SULLIVAN — The Regional School Unit 24 (RSU 24) Board of Directors discussed its potential guidelines for returning to in-person learning for the upcoming school year — including guidelines surrounding mask-wearing — at its July 20 organizational meeting.
Language for the guidelines was not finalized, so it did not need a formal vote of approval from the board. Finalization will likely come at the board’s Aug. 10 meeting.
Some board members voiced their personal support for requiring eligible students and staff who have not yet been vaccinated to wear a mask while inside school buildings but did not want it to be required. That is due in part to the difficulty in enforcing such a requirement and to avoid creating divisions among the school community.
“Unfortunately, wearing masks has become this political thing,” said board member Andrea St. George Jones, later adding, “The goal is to get every child back in school.”
Additionally, the board and RSU 24 Superintendent Michael Eastman emphasized the need to get all students back to in-person learning, with Eastman noting the importance in balancing the mental well-being of students and staff with their physical health and safety.
He also reported that some parents have told him that they would not send their kids back to in-person learning if wearing masks remains a requirement.
Jackson Green, the newly named principal of Sumner Memorial High School, supported the general consensus of the board to encourage vaccinations while making mask-wearing optional and also voiced his desire to avoid creating divisions among the school community.
“We want kids to come back [to school],” he said.
The district’s proposed plan establishes three levels, with level one being in-person learning for all students following enhanced safety precautions (the level proposed to start the 2021-22 school year). Level two would establish hybrid learning if required by the Maine Department of Education or if a dramatic increase of COVID-19 cases occurs and level three would initiate the district’s full remote learning model.
Because the district will only offer a virtual learning option if required, or if COVID-19 cases increase, families that do not want their students to wear masks at school would be left with homeschooling as their only option to receive an education, Eastman said, noting, “We got a lost population out there.”
According to the draft of the guidelines, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have federally recommended that masks be required for any student or staff member who is not fully vaccinated.
Jennifer DesJardin was the only board member present who voiced strong opposition to not requiring masks for those who are not fully vaccinated, asking why the board would not follow recommendations set forth by the CDC initially, but would follow them if an increase of COVID-19 cases were to occur.
One non-negotiable guideline from the CDC is that students and staff must wear masks when utilizing school transportation.
Proposed guidelines also include not requiring mask-wearing for when students are outside and elementary school students.