Dirigo Elementary School Principal Charlie Swan speaks Tuesday at the Regional School Unit 56 board of directors meeting at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. Swan requested the board hire a part-time dean for clerical work, guidance and other assistant principal-type duties, and for support to truant and high-absentee students. The board approved. Seated at right is Deanna Dolloff of Peru. Marianne Hutchinson, Rumford Falls Times

DIXFIELD — The Regional School Unit 56 board of directors approved a request Tuesday  for a part-time dean of students for Dirigo Elementary School on Tuesday.

Principal Charlie Swan requested the position, which would be for an hour a day and include a $6,500 annual stipend.

Some duties will be clerical work, guidance and other assistant principal-type duties, and supporting truant and high-absenteeism students, he said.

When Swan began working at the school in 2011, he had a part-time assistant principal and a part-time secretary. For various reasons the positions were eliminated, he said.

The school population has remained about the same in recent years, fluctuating from 340 to 409 students. On Aug. 30, the first day of school, enrollment was about 355 students.

“What’s changed coming to this year is the nature of my staff has changed,” Swan said. “I now have eight or nine teachers who are in their first three years of teaching, and when I first started, the majority of my staff were pretty veteran (teachers).”


He said he needs to invest more time with newer staff.

“We want them to grow and learn, and if they want to feel connected to our school that’s really where my focus needs to be to support them,” he said.

In another matter, Director Kathleen Szostek of Dixfield asked the board to have a discussion about COVID-related matters. She said she is “very concerned” about the possibility of future school lockdowns, social distancing and masking because of possible coronavirus outbreaks.

Regional School Unit 56 Director Kathleen Szostek of Dixfield, center, speaks Tuesday against future school closures, social distancing and masking for COVID-19-related issues. Directors Tim Kelly of Dixfield, left, and Joy Bradbury of Peru listen during the meeting at Dirigo High School in Dixfield. Marianne Hutchinson, Rumford Falls Times

“So, I would like this board to weigh in on fear-based or fact-based responses to COVID,” she said. “I think the lockdowns are very damaging to our students in all different ways, educationally (and to) mental health.

“We now know that the COVID vaccines neither prevent infection nor transmission, that there is not a study or a consensus that masks work even,” Szostek said.

According to an article in the Portland Press Herald on July 11, Maine is one of four remaining states with some type of COVID-19 vaccine requirement.


“Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Maine has followed the science in developing policies to limit the spread of the virus,” DHHS Commissioner Jeanne Lambrew said in a statement in early July. “Today, a robust body of evolving evidence tells us that this requirement achieved its goals of saving lives and protecting health at a crucial time. We continue to encourage all Maine people, including dedicated health care workers tending to Maine’s most vulnerable residents, to stay up to date on COVID-19 vaccination,” the article stated.

Szostek asked the board to make a motion that the district “stand against school closings at this time for any health emergency, as well as social distancing mandates for COVID vaccines and mask-wearing, and we will continue to monitor the changing circumstances and act accordingly.”

Chairwoman Barbara Chow of Dixfield objected, saying, “Right now there is nothing that we have gotten from the state on anything so I don’t know what board action you seem to think we need.”

She said she had no interest in voting on COVID-related issues in the district “because I look for data and I also know as a school board member, when the law tells me to do something, we do what the law tells us to do.”

Directors Brad Dyer of Carthage, Tina Courtway of Peru and Liz Kelly of Dixfield agreed with Szostek.

“My feeling on this,” Dyer said, “if it came to a board action I would under no circumstances support masking, social distancing, school closures, for any other reason other than an anthrax attack or some other emergency. I’ve talked to a lot of people in this community; it was destructive what was done” closing schools during the coronavirus pandemic, he said.


Director Larry Whittington of Dixfield strongly opposed Szostek’s proposal and read a lengthy prewritten response.

“They are playing ‘Chicken Little’ to try to scare us once again the sky is falling,” he said. “Mask mandate. What mask mandate?”

“The focus of the school board tonight should be on the concerns of our students, Whittington said. “That means pay attention to what the students and teachers are saying and doing what the school board directors were elected to do.”

Director Natalie Sneller of Canton said at this point “it’s probably a nonissue.”

Director Don Whittemore of Carthage agreed, saying people were “kind of jumping the gun” since there are no COVID-related requirements. He said he would vote against any future restrictions due to coronavirus-related issues in the schools.

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