FARMINGTON — The Regional School Unit 9 board of directors is again considering a change to their COVID-19 policies.

The consideration discussed at Tuesday’s meeting follows an update 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.

Under Option A, a COVID-19-positive individual in the district must:

• Isolate for five days.

• Return on day six if symptoms are improving.

• Mask all day, even while outside.

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• Stay 3 feet from others while eating.

Under Option B, a COVID positive individual must isolate for 10 days and can 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 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 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.

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

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

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 3 feet is “very challenging or not possible” in some schools.

Directors Joshua Robbins of Vienna 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.

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“Right now there is not a whole lot of stigma attached to having COVID,” Robbins said.

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

Director Dee Robinson of Chesterville was in favor of Option B for a longer isolation period to avoid added pressure on staff members.

“In a society where staff is stretched to the limit, (decreasing their stress) is where our focus should be,” Robinson said.

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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