GARDINER — One parent asked the Maine School Administrative District 11 School Board if “masks are really working.”

But MSAD 11 Superintendent Patricia Hopkins said without masks, the district would have far more COVID-19 cases, more students in quarantine and would probably have to switch to remote learning.

Hopkins and the board listened to three parents at the school board’s business meeting Thursday night make public comments, still concerned about their children wearing masks in the MSAD 11 classrooms. Parents spoke about their child’s ability to keep a mask on for the duration of the day, as well as wondering if the masks are combating the viral spread in schools.

The school board vowed to revisit the decision on a monthly basis and created a coronavirus response committee to gather data to educate and inform board members about the district’s current COVID-19 status, as well as that of other schools across the state and within the county.

Based on the most current data from Monday, the coronavirus response committee unanimously recommended keeping universal masking. The board followed by voting in favor of the recommendation.

“Without the universal mask mandate, we are concerned based on experience, we would need to start identifying close contact from 6 feet and not 3 feet and by doing that, we are not able to keep kids 6 feet apart in class,” Hopkins said. “We are already doing the best we can for 3 feet. Would we see an increase in positive cases at school? Absolutely.”

The vote was not unanimous — Patrick Saucier and Nicole Madore voted against it. Anthony Veit, Theresa Guerrette and Matthew Marshall were not in attendance.

Saucier shared his stance on masking and said even “after educating himself,” he still disagrees with the motion.

Contemplating all scenarios, the board asked Hopkins what the situation would be like if masking was chosen by parents or if there was no mandate in place for students. She said it would be a “management nightmare” for the nurses to determine what students were wearing masks and to figure out the distancing between each student. If classrooms had to go back to being 6-feet apart for each student, Hopkins added that the district would have to consider using remote learning.

With the universal masking mandate in place, according to the standard operating procedures from the Maine Center for Disease Control and Maine Department of Education, students will not be considered close contacts if they are 3 feet away and there is universal masking. If there was not universal masking, 6 feet would be considered close contact.

“We couldn’t have all students in school, all day and maintain the 6-feet distancing,” Hopkins said.

As of Monday, when the coronavirus response committee reviewed the district’s data, 39 students were in quarantine from Gardiner Area High School, Gardiner Regional Middle School and Pittston-Randolph Consolidated School.

By Thursday, the district had 33 student COVID-19 cases and one staff case. The high school had one outbreak on Sept. 6 and it was reported by the CDC to Hopkins two weeks later, on Sept. 23, because of how “far behind in paperwork” the CDC is.

The total staff vaccination rate for the district has risen by 5% to 82%. Hopkins said the vaccination rate rising doesn’t entirely mean more staff got vaccinated, but that some staff might have not reported their vaccination status in August.

Hopkins said the school nurses use the CDC and DOE guidelines to determine which students have to quarantine, but that the school district “can’t control” what families do outside of school.

“When I spoke to the CDC, cases were from community spread, not from spread in the building,” she said.

The coronavirus response team recommended against starting pool testing because of the heavy workload it would impose on the school nurses. The board followed this decision and unanimously voted against starting it.

The coronavirus response committee is made up of two board members — Matthew Lillibridge and Marshall; Kristin Martin, the district’s lead nurse, and nurse Christina Bourdelais; Michael Coco, a teacher and representative from the teacher’s association, as well as Cindy Kropp, an educational technician and member of the Ed. Tech association; Principals Chad Kempton, Tiffany Cockrell and Sara Sims; Angela Hardy, curriculum development director; Gabe Dostie, director of transportation; and Hopkins.

The universal masking decision will be revisited at the November board meeting.

Board members Cullen McGough and Jim Lothridge said by then, if there is a vaccine, their decision on universal masking may change.

“My vote may change once the younger kids can be vaccinated and it’s an option at that point,” Lothridge said. “Once it’s a parental option (to get vaccinated) and they can get vaccinated, then I’ll really think twice.”

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