Two Boothbay-Boothbay Harbor Community School District school committee members disagreed Oct. 13 what the schools should do on COVID-19 precautions. Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98’s schools have been following Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention and Maine Department of Education guidelines for returning to school. One of the recommendations is masking in close quarters despite vaccination status and no changes have been made since the guidelines were released in July.
Chair Stephanie Hawke said she would like to review the mask policy because she felt parents should choose whether or not their children should use one. “You go to all these big games and you go shopping and people don't have them on, so it's kind of like – why mask a kid up or even a teacher up for eight hours a day? If you're in a tight area, put them on if you're comfortable, but I think it's time to give people the choice.”
Committee member Ruth Macy said that would be a bad decision. Being a working parent of a child in school is hard when kids are being sent home for quarantine, because most people cannot afford to miss a day and most businesses cannot afford to lose a shift with no notice, she said. People who have, or whose families have, health conditions cannot risk contracting the virus; the policies should be about keeping kids in school and infectious disease experts recommend masks, she said.
“If more kids have to be out and quarantined and are sick, that's a huge hardship on our teaching staff who are barely hanging in there with chronic conditions, cancer histories … A lot of people in our community are caregivers for other people who are sick … Kids are scared to come to school without a mask, don't want to go to school without a mask.”
“I also see those kids at big events and big places who don't have masks on, so that's a little bit of a 'hmm,’” Hawke said. “I'm not going to buy that. There's not solid science saying that the masks work.”
Hawke said she might feel differently if she saw members of the CSD community wearing masks off campus, but that has not been her experience with the public.
“You know we're going to disagree about that,” said Macy. “I think we need to keep the kids in school learning and protect our staff and I think masks are the way that we do that.”
Maine CDC’s Robert Long said in an email, the best way to limit risk of contracting COVID-19 is getting vaccinated; anyone who cannot be vaccinated and anyone who has been vaccinated and is spending more than 15 minutes indoors should wear a mask to further reduce risk. Long said infectious disease experts have long known the virus is most often transmitted through airborne respiratory droplets and the best way to prevent those droplets from being released is by wearing a mask. Masks serve as a barrier from droplets released by others and frequent hand washing prevents exposure to droplets on surfaces, he said.
“Staying home when you experience any symptoms (is another way) to limit potential transmission,” said Long. “Requiring mask use in schools is a responsible service to the community, one that helps protect students and staff.”
Committee member Abby Jones said the first community outreach subcommittee meeting for the building exploratory committee will be after the next BEC meeting, which begins at 5:15 p.m. Oct. 27. Superintendent Robert Kahler said the fields and grounds subcommittee will also be scheduling meetings. Said Jones, “Anyone should feel welcome to come or try to Zoom in. You don't have to be an official part of the committee to observe a meeting, but if you would like to officially be on the committee, please let me know.”
Kahler said the CSD has been reconnecting students with their communities through field trips and by rekindling relationships with local organizations. Boothbay Region High School students will also soon have their community service requirements reinstated with juniors and seniors committing 10 hours by graduation, sophomores 15, and freshmen the full 20 hours.
“We're keeping things as safe as possible. Businesses are being very adaptable to this and so are we, so we're really trying to edge back toward where we would like to be.”
Hawke announced the resignations of educational technician III’s Madeleine McLellan and Kathie Barton Stephenson and new hires Alyssa Dunton for part-time food service and ed tech III’s Jacob Bishopp and Sylvia Morrison.