.

“It does put a lot of pressure on the staff, substitutes to be able to (enforce the policies, track students),” Superintendent Chris Elkington said.


He added that Option A could cause “confrontation” between the COVID-19-positive students and their classmates.

However, the main advantage of Option A is that it would prevent students from missing more school in a year with immense absences and, in some RSU 9 schools, lower test scores as a result.

During discussion, Director Kirk Doyle of Farmington offered the idea of enforcing universal masking outdoors and distancing while eating for all students in order to “remove the stigma we are concerned about and keep as many kids in school as possible.”

“That would be inconvenient but we’re sacrificing convenience for having fewer absences,” Doyle said.

Columbia said the nursing teams discussed this option. However, they concluded that outdoor recesses are the only points when students can have a mask break, aside from eating. Additionally, she said distancing all students by three feet is “very challenging or not possible” in some schools.

Director Joshua Robbins of Vienna felt that requiring masks for all students while outside “is going to have a really negative impact on [them].”


“It’s going to disappoint a lot of students if we say everybody has to wear masks outside,” Robbins said.

Robbins and Betsey Hyde of Temple raised the point that students already know who is testing positive, so they don’t believe Option A will add further stigma.

“I would encourage everyone to consider that students know who’s getting COVID,” Robbins said. “The stigma that was attached to [contracting COVID] maybe early on [in the pandemic], I don’t think it’s there [now] to the same extent.”

“My daughter comes home every day and gives me a list of who has COVID,” Hyde added. “[Students] know exactly who has COVID.”

Doyle clarified that his suggestion is based on any concern about “the anonymity piece.”

“I would rather look at [Option A] than not have kids in school,” Doyle said. “My primary preference would be just what [Robbins] said.”


Robbins suggested it would be “fair” to give families a choice of keeping their kids from school for the additional five days or sending them to school on day six with the added caveats.

“I think you’ll find most students will choose to come back and abide by the other regulations,” he said.

Director Dee Robinson of Chesterville was in favor of Option B for a longer isolation period to avoid added pressure on staff members. Robinson felt there would be a stigma with either option because students will notice when a classmate is out for 10 days, so supporting staff is the priority.

“I think the balance, the basis of this should be, ‘we know that the stigma is going to happen to the child, what’s going to happen to the staff?'” Robinson posed. “In a society where staff is stretched to the limit, (decreasing their stress) is maybe where we should be sending our focus.”

She added that it could help the board to have some parent input brought to the next meeting where they will make a decision.

Ultimately, Elkington said the administration is “not very happy right now that the CDC and Maine DOE” have issued this guidance change since they just recently amended the isolation requirements from 10 days to five without these added caveats.

On Jan. 6, the board changed its COVID policies to decrease isolation lengths in accordance with Maine CDC and Department of Education recommendations.

“The reason I am asking for another board meeting is so you can think more about this next week,” Elkington said. “I wish I had a better answer for you, which is why I’m offering more time.”

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