AUGUSTA — The Augusta Public Schools will require students, staff and visitors to wear masks — regardless of vaccination status — next school year.

The Augusta Board of Education voted Wednesday night, 5 to 1, to mandate mask wearing. Kati McCormick was the only board member to vote against the measure.

Superintendent James Anastasio “strongly” recommended the board vote in favor of the mandate. He said the basis for his recommendation came from the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention, among other scientific studies, and said he would only make an “unpopular decision on the err of safety.”

“I’m an experienced educator; I don’t have medical training; I don’t pretend to know what professionals in the medical field do,” Anastasio said. “My recommendation to follow recommendation of the CDC is on the basis of following those who are more knowledgeable than I am regarding information on the pandemic.”

He said the Maine Department of Education is “strongly recommending” school in person, universal masking and following other recommendations such as hand washing and staying home when sick. Anastasio said the “big three” in minimizing the spread of COVID-19 in schools are universal masking, vaccination when possible and pool testing, which Augusta agreed to take part in at the end of the last school year.

Anastasio also said the DOE will require schools to report teacher vaccination status, which will be done anonymously and through a survey.


McCormick voted against the mandate, saying she believes the decision for students to wear masks should be up to families, not the school administration.

She asked if it was considered by administration to have a mask mandate for the younger students and recommended for the older students. Anastasio said it’s “easier at all levels” since people move around the district.

“My biggest concern is, I would never go into your home and tell you what’s best for your child,” McCormick said. “I feel like it’s the parent’s decision. I anticipated more discussion before we voted.”

Board Chairperson Amanda Olson told McCormick there had been more of a discussion for the mask mandate at a board workshop a couple of weeks earlier, which McCormick did not attend. McCormick said she wished the discussion about masking would have been at the business meeting instead.

McCormick wondered about a remote option for families if they preferred their child not go into school for safety or medical reasons, but Anastasio said there is “no plan” since the “CDC strongly recommends we have students in school.” He said school officials may work with some families if there is a medial reason, but the district does not have the resources and staffing to offer a full remote option as it did last school year.

Other board members shared their reasoning for voting in favor of the mask mandate.


Board member Martha Witham said masks are “the one thing that will keep everyone safe when school starts” and they are a “small price to pay to get kids back in school full time and to keep everyone safe.”

“This wasn’t a quick decision,” board member Jennifer Dumond said. “I was excited not to have them (masks), but then I saw new data said the delta variant could infect people with the vaccine and could result in a spread. As we learn more, I am comfortable with yes. I would rather go with safety; I want kids to be in school five days a week.”

The Augusta Public Schools will have in-person learning, five days a week. Social distancing was one of the larger issues in the past as to why the schools had to do hybrid learning, but now, social distancing is less of a priority Anastasio said, if universal masking is mandated.

He said universal masking is recommended in schools by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Maine CDC, American Academy of Pediatrics, Department of Education, Maine Education Association, Maine School Management Association, Maine School Superintendent Association, Leadership of Augusta Education Association, and pediatric doctors in Augusta and Winthrop who personally sent Anastasio a letter urging the mandate. He shared the letter from the pediatricians at the board meeting.

“Our children under 12 years of age are not eligible to be vaccinated, so the best thing to protect them is to continue masking and social distancing,” the letter from the local pediatricians said. “Pediatric death is rare, but not zero, so it’s our responsibility to protect all children. The delta variant is so very contagious it appears to cause high viral loads even in vaccinated people who become infected.”

The letter continued, “we know masking works” and applauded children for their efforts in masking in the past school year.

“We fear if we don’t have universal masking,” the letter stated, “there will be outbreaks warranting school closure.”

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