HALLOWELL — In an email to staff last week, Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold said 85% of the district’s COVID-19 cases have come from teachers and staff, not students.

“With over 85% of RSU 2’s positive covid cases coming from staff members who were exposed outside of school, we are asking that as you plan for February break please find ways to enjoy yourself without increasing exposure to the virus,” she wrote in the email sent to staff Feb. 3. “We need to continue to be good role models for our students and the families within our communities.”

In the email, Arnold attached the RSU 2 employee handbook section related to COVID safety. She also noted the coronavirus guidelines related to travel outside the state, which calls for individuals to quarantine for 10 days.

“Our students and your team need you to be able to return to work after our nine day break,” Arnold wrote.

On Feb. 4, she sent another message to staff responding to criticism that she received after sending out her initial communication.

“I am hearing that some were upset by the facts in my email asking for everyone to keep up our efforts related to safety from COVID 19, including during our vacation planning,” Arnold wrote in her follow-up message to staff. “My intention was not to hurt feelings or place blame, so I apologize if that was the result for anyone.

“The point of the message was to emphasize that we are not out of the woods yet, and to ask for help continuing to support safety for all,” she added. “Particularly, to ask for extra efforts that might help support our school nurses and administrators who are burdened with additional time on the clock responding to reports of cases.”

In the second email, she said the majority of cases in the district that resulted in contact tracing are staff members.

“No matter how we look at the data, the majority of our contact tracing situations have been associated with reported cases who are staff members,” Arnold wrote in the Feb. 4 email. “We are finding that this fact is contrary to common perception. Overall, sharing the data with you was intended to help reverse a common misconception, and emphasize how important our staff is to our ability to serve our students.”

While the email indicated it was sharing data, no total COVID-19 case breakdown between staff and students was included in either of the superintendent’s emails.

Arnold did not respond to requests for comment or to provide specific information about RSU 2’s positive cases to corroborate her claim that 85% are coming from staff.

In addition, when Arnold announces cases to the public, Arnold does not specify whether they are staff members or students.

Since the start of January, she has publicly reported 17 positive COVID-19 cases. The last reported cases were Feb. 1 at Richmond High School and Monmouth Academy.

According to its website, RSU 2 has approximately 430 district employees; there are approximately 1,089 students in its seven schools according to the DOE’s 2021 data.

Arnold’s claims also do not match statewide data.

Kelli Deveaux, spokesperson for the Maine Department of Education, said teachers and staff are accounting for 25% of cases in schools statewide.

“Our statewide data do not reflect teachers compromising the majority of cases attributed to schools,” Deveaux said.

According to the Maine DOE’s data, there have been 930 coronavirus cases among students and 377 among staff members statewide.

Deveaux added that the case counts are “not an indication on how the virus enters school communities; they simply reflect the number of cases associated with school outbreak investigations.”

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