LEWISTON — The Lewiston School committee voted 7-2 Monday to implement optional masking on March 14.

The decision followed three hours of discussion and came with a caveat. Superintendent Jake Langlais has the authority to accelerate or delay the move to optional masking.

If Androscoggin County has a low or medium transmission rate Friday, as determined by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Langlais said he will implement optional masking beginning Monday.

The county currently has a high transmission rate, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

However, if the transmission rate stays high, Langlais will keep the universal masking policy in place next week and reconsider implementing optional masking after the CDC next updates county transmission levels March 11.

Even after the optional masking policy takes effect, staff will still be required to mask during in-person staff meetings. At competitions, students and staff will follow the most restrictive guidelines which may require universal masking.


Pooled COVID-19 testing will continue for now, however it may soon be discontinued. The testing program requires significant labor from staff and it has become less effective at identifying positive students, Langlais said.

The meeting drew the largest public turnout since masks were last on the agenda in August, with more than two dozen people in attendance for the policy discussion.

Seventeen parents, students and staff spoke during public comment, with nearly an even split between those who were for and against optional masking.

The discussion was emotional at times, but members of the committee and public remained civil throughout.

Senior student representatives Omar Osman said that beyond a few students with strong opinions, most of those he spoke with were comfortable with the proposed policy change. As a student with asthma, Osman said he would likely continue wearing a mask, but recommended the committee vote for optional masking.

In contrast, Hanna Dualeh, the junior student representative, said she didn’t think it would be safe to lift the universal mask mandate, especially for students at high risk.


Several parents told the committee that the universal masking policy made their children anxious and unhappy to go to school.

“I have to tell you that my kids have never hated school as much as they have the last two years, having to come to school with a mask on every day,” Heather Benson said.

Lewiston high school freshman Marissa Boyer said masks give her headaches and impact her focus in school. Wearing masks indoor for track has been especially difficult, she added.

Yet, a few teachers shared their concerns for the health of themselves and their coworkers, saying teaching students at a 6-foot distance was often not possible.

“We’re making a rash decision before we know all of the ramifications about it,” Lewiston High School teacher Sue St. Hilaire said. “Once we remove masking, it’s going to be really hard to put them back on if we decide Monday that we need to go back to masking.”

Lewiston Middle School teacher Nicole Pendexter said she was concerned students would feel pressured into unmasking, even if their parents wanted them to mask.


According to a survey conducted by the Lewiston Education Association, educators were almost evenly split on the policy, with 54% voting in favor of optional masking, interim president Jaye Rich said.

Several School Committee members expressed concerns that it was too soon to make masking optional, and for a time it seemed likely they would delay voting on the policy until the next meeting on March 14. However, a motion to adopt Langlais’ first optional masking recommendation by Ward 2 representative Janet Beaudoin brought the discussion back to immediate action.

The original recommendation called for optional masking to begin Monday, however committee members compromised by setting the date a week later to March 14. The language which gives Langlais the ability to modify the policy at will was also rewritten for clarity.

Some members who had previously expressed hesitance at approving Langlais’ recommendation chose to vote in support of the amended version, namely Ward 4 representative Elizabeth Eames, At-large representative Megan Parks, and City Council representative Linda Scott.

Ward 4 representative Tanya Whitlow and Chairman Bruce Damon representing Ward 1 voted in opposition to the motion.

The School Committee’s vote follows a growing number of Maine school districts choosing to move to mask optional policies. Districts based in Chelsea, China and Oakland have already voted to drop their mask mandates and more are expected to follow.

The Maine Center for Disease Control is also expected to modify its school masking recommendations, however it is unknown exactly when they will do so. Langlais said Monday he did not know where the state was at in that process.

On Friday, the CDC relaxed its masking guidance, now advising only residents in counties with high transmission to wear masks, further bolstering optional masking pushes.

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