READFIELD — As soon as Kerry Anderson received an email with the news Regional School Unit 38 would make masks optional for students, teachers and staff, she started to have a physical reaction of shaking.

“I was devastated and so saddened by the unnecessary risk the decision will entail,” she said.

Anderson, the German teacher at Maranacook Community High School, heard the news after Wednesday night’s school board meeting, during which it voted 7-6 to strongly encourage people to wear masks — but not require them — inside school buildings. RSU 38 Superintendent Jay Charette had recommended universal mask wearing and following Center for Disease Control guidelines.

The board on Wednesday narrowly passed the motion of optional mask use and left the decision to wear masks up to parents and guardians. Masks are “strongly recommended” for students and staff who are not vaccinated against COVID-19.

The decision has worried families, students and teachers and many have been vocal against the decision on social media. On the school district’s Facebook page, news of the announcement gathered more than 240 comments and 14 shares.

Some people who commented on the Facebook post said there was not enough notice about Wednesday’s school board meeting. It was noted on the school website, but it was an in-person meeting only not via Zoom.


In response to the outcry, the RSU 38 school board has called an emergency meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Maranacook Community High School. There will be a “listen only” Zoom link for those who cannot attend in person. Masking at the meeting is “recommended for anyone unvaccinated” and for people who are not, the administration is “respectfully asking others to wear a mask.”

“We are expecting a large number of people in an enclosed space, so we want to be cautious,” Charette said in an email to the Kennebec Journal about masking at the meeting, since the school board just voted to make it optional. “It is not ‘required.'”

Some students and teachers are scared about what school will be like if people are not required to wear masks inside buildings. Everyone is required to wear them on buses.

One person who reached out to the Kennebec Journal said “teachers are leaving” and asking for leaves of absences. When asked if any teachers have resigned, Charette said there haven’t been any.

“No, not at this point in time,” he said.

After “doing everything right,” Anderson contracted COVID-19 last year and was out of school for about a month. She said “it’s so important” to take all “the measures and tools necessary to reduce the spread of the virus.” Anderson was upset to hear a majority of the board voted against the recommendation of health professionals.


“It’s not an individual thing, there is a lot of concern for everyone’s health and and students right now,” she said. “All of our students under 12 do not have the opportunity to get vaccinated, there is just a lot of concern for everyone’s wellbeing.”

The CDC released a dashboard Tuesday to track vaccination status of eligible students and plans to release one for teachers — RSU 38 has a vaccination rate between 50% to 74% for students under the age of 18 who are eligible for the vaccine.

Two sisters — Lina and Ella Martinez Nocito — a junior and freshman, respectively, were homeschooled last year for personal reasons. The are returning to Maranacook Community High School this year as planned. They said it will be the “third school year” they will have to deal with masks and were “really surprised” by the board’s decision.

They and their mother, Jenny Martinez Nocito, wish the board followed the recommendation to require masks be worn inside buildings.

“Saying they want the school year to be ‘normal’ is a big part in saying they don’t want us to wear masks, but I think it’s the opposite — it will make it more normal, we want to be back to normal,” Ella Martinez Nocito said. “It’s not an option not to at this point. Its scientifically proven to reduce transmissions. If we don’t mandate (mask wearing) and go against CDC recommendations, and Maine schools shut down and have to quarantine from COVID-19 outbreaks, it won’t be a good learning environment.”

As of Aug. 5, the CDC recommends “universal indoor masking” for students in kindergarten to 12th grade due to the “highly contagious” delta variant, regardless of vaccination status.


While the Martinez Nocito sisters did not participate in remote learning last year, they said their friends have talked about not wanting to go through the process again.

Universal masking allows students to skip the quarantine process, which can be up to 10 days or until a negative COVID-19 test is shown. Before, whole classrooms would be considered “close contacts” and have to quarantine if a student or teacher in the class tested positive for the virus. The district is participating in pool testing, which has the same incentive the universal masking has for quarantining.

“Maranacook is a great school, that’s why I want to be there as much as possible,” Lina Martinez Nocito said.

Science teacher Jean Roesner said she has made sacrifices for the community all along, including attending church services online, visiting with her grandparents outside, masking within the community and keeping her distance. She said she tried to look at the masking approach from both angles — she said her actions are “swayed by data and research” — and looked for studies regarding mask use and wear being a health risk for students.

Roesner will continue to wear a mask to school.

“I honestly wish I could say I found anything, something, but I didn’t,” she said. “A data-driven decision in this case means every student should come back with universal masking.”


Maranacook junior Jaden Bryant shared the views of the Martinez Nocito sisters: He assumed there would be universal masking, mainly because the school districts around RSU 38 have mandated it. He is vaccinated and plans to wear a mask.

“It protects not only them (other people), but everyone else around them,” he said. “If they bring the virus to family or friends, or if someone gives them long-term COVID-19, or even dies, that would be really horrible.”

Bryant said he is fine with pool testing, but the idea of doing a nose swab every day might “be a little uncomfortable.”

Lina Martinez Nocito said her friends have thought about writing letters to the school board to urge them to reverse their decision. She said friends she has spoken with since the decision was made are “upset and worried.” Both sisters are vaccinated and said they, along with their friends, are still opting to wear a mask.

“High school students are taught to think before we react and think about our future,” Lina Martinez Nocito said. “Us supporting masks, that’s exactly what we are doing.”

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