HALLOWELL — The Kennebec-Intra District School Education Association and staff have “lost patience” with Regional School Unit 2 Superintendent Tonya Arnold’s form of communication to the district.

KIDSEA President Keith Morang issued a statement late Tuesday on behalf of the educators’ union critical of how Arnold communicates with staff. He cited an email sent by the superintendent last week, claiming that RSU 2 staff is responsible for 85% of the positive COVID-19 cases the seven schools in the district have seen.

“The Association, and staff, has lost patience with the manner in which Superintendent Arnold communicates to those trying so hard to provide a quality education in the most trying of times to the students in RSU2,” Morang said in the statement. “It is highly irresponsible for a Superintendent to send out a communication to almost 400 staff suggesting one can determine where, or where not, staff contracted this terrible virus.”

In Arnold’s email Feb. 3, she told the RSU 2 staff community to “find ways to enjoy themselves without increasing exposure to the virus,” during February vacation, which starts next Monday. She added that the RSU 2 nurses and principals have worked “many additional hours on evenings and weekends” to contact trace and communicate to families and staff about positive COVID-19 cases.

Since the start of January, RSU 2 has reported 17 positive COVID-19 cases.

“While we support urging staff to continue the extraordinary efforts they have exhibited so far this school year to help keep students and colleagues safe, the manner in which Superintendent Arnold chose to convey this to staff by utilizing claims she cannot substantiate has once again left many discouraged and demoralized,” Morang said in the statement to the Kennebec Journal.

The Maine Department of Education said that based on statewide data they have collected for COVID-19 cases, teachers and staff have made up 25% of cases, contrary to Arnold’s claim of 85%.

Arnold started in RSU 2 this school year and took over as superintendent for Mary Paine, after Paine filled in for Cheri Towle, who resigned for medical reasons. Arnold previously worked as superintendent and principal of Vinalhaven School.

She said that it was “never her intention to place the blame” on her staff members.

“I get high-level data when a contact situation has to be initiated and they tell me if it’s a staff member or student. I make notes each time,” she said. “When I went back and counted the majority of the situations, they initiated from staff members with positive results.”

Arnold did not want to get in to the numbers, but stood by her statement that staff accounted for the “majority of the situations.” She also declined to provide the data she used to arrive at her 85% claim.

“The main point RSU 2 is focused on is to remain diligent on our goal of having everyone healthy and safe in school,” Arnold said.

She added that RSU 2 has been “fortunate to have been able to provide as many in person-days for our students as we have managed.”

“We recognize this is due to the dedication of our staff, students and families following the safety guidelines,” Arnold said.

She said that her Feb. 3 email was to remind staff not to “let guards down too soon” and for a reminder of “continued vigilance.”

“I am self-reflective and continue to try and focus the district in trying to serve students the best we can in the middle of the pandemic, while keeping everyone safe,” Arnold said in response to the union’s criticism of her communication style.

“The virus is no one’s fault,” she said. “We need to be a unified team working against the spread of the virus, and not allow disagreements to distract us from the goal of keeping everyone safe and our schools open.”

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