PARIS — A unanimous vote to make masking optional in schools was met with applause by board members and parents alike during Maine School Administrative District 17’s regular board meeting Monday night.

The evening agenda called for directors to consider changing the policy from mandatory to optional as of March 9, but the wording was amended before the item could be heard to make the vote be effective immediately.

Members of the School Administrative District 17 board vote Monday night in Paris to immediately make face masks optional. The mandate had been in place since the COVID-19 pandemic hit Maine in 2020. Nicole Carter/Advertiser Democrat

Oxford Hills Education Association President Jeni Jordan addressed the board on behalf of the district’s educators. She reported that OHEA surveyed members on their position of making masks optional. With about 64% of those surveyed responding, 75% said they were in favor of the change and 25% indicated they were not.

With attendees at the meeting not willing to take chances that the eventual vote might go any other way, during the public comment period several spoke against the mask mandate which has been in place since 2020.

One parent, Sheila Sprague of Otisfield, stated that schools had forced students to wear masks in violation of their inalienable rights and the Nuremberg Code, comparing public health measures against COVID-19 to Nazi atrocities under Third Reich leader Adolph Hitler during the World War II era.

Another, Jason Brine of Oxford, noted the irony of adults sharing a buffet meal on school grounds with no social distancing or masks while kids have to eat at least six feet apart from their friends. He said that any directors who had authorized mandatory masks in schools before the start of the academic year should leave the meeting in shame. Brine has become a fixture at Oxford Hills school board meetings. He told the Advertiser Democrat once the mask mandate issue is resolved he has other district concerns to address.


One person, Rose Lacasse of Harrison, said that if she had to wear a mask when she was a student in school she would have killed herself.

Yet another claimed that for two years the public had been bombarded with fake news and fear mongering about COVID-19. She declared the virus was not as deadly as originally feared, overlooking the fact that close to 1 million Americans have lost their lives and not acknowledging the role that public health measures like face coverings, social distancing and vaccinations have had on the disease.

In other business, Interim Assistant Superintendent Heather Manchester reported that budget committee meetings for the next fiscal year began on March 2. Budget Committee Chair Robert Jewell added that meetings will be held on Wednesdays and that any interested parties are invited to attend.

Manchester also said that parent/student/teacher conferences will be held on March 17. Parents will be given Zoom and in-person options for their meetings.

The following day, March 18, will be a staff workshop day.

District Chief Operating Officer D.J. Thorne added a bit of humor to the meeting during his update, reeling off the Top 10 things he has learned during his four months in the COO role. After he listed the first nine, Thorne told directors that the number one thing he has learned is that “snow day decisions are not fun. And nobody should receive a phone call from (the transportation director) before they have coffee in the morning.”

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