NORTH ANSON — Students at Carrabec High School will be required to wear masks when they return to school Monday after state health officials investigating a COVID-19 outbreak determined that transmission of the virus likely happened at the school.

As a result of the outbreak, students were sent home last Friday to learn remotely for a week. Students were previously not required to wear masks and it was left up to parents to decide.

Although health officials have also linked an outbreak to the Carrabec Community School, it’s believed that transmission occurred outside of school, a determination that’s allowed the building serving K-8 students to stay open for instruction.

Carrabec Community School will also have a mask mandate in place for 14 days when students arrive to school on Monday. Beginning next week the district will operate under a new color-coded COVID-19 response plan.

About 10 people spoke up at a Regional School Unit 74 board of directors meeting Wednesday, including parents, teachers and health care professionals, with all but two supporting a mask requirement in schools.

One teacher compared the reopening plan to the sinking of the Titanic and pleaded with board members to enact a mask mandate at all schools, despite some parents urging there be no such requirement.

Missy Miller, a teacher at Carrabec Community School, tells the Regional School Unit 74 board of directors Wednesday that her entire class has been quarantined because of exposure to COVID-19. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“It’s not working. This is the definition of insanity,” said Missy Miller, a teacher at Carrabec Community School. “I’m just asking that you have them wear a mask. You can come visit me tomorrow in my classroom. I’ll be there all by myself, because all of my kids are home quarantining.”

District officials made the decision in August for optional masking and upheld it on Sept. 1, the same day officials delayed freshmen orientation at the high school after learning of several cases of COVID-19.

Superintendent Mike Tracy on Wednesday presented the board with the same color-coded system that he presented on Sept. 1. Tracy said that his recommendation would be a 30-day mask mandate for all students and staff, given the number of cases that have been documented at the high school since Aug. 18.

Mike Tracy, Regional School Unit 74 superintendent, speaks Wednesday during a school board meeting about different masking options for the school year. The meeting was held at Carrabec Community School in North Anson. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

“My recommendation is that we would either mask up the district for 30 days to put this to bed, to help slow transmission, or at the very least the board allows me to adopt this (color-coded) plan,” Tracy said.

He said the district is considering pool testing, in which samples from multiple people are combined and tested, in an effort to limit positive cases and reduce the number of students forced to quarantine.

The color-coded plan, which the board ultimately adopted Wednesday, is separated into four phases: green, yellow, orange and red.

Under the green plan, masks are not required as long as no more than one student is positive for COVID-19. Two cases move a school into a yellow phase in which masks are required for 14 days to mitigate potential spread of the virus and in-person instruction remains in place.

More than three cases in a school, or what is considered an outbreak by state health officials, would fall under an orange or red designation. Orange requires masking but allows a school to remain open. This likely would be the designation if COVID-19 cases were not believed to have been spread at school. Under the red plan, students would learn remotely from home.

The district so far has had at least 18 positive cases of COVID-19 and dozens more people sent home to quarantine. At Carrabec High School, there have been 11 cases, five of which are active. Tracy said that a handful of the earlier cases were associated with the school and occurred up to two weeks before the school year began for students Sept. 1.

Parent Jesse Frost tells the Regional School Unit 74 board Wednesday that it’s up to a parent to decide if a child should wear a mask, not the school board. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

Parents who spoke Wednesday in favor of a mask mandate said if there’s virus transmission that forces the district to send students home to learn remotely then those children are often home alone because the parents are unable to alter their work schedules on short notice.

At nearby Maine School Administrative District 59 in Madison, officials decided to shift to remote learning after an increase in COVID-19 cases in the community contributed to staffing shortages at districts schools. Madison has also opted for an optional masking policy, though the matter is scheduled for discussion at Monday’s school board meeting.

At Skowhegan-based MSAD 54, the district has documented 17 positive cases as of Wednesday. An outbreak investigation was opened by the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention on Tuesday at Bloomfield Elementary School, but the building remains open for instruction.

This district has had a mask mandate in place for students and staff.

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