GARDINER — Krysty Woodcock stepped up to the podium in front of the Maine School Administrative District 11 school board and shared her stance on students and teachers wearing a mask inside the classroom.

“From the teaching part, they need to see faces, they need to see,” she said. “They are movers, they need to move around the classroom. They need to breathe.”

Woodcock used her experience in the classroom, as a first grade teacher, as well as that of her three children who wore a mask last year and participated in hybrid learning. She saw them struggle “emotionally, mentally, then saw them flourish in the summer.”

She spoke for a majority of the audience who were vocal during the public comment section of Thursday night’s school board meeting. Parents who spoke wanted mask wearing to be a “choice” they could make for their children.

Ultimately, however, the MSAD 11 school board voted to mandate masks inside buildings. Board members said their decisions came down to keeping the “2,000 children they represent, safe.”

“I believe parents have a right to make a decision, but your right ends when it effects my grandchildren,” said board member Jim Lothridge. “I have granddaughters in New York, California and right here (in Gardiner), and they will run to get vaccinated, which we hope is soon. That’s when you can make a decision about masking or vaccination or not — when my granddaughters are safe because they have been fully vaccinated.”


He spoke for most board members. In addition to Lothridge, Nancy Fortier-Brown, Elissa Tracey, Cullen McGough, Tony Veit, Matthew Lillibridge, Becky Fles, Veronica Babcock and Matthew Marshall all voted for being in school, five days a week with a mask mandate.

The motion included a monthly check-in on mask use and the formation of a coronavirus response team comprised of board members, staff, teachers and community members. Marshall said he would have liked to vote against the mask mandate, but agreed with the monthly check-ins and other aspects of the motion.

Theresa Guerrette, Nicole Madore and Patrick Saucier voted against the motion.

After Thursday’s meeting, Fles said the COVID-19 response team will be discussed at the board’s Sept. 2 business meeting, but it is expected to meet on a monthly basis. Fles said the MSAD 11 team is “trying its best to be inclusive and trying hard to grow and improve.”

Only Veit was in favor of pool testing, which was voted down as other board members noted the community’s hesitancy and the amount of work it would be for staff. Lillibridge, who works at Colby College which is doing something similar to pool testing, offered to help the school make it as smooth as possible if it came down to it.

The board, which represents the towns of Gardiner, Pittston, Randolph and West Gardiner, also voted against having a virtual academy this year.


MSAD 11 Superintendent Patricia Hopkins and Director of Curriculum and Instruction Angela Hardy gave a presentation on the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention recommendations and community survey results. The survey on universal masking had three options for parents, guardians and staff members: Yes, yes with conditions, or personal decision. Hardy said 840 families responded.

One parent, Chris Soto, said he is a professional survey researcher and “crunched the numbers,” and said between the yes and yes with conditions, around 52% of parents who responded to the survey were in favor of the mask mandate and 75% of teachers were in favor. Hardy said 55% of staff responded.

Parents were also asked if they would send their children on the school buses complying with the federal public transportation mask mandate — 63.7% said they would and 36.3% said they would drive their students to school.

Fles read about 30 emails and letters, all communications that had been sent to the board for public comment.

The meeting was livestreamed on YouTube, and leading up to the vote, 328 people tuned in. The meeting was moved from the Superintendent’s Office Board Room to the Little Theater at Gardiner Area High School in response to the large crowd.

Of those who joined in-person, most said they have never been to a board meeting or planned on speaking.


Two students spoke, including Gwen Bolduc-Ignasik, who spoke in favor of the mask mandate. She said she was torn, but overall would rather wear a mask if it meant not missing school. Bolduc-Ignasik said she “loves learning and being in school.”

Per updated CDC guidelines, if a school opts for universal mask wearing and social distancing of 3 feet, only close contacts to a COVID-19 case who are showing symptoms have to quarantine. Board members voted for universal masking mainly for this reason, citing students who previously had to quarantine for weeks at a time.

“If it’s between quarantining a bunch of people because they are not wearing a mask, it’s not worth missing out on school because they are not safe,” Bolduc-Ignasik said. “I think everyone should have to wear masks.”

Another student, Lily Diversi said she thinks masking should be a parent’s choice. She said she did not plan on speaking, but thought the board would like to hear from a student. Her mother is the school nurse, she said.

Diversi spoke to the audience on how she missed almost all of her soccer and lacrosse seasons and thought by now, the pandemic would be over. Over the past year, she quarantined five times.

“I’ve done my part, I feel,” she said. “I’ve quarantined, lost weeks out of my lacrosse season, part of my soccer season, I wasn’t at school for half the year, I was online. It’s disheartening.

“I thought doing everything everyone was telling me to, I’m fully vaccinated and hoped it would let me not wear a mask,” Diversi added. “I hoped it would move us forward.”

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