The Regional School Unit 1 school board voted unanimously to make face masks optional in district schools, barring a COVID-19 outbreak, beginning March 14. That decision Monday came a day before the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention recommended the continued use of masking in schools.

The district had issued a survey to students, parents and teachers to gauge how the community felt about optional masking. Superintendent Patrick Manuel said 70% of students, 80% of parents, and 60-70% of teachers responded that they’d be in favor of optional masking.

Manuel said RSU 1 schools reported 128 COVID-19 cases the week ending Jan. 14. The district’s weekly new cases have dropped to 23 cases the week ending Feb. 18.

“Our data is moving in the right direction and the majority of our community supports optional masking,” said Manuel. “When masking becomes optional, there will be people who are happy and relieved, and there will be people who are anxious and fearful. It has been a long two years with a lot of different emotions. Two years ago, we didn’t have vaccinations, pooled testing, distancing and upgraded air ventilation. When masking becomes optional, we will still have those things.”

RSU 1, which serves Bath, Arrowsic, Woolwich and Phippsburg, has had a universal masking policy regardless of vaccination status for all district schools since the start of the school year.

Thirteen parents and students spoke in favor of optional masking.


Several parents expressed frustration at the “inconsistency” their children have been dealing with of late, noting masks were not being required in public places such as restaurants, but have been required in schools.

Other parents, like Charline Wyman, spoke about how their children’s mental health has declined during the pandemic.

“I’ve seen a change in all my kids,” said Wyman. “One kid in particular was at a particularly low point due to the things they had to give up, the friends they couldn’t see, the distancing, the masks, everything. I think we need to think about what it’s doing to their mental health at this point.”

Nina Ryan, Morse High School senior and daughter of board member Lorna Ryan, said she would like masks to be optional for certain strenuous activities like sports and music.

“I witnessed the strangling of my music department as the chorus had to hum last year and some music classes were cut altogether,” said Ryan. “I love my art and it broke me both mentally and emotionally to be deprived of something that’s so vital to us as a school and a community. Forcing students to sing and exercise in masks is ineffective, harmful, and disproportionately enforced.”

Mid Coast Hospital pediatrician and RSU 1 parent Dr. Amina Hanna, who has been advising the district during the COVID-19 pandemic, said decreasing hospital rates have made her “cautiously optimistic” that the community is nearing a point where masks can be optional.


The Brunswick hospital was treating five patients for COVID-19 as of Monday compared to 17 COVID-19 patients a month ago, Hanna said.

“The hospitalization numbers speak for themselves,” said board member Anita Brown. “Continuing to burden our children with the responsibility to protect the adults in our community has passed. There was a time when we were in a crisis … I think that time has passed and our children shouldn’t be carrying that burden any more.”

Maine CDC Director Dr. Nirav Shah said Tuesday during the Maine Public radio show “Maine Calling” that the Maine CDC still recommends masking in schools, but “things are improving.”

“We’re seeing reductions in the number of students who are testing positive, reductions in the number of outbreaks that are happening in schools, reductions all across the board,” said Shah.

Shah said while this drop in cases is encouraging, the Maine CDC is watching to see if that trend continues following school vacation last week. The Maine CDC doesn’t want to signal it’s safe to step away from mandatory masking too quickly and cause another spike in cases, said Shah.

“I understand there’s a lot of enthusiasm around moving away from this,” said Shah. “I want to make sure we’re moving away at the right pace to be protective and make sure we don’t cause a situation that gets worse.”


“We’ve followed CDC recommendations all along and we’ve continued to stay open,” said Hanna. “I think continuing to follow their recommendations makes sense because they’re scientists with the data.”

School board Chairperson Lou Ensel said the school leaders will watch over the next two weeks to see if cases increase following February vacation week and act accordingly if an outbreak is detected before the mask rule officially relaxes.

“We’re trying to find the best balance of keeping everyone safe and bringing some things back to normal,” said Ensel.


The Brunswick School Department also announced a tentative plan on Monday to make masks optional beginning March 14 in anticipation of low COVID-19 infection rates and a predicted change to Maine CDC recommendations.

Superintendent Phil Potenziano said in a newsletter that the final decision will be issued at the March 9 school board meeting, adding that early indications show COVID-19 infections were low during February vacation.


As of Tuesday, the district was reporting 17 active cases of COVID-19 throughout four schools. In total, 691 cases of COVID-19 have been reported this school year as of Tuesday.

“We will continue to monitor these infections and related metrics,” Potenziano said. “We are particularly interested in the rates during the ten days after the February vacation since infections during school vacation will show up then.”

Potenziano added that all other health and safety practices will continue such as pooled testing, facility sanitizing, hand washing, use of outdoor spaces and symptomatic BinaxNOW testing.

The mask mandate for the current school year in Brunswick was first approved by the school board in an 8-1 vote on Aug. 18, 2021.

Within Sagadahoc County, 4,830 people have tested positive for COVID-19 since the pandemic began and 28 have died as of Tuesday, according to the Maine CDC.

Statewide, 227,332 Mainers have tested positive and 2,065 have died since March 2020, according to the Maine CDC.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.